In the course of intercepting communications of foreign individuals, U.S. intelligence officials may have improperly revealed names of members of President Donald Trump's transition team.
On March 22, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes of California said he had briefed Trump on new information that suggested several members of his transition team -- and possibly Trump himself -- had their identities "unmasked" after their communications were collected during incidental surveillance of foreign individuals.
The identities of Americans are supposed to remain "masked" under such circumstances, notes the Washington Examiner.
Following his meeting with Trump, Nunes told reporters: "What I have read bothers me and I think it should bother the president himself and his team, because I think some of it seems to be inappropriate."
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Such "unmasking" led to leaked details of Gen. Mike Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador, which resulted in Flynn's resignation as Trump's national security adviser.
According to Nunes, other names were included in intelligence reports that were then spread across the federal government, although his committee is still trying to determine how many Obama administration officials would have had access to those reports. "There are dozens of reports that I was able to see," Nunes said. "There were additional unmaskings that occurred."
In a March 22 appearance on Fox News, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward said Obama administration officials could face criminal charges for the unmaskings.
During an interview on Fox News, Woodward said that if that information about the unmasking is true, "it is a gross violation."
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Woodward, best-known for breaking the Watergate story that exposed a cover-up in former President Richard Nixon's government, explained: "You can learn all kinds of things from diplomats gossiping, because that's what occurs. Under the rules, and they are pretty strict, it's called minimization. You don't name the American person who is being discussed."
He said the "minimization" rule could be removed for legitimate intelligence reasons, but doubted that is the case, saying "the idea that there was intelligence value here is really thin."
He believes the alleged unmaskings constitute "a real serious problem potentially of people in the Obama administration passing around this highly classified gossip."
Woodward noted that the unmasking issue is a separate matter from Trump's March 4 allegation that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 election campaign.
As quoted by The New York Times at the time, Trump tweeted: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”