Attorney General William Barr initiates new “unmasking” investigations around the 2016 election

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John Bash, an American attorney in San Antonio, will manage the review in support of the ongoing criminal investigations conducted by John Durham, a Connecticut attorney, according to a spokesman for the Department of Justice.

“Unmasking intrinsically is not wrong, but certainly the frequency, motivation and reasoning behind unmasking can be problematic. When looking at unmasking as part of a larger investigation, such as the John Durham investigation, it is noted in particular who was unmasking who can add a lot to our understanding of motivation and big picture events, “said department spokesman Kerri Kupec in an interview with Fox News.

Earlier this month, then-national intelligence director Richard Grenell declassified a list of names of former Obama administration officials who allegedly requested “unmasking” the identification of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Senate Republicans subsequently released the list, which appointed Obama administration officials who “may have received” Flynn’s identity in National Security Agency intelligence reports after requests to expose the Americans.

While U.S. citizen names are to be kept secret in intelligence reports, senior officials have the option of asking for names to be revealed in certain circumstances to better understand the reports. In the past, some Obama officials recognized the request for identification of people, but claimed that there were legitimate reasons.

In itself, the list of names shows no wrongdoing. Demanding requests are an ordinary part of intelligence work and there is no evidence that the requests were made for political purposes. The National Security Agency stated in its declassified note by revealing the names that all officials had the authority to view the reports and that the NSA’s standard procedures had been followed.

The declassified note is the latest document that Trump and his Republican allies are pointing to as part of their efforts to discredit the investigation into Russia and accuse President Barack Obama and his administration of wrongdoing after the Justice Department moved to drop Flynn’s accusations of lying to the FBI earlier this month.

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On Fox, Kupec claimed that Barr had “determined that some aspects of the unmasking should be reviewed separately as a support” to Durham’s investigation.

Bash will “look specifically at the episodes both before and after the election,” said Kupec.

Bash is the latest in a series of important prosecutors that Barr has assigned to handle political reviews. Durham, Connecticut’s longtime prosecutor, was assigned to review the origins of the Russian investigation earlier this month. Jeff Jensen, an American attorney in St. Louis, had carefully examined the handling of Flynn’s indictment and had recommended earlier in the month that the Justice Department withdrew the accusations.

Barr said he has since instructed Jensen to investigate other problems, but the department has not said what these problems are.

Overall, the level of unmasking has increased under the Trump administration over the past three years. Last year there were more than 10,000 unmasking and nearly 17,000 in 2018, according to reports on the statistical transparency of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. There were 9,529 in 2017, Trump’s first year in office.

Under the Obama administration, there were approximately 9,217 unmasks in 2016 and only 654 in 2015.

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