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By Russ Read
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham wants to investigate whether Susan Rice, President Obama’s former national security advisor, illegally obtained intelligence reports to use against President Donald Trump’s associates.
The South Carolinian senator aims to find out if Rice unmasked and had access to intelligence information regarding incidental contacts between Trump officials and foreign agents. Rice has been accused of intentionally unmasking the names of Trump campaign officials in an effort to use the information for political reasons.
“I don’t know if that’s a crime or not, but I sure am uncomfortable with that,” Graham told Sharyl Attkisson, host of “Full Measure” in an interview to be aired Sunday. “I don’t know if she did it, but here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to ask the people who did the collection; did Susan Rice ever request from you the names of people on the Trump team that were caught up in the incidental collection, and did you provide her with any names? Then, if she did, call her in and say, why did you do it and what did you do with the information?”
Graham’s concern centered on the incidental aspect of the intelligence information. He explained that there’s potentially a separation of powers concern at stake.
“As a member of the legislative branch of government, I don’t want the executive branch of government collecting my conversations even if they’re incidental because I don’t want them to know what I’m talking about,” said Graham. “This is really scary to me. I understand incidental collection is part of the process, but when you have government officials like myself, the Trump team, I think you should cut the machine off.”
Normally, the names of U.S. citizens collected in such reports are hidden for privacy reasons.
Attkisson noted that a “high-ranking intelligence official” who worked under the Obama administration told her that sometimes “bad actors” will use incidental collection as a means to gather information on somebody without a warrant. The Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows U.S. authorities to gather information on U.S. citizens if they are granted a warrant from the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). FISA requires “heightened requirements in some instances” when U.S. persons are the target of the surveillance, according to the law.
Graham said that using incidental collection intentionally as a work-around would be “going around the warrant process.”
“If there’s any indication that people set up incidental collection to avoid the FISA warrant process, that would be a devastating story,” he said. “I don’t know if that exists or not, but I’d be willing to talk to anybody who believes it did.”
Graham, who sits on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said a hearing could be conducted as early as May. Graham said witnesses could include former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan, in addition to Rice and former Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes.
Graham noted that he has “no idea” what might be revealed in the congressional hearings, but he is skeptical of Rice and Rhodes’ motives after Rice misled the public regarding the terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012.
“They manipulated the information, I think for political reason. So, when it comes to Susan Rice and Ben Rhodes, verify, don’t trust,” said Graham.