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The DOD Flunkies’ Convenient Lapse of Executive Privilege

The first thing you should take away from this long Vanity Fair profile of the Trump loyalists who led DOD during the Transition period is that Kash Patel has a very selective approach to Executive Privilege. Deep in the story, when caught in a lie about a plot to have him replace CIA Director Gina Haspel, Patel invokes Executive Privilege to refuse to answer.

I asked Patel about an Axios story that broke just before we sat down to talk. It asserted that CIA director Gina Haspel threatened to resign after learning that Trump planned to install Patel as her deputy. “I’m not going to comment on what the president wanted to do or didn’t want to do, but there’s no conversations of that now or this week or this year,” he replied. But he seemed to be playing coy. The CIA gambit took place last year. In fact, when I had spoken with Cohen about the matter, he had told me, “The idea was to put Kash in as the deputy, which doesn’t require Senate approval, and then to fire Gina the next day, leaving Kash in charge…. Robert O’Brien, [Trump’s national security adviser], is the one who deep-sixed it.” When I pressed Patel further about these machinations, which had occurred in December, I saw him turn lawyerly: “That stuff is between me and the boss. That’s the only thing I don’t comment on. Ever. It’s executive privilege.”

But in the first lines of the profile, both he and former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller happily offer up a tale of how Trump not only claimed to know what an appropriate deployment of National Guard troops would be in preparation for January 6, but ordered DOD to have them deployed.

On the evening of January 5—the night before a white supremacist mob stormed Capitol Hill in a siege that would leave five dead—the acting secretary of defense, Christopher Miller, was at the White House with his chief of staff, Kash Patel. They were meeting with President Trump on “an Iran issue,” Miller told me. But then the conversation switched gears. The president, Miller recalled, asked how many troops the Pentagon planned to turn out the following day. “We’re like, ‘We’re going to provide any National Guard support that the District requests,’” Miller responded. “And [Trump] goes, ‘You’re going to need 10,000 people.’ No, I’m not talking bullshit. He said that. And we’re like, ‘Maybe. But you know, someone’s going to have to ask for it.’” At that point Miller remembered the president telling him, “‘You do what you need to do. You do what you need to do.’ He said, ‘You’re going to need 10,000.’ That’s what he said. Swear to God.”

I could not recall the last time a contingent that large had been called up to supplement law enforcement at all, much less at a demonstration—the Women’s March and the Million Man March sprang to mind—and so I asked the acting SECDEF why Trump threw out such a big number. “The president’s sometimes hyperbolic, as you’ve noticed. There were gonna be a million people in the street, I think was his expectation.” Miller maintained that initial reports on the anticipated crowd size were all over the map—anywhere from 5,000 to 40,000. “Park Police—everybody’s so hesitant to give numbers. So I think that was what was driving the president.”

There’s a lot of reason to believe this is bullshit. Trump wouldn’t ask for the Guard if he wanted a show of force, he’d ask for a helicopter flyover or something else inappropriate.  Trump isn’t a detail guy. Miller and Patel offered up a key (and dubious) excuse used elsewhere — that they hadn’t been told the Park Service had expanded the Trump rally to 30,000 attendees.

Most importantly, Patel demonstrated that he believes his actual conversations with Trump should be protected by Executive Privilege. Certainly, he would refuse to say anything bad about Trump.

Ezra Cohen[-Watnick], by contrast, isn’t prompted to. While he is permitted to claim that Trump threw everyone — the entire country — under the bus, he’s not asked about his mentor Mike Flynn’s role in the conspiracy.

Ezra Cohen, another of Miller’s top confidants, believes that his colleagues’ words and deeds may be well and good, but are beside the point: “The president threw us under the bus. And when I say ‘us,’ I don’t mean only us political appointees or only us Republicans. He threw America under the bus. He caused a lot of damage to the fabric of this country. Did he go and storm the Capitol himself? No. But he, I believe, had an opportunity to tamp things down and he chose not to. And that’s really the fatal flaw. I mean, he’s in charge. And when you’re in charge, you’re responsible for what goes wrong.”

[snip]

His promotion was fodder for trolls of every stripe. “To the left I became this horrible person that enabled the president, attacking [Obama officials] and all this other stuff like that,” Cohen contended as we sat in his kitchen and later drove through a Chick-fil-A before tooling around northern Virginia. “And then to the crazy people on the right—that are dangerous people that did the horrible, antidemocratic behavior with the Capitol—these nutjobs are saying that I am QAnon.”

The silence about Flynn’s call for martial law is all the more telling given Cohen’s nod to the way QAnon has worked him into their conspiracies. Flynn played a key role in mobilizing QAnon to serve as Trump’s army.

Also missing from this profile? Any mention of Flynn’s brother, Charles, who participated in a call with local DC officials calling for more help but whose role DOD hid until after Biden was inaugurated.

There are other silences as well, perhaps most notably Miller’s stubborn effort to burrow in a fourth ally, Mike Ellis, at NSA in the last hours of the Trump Administration.

So even before you get into the details, this profile should be regarded as an effort by three very slick dudes to recast their role as Trump flunkies in the wake of an inexcusable event.

With all that said, it appears to differ in key ways from the timeline DOD released days after the coup attempt. The Vanity Fair narrative makes several claims that are probably true: That Miller came to work expecting he might not get home that night (though didn’t stay in DC even as the National Guard did in advance of the inauguratoin), and that DOD was chastened given the gross abuse in response to June protests.

But it also suggests Muriel Bowser called for help 48 minutes after DOD’s timeline shows she did.

On the morning of January 6, as Miller recounted, he was hopeful that the day would prove uneventful. But decades in special operations and intelligence had honed his senses. “It was the first day I brought an overnight bag to work. My wife was like, ‘What are you doing there?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know when I’m going to be home.’” To hear Patel tell it, they were on autopilot for most of the day: “We had talked to [the president] in person the day before, on the phone the day before, and two days before that. We were given clear instructions. We had all our authorizations. We didn’t need to talk to the president. I was talking to [Trump’s chief of staff, Mark] Meadows, nonstop that day.”

The security posture and response on January 6 did not occur in a vacuum. June 1, 2020, had been a perilous precedent. On that day federal police had expelled peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square to facilitate the president’s saunter over to St. John’s Church for a publicity stunt. But the brute force displayed to clear out the area proved a national embarrassment and allegedly influenced Washington mayor Muriel Bowser’s view, come January, about how the capital should be policed—and by whom. On the day before all hell broke loose on the Hill, she made it clear the D.C. police (MPD) would be running the show on the 6th, though 340 unarmed National Guard troops had been requested to help with traffic: “The District of Columbia is not requesting other federal law enforcement personnel and discourages any additional deployment without immediate notification to, and consultation with, MPD.”

Miller told me that when Trump made him head of the Pentagon, in November, “the bar was pretty low.” He had three goals. “No military coup, no major war, and no troops in the street,” before observing dryly, “The ‘no troops in the street’ thing changed dramatically about 14:30…. So that one’s off [the list].”

The day began with a lull. “We had meetings upon meetings. We were monitoring it. And we’re just like, Please, God, please, God. Then the damn TV pops up and everybody converges on my office: [Joint Chiefs of Staff] chairman [Mark Milley], Secretary of the Army [Ryan] McCarthy, the crew just converges.” And as intelligence started cycling in, things went from watch and see to “a current op.” Miller recalled, “We had already decided we’re going to need to activate the National Guard, and that’s where the fog and friction comes in.”

“The D.C. mayor finally said, ‘Okay, I need more,’” Kash Patel would tell me. “Then the Capitol police—a federal agency and the Secret Service made the request. We can support them under Title 10, Title 32 authorities for [the] National Guard. So [they] collectively started making requests, and we did it. And then we just went to work.”

With his use of the word “finally,” Patel insinuates there was a delay before Bowser called and asked for help. Meanwhile, Miller suggests that DOD’s response took place at 2:30PM.

The timeline, however, shows that Bowser requested help 29 minutes after DOD says they got “open source reports” of demonstrators moving on the Capitol.

1305: A/SD receives open source reports of demonstrator movements to U.S. Capitol.

1326: USCP orders evacuation of Capitol complex.

1334: SECARMY phone call with Mayor Bowser in which Mayor Bowser communicates request for unspecified number of additional forces.

1349: Commanding General, DCNG, Walker phone call with USCP Chief Sund. Chief Sund communicates request for immediate assistance.

1422: SECARMY phone call with D.C. Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Dr. Rodriguez, and MPD leadership to discuss the current situation and to request additional DCNG support.

1430: A/SD, CJCS, and SECARMY meet to discuss USCP and Mayor Bowser’s requests. 1500: A/SD determines all available forces of the DCNG are required to reinforce MPD and USCP positions to support efforts to reestablish security of the Capitol complex.

1500: SECARMY directs DCNG to prepare available Guardsmen to move from the armory to the Capitol complex, while seeking formal approval from A/SD for deployment. DCNG prepares to move 150 personnel to support USCP, pending A/SD’s approval.

1504: A/SD, with advice from CJCS, DoD GC, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau (CNGB), SECARMY, and the Chief of Staff of the Army, provides verbal approval of the full activation of DCNG (1100 total) in support of the MPD. Immediately upon A/SD approval, Secretary McCarthy directs DCNG to initiate movement and full mobilization. In response, DCNG redeployed all soldiers from positions at Metro stations and all available non-support and non-C2 personnel to support MPD. DCNG begins full mobilization.

The Vanity Fair profile suggests DOD made the decision based off watching TV — presumably those open source reports — that reinforcements would be needed. But they didn’t even begin to “discuss” doing so until 2:30, and didn’t move to make that deployment until 3:04 (so 34 minutes after Miller describes).

Plus, Patel makes no mention of the call from Capitol Police at 1:49.

Ezra Cohen would like you to believe that he got thrown under the bus along with all the people supporting rule of law. Patel would like you to believe the failures of DOD under his watch were not attributable to the Chief of Staff. And Miller would like you to know his family doesn’t much like Donald Trump.

But the whole story reads like a fairy tale.

Palace Intrigue: Trump Prepares His Consolation Prize for Vladimir Putin

In the last two days, Trump has prepared a coup of sorts. First, he fired Mike Esper and replaced him with Christopher Miller; several of Esper’s top deputies went with him. Then, Trump installed three different Devin Nunes flunkies at several places in the DOD bureaucracy:

  • Mike Ellis — the guy who hid the Ukraine transcript and one source for the unmasking hoax — to NSA as General Counsel
  • Ezra Cohen-Watnick — a key Mike Flynn loyalist and another source for the unmasking hoax — to DOD Undersecretary of Intelligence
  • Kash Patel — who ensured that no HPSCI Republicans got sound intelligence during their Russian investigation, then pretended to be a Ukraine expert during impeachment, and then served to conduct a purge in the Office of Director of National Intelligence — to DOD Chief of Staff

To be clear, unlike these others, Christopher Miller, the Acting Secretary of Defense, reportedly does care about US security, even if he’s several ranks too junior for the job and got appointed over a Senate confirmed Deputy.

But the Nunes flunkies are there, serving as gate-keepers for the hoaxes favored by Trump and Nunes, as they have done so successfully throughout Trump’s term.

Spook-whisperer David Ignatius reports that these changes come amidst a sustained debate about what to do with a piece of likely Russian disinformation that — Trump and feeble-minded partisans like Lindsey Graham believe — will prove that Russia didn’t prefer Trump over Hillary.

President Trump’s senior military and intelligence officials have been warning him strongly against declassifying information about Russia that his advisers say would compromise sensitive collection methods and anger key allies.

An intense battle over this issue has raged within the administration in the days before and after the Nov. 3 presidential election. Trump and his allies want the information public because they believe it would rebut claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin supported Trump in 2016. That may sound like ancient history, but for Trump it remains ground zero — the moment when his political problems began.

CIA Director Gina Haspel last month argued strongly at a White House meeting against disclosing the information, because she believed that doing so would violate her pledge to protect sources and methods, a senior congressional source said. This official said a bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic senators has been trying to protect Haspel, though some fear that Trump may yet oust her.

Rumors have been flying this week about Haspel’s tenure, but a source familiar with her standing as CIA director said Tuesday that national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had both “assured her that she’s good,” meaning she wouldn’t be removed. Haspel also met personally with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Tuesday. She sees him regularly as a member of the “Gang of Eight” senior congressional leaders. But Tuesday’s visit was another sign of GOP support.

Haspel’s most unlikely defender has been Attorney General William P. Barr, who opposed a pre-election push to declassify the sensitive material, according to three current and former officials. At a showdown meeting at the White House, Barr pushed back against revealing the secret information.

Gen. Paul Nakasone, who heads U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, has also argued vehemently against disclosure, according to a senior defense official and the senior congressional source. Like Haspel, Nakasone took the unusual step of directly opposing White House efforts to release the intelligence, because he feared the damage that disclosure would cause.

With the new changes, General Nakasone reports through Cohen-Watnick and Patel and will have to rely on the legal “advice” of Ellis. So not only does this move put more senior votes in favor of declassifying this intelligence, but it puts them in places where Nakasone might be forced to accede to these demands.

Reporting suggests that Trump is seeking to make the full intelligence behind the reports described here available. Fundamentally, the intelligence shows that the US government obtained a Russian intelligence report that stated in late July 2016 — John Ratcliffe says it was July 26 but by handwriting it appears to be July 28 — Hillary approved of a plan to vilify Trump for his dalliance with Russian intelligence.

Already, this is a stupid hoax from the Republicans. It is public that, in the wake of the DNC release on July 22 — and particularly after Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment on July 27 — Hillary started focusing on Trump’s coziness with Russia. In other words, the crack Russian analysts would have to do no more than read the paper to come to this conclusion. Nor would there be anything scandalous about Hillary trying to hold Trump accountable for capitalizing on an attack on her by a hostile foreign country.

I think Republicans are trying to suggest — by altering a date (July 26 instead of July 28) again and breathing heavy — that former government official Hillary Clinton was the reason why the FBI opened an investigation into Trump, rather than the Australians informing the US about Coffee Boy George Papadopoulos bragging about Russia offering help back in May. There’s not a shred of evidence for it, of course, but that has never stopped the frothy right.

The far more interesting part of this intelligence comes in the report that Peter Strzok wrote up, which is dated September 7. It makes it clear that Hillary’s alleged attack pertained to Russian hackers, notably Guccifer 2.0.

So a Russian intelligence report the US stole from Russia in late July 2016 claimed that, on July 26 0r 28, Hillary approved an attack on Trump pertaining to having help from Russian hackers, a report that did not get formally shared with the FBI until September 7. And either the report itself or FBI’s interpretation of it focuses on Guccifer 2.0.

Somehow this is the smoking gun — that over a month after opening up Crossfire Hurricane the FBI started investigating a claim that, starting on July 26 or 28, Hillary thought Trump was cuddling up with Russian hackers, interpreted by someone to be Guccifer 2.0 — the FBI learned that fact.

When I first wrote this up, I hadn’t started my Rashomon Rat-Fucker series, to say nothing of my report to the FBI that an American I knew may have served as an American cut-out for the Guccifer 2.0 operation (I’m jumping ahead of myself, but I’m certain the FBI investigated that claim for at least a year). At the time, I focused on how prescient the frothers were making Hillary look for anticipating that Roger Stone would first start doing propaganda for Guccifer 2.0 on August 5; best case for the frothers in this situation is that Stone somehow learned of the Russian report before the FBI did.

But now that I’ve written those posts, it’s clear that not only did the FBI have strong circumstantial evidence that Stone knew of the Guccifer 2.0 operation even before the first Guccifer 2.0 post, because he was searching for it on June 15 before the WordPress site went public, but that Stone probably had a face-to-face meeting with someone at the RNC from whom he got advance notice of the DNC drop.

In July 2016, this report is only mildly interesting, amounting to showing that the Russians read the newspaper like everyone else.

In 2020, after details from the Mueller investigation have become public, the Russian report makes far more sense as deliberate disinformation, an attempt to turn a direct contact with Stone into a hoax about Hillary.

Which makes Trump’s apparent determination to liberate this document all the more telling. It suggests that he wants to make public something, anything, he can use to counter what will be very damning allegations when this all becomes clear.

And, given how shoddy the actual intelligence itself is (at best showing that Russian intelligence officers read public sources and more credibly showing that Russia was building plausible deniability for contacts with Roger Stone in real time), Trump’s insistence on it, whether intentional or not, would serve to blow highly sensitive collection for a third-rate hoax.

I can see why Trump would prioritize this intelligence on his way out that the door. It comes at a time when he can be easily manipulated to burn the IC in ways that can only serve Russian interests.

In other words, one of Trump’s top priorities for the Lame Duck period is to give Vladimir Putin a consolation prize.

A Tale of Two National Security Advisors

As you no doubt heard, in addition to suing John Bolton for breach of contract over his Trump book, the Trump Administration has also asked for a Temporary Restraining Order against Bolton, purportedly with the goal of getting him to do things that are no longer in his control. At one level, the legal actions seem designed to make Bolton’s book even more popular than it would otherwise be — while starving him of any royalties for the book. Judge Royce Lamberth, who has a history of pushing back against Executive abuse (including claims involving classification) has been assigned the case; he scheduled a hearing for tomorrow.

I agree with the bulk of the analysis that these legal efforts will fail, to the extent they’re really trying to prevent Bolton from releasing the book. I also agree with analysis about the uphill climb Bolton faces to avoid having his profits seized.

That said, I can’t help but notice the way the filings set Bolton up — possibly, even for prosecution (which LAT reports remains under consideration), but also for a remarkable comparison with Trump’s first National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn.

Legally, the filings do what they need to do to seize Bolton’s profits, and will probably succeed (meaning you can buy the book and your money will go to the US Treasury). But, as noted, they’re not written to actually win an injunction, most especially against Bolton’s publisher, Simon & Schuster.

The filings do something else, though. They tell how Bolton apparently shared drafts of his manuscript before it had been cleared, which in turn got shared with the press.

35. On January 26, 2020, the New York Times published an article describing information purportedly “included in drafts of a manuscript” that Defendant, apparently without any protections for classified national security information, had “circulated in recent weeks to close associates.” The article set forth information allegedly contained in “dozens of pages” of the manuscript. A true and correct copy of this article is attached hereto as Exhibit F.

36. On information and belief, the January 26, 2020 article led to a tremendous surge in publicity for the pre-sales of the book, including hundreds of news articles, discussion on major television networks, statements by members of Congress, and widespread circulation of the article’s content on social media.

37. On January 27, 2020, the Washington Post published a separate article describing content contained in The Room Where it Happened, relying on the statements of “two people familiar with the book,” indicating, on information and belief, that Defendant had disclosed a draft of the manuscript to others without receiving prior written authorization from the U.S. Government. A true and correct copy of this article is attached hereto as Exhibit G.

38. Thus, notwithstanding this admonition, in late January 2020, prominent news outlets reported that drafts of Defendant’s manuscript had been circulated to associates of Defendant. These articles included reports from individuals supposedly familiar with the book, which indicates, on information and belief, that Defendant had already violated his non-disclosure agreements while purporting to comply with the prepublication review process. See supra ¶¶ 27, 29; see also Exhs. E & F

They lay out evidence that Bolton specifically knew the dangers of disclosing classified information, most ironically with a citation of his complaints about Edward Snowden (who also had his profits seized).

Defendant knows well the threat posed by disclosing classified information that might benefit the Nation’s adversaries. See John Bolton, “Edward Snowden’s leaks are a grave threat to US national security,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/18/edwardsnowden-leaks-grave-threat (June 18, 2013). Congress does as well, as reflected in its decision to criminalize the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. §§ 641, 793, 794, 798, 952, 1924.

They provide multiple declarations — from Mike Ellis, the Trump hack who has politicized classified information in the past, from National Counterintelligence Director Bill Evanina claiming this is the kind of information our adversaries look for, from Director of NSA Paul Nakasone talking about the specific vulnerability of SIGINT, and from Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, whose name the TRO misspells and whose experience looks exceedingly thin compared to the others, along with classified declaration from Ellis. Even though the declarations were obviously carefully curated by Ellis, these are nevertheless the kinds of things courts usually bow to, when the government makes claims about classification. While neither we nor Bolton or his lawyer will get to review the actual claims being made, such declarations are usually sufficient to get the desired recourse.

Perhaps notably, the filings include a letter from John Eisenberg (whose shenanigans regarding the Ukraine call Bolton made more significant), written on June 11, at a time when the White House already knew Bolton was moving to publish, accusing Bolton of publishing this information for financial gain.

Fourth, your self-serving insinuations that the NSC review process has been directed at anything other than a good faith effort to protect national security information is offensive. Your client has taken classified information, including some that he himself classified, and sold it to the highest bidder in an attempt to make a personal profit from information that he held in trust as a public servant–and has done so without regard for the harm it would do to the national security of the United States.

Effectively, this package of filings does nothing to prevent the book from coming out. But it very carefully lays a record to meet the elements of an Espionage charge. Given this notice, the government would be in a position to point to the publication of the book (that Bolton couldn’t stop now if he wanted) and prove that Bolton had an obligation to keep these things secret, he knew the damage that not doing so could cause, and yet nevetheless published the information.

Whether they will prosecute or not is unclear. But these filings make it far easier to do so.

The White House is preparing to claim that John Bolton is akin to Edward Snowden, solely because he aired Trump’s dirt in a book.

This all comes at the same time as the government is making extraordinary efforts to prevent Mike Flynn from being punished for secretly working for a frenemy country while getting classified briefings, and calling up the country that just attacked us in 2016 and discussing how Russia and the Trump Administration had mutual interests in undermining Obama’s policies.

The same DOJ that is magnifying Bolton’s risk for an Espionage prosecution found nothing inappropriate in Flynn calling up the country that had just attacked the US and teaming with that hostile country against the current government of the United States.

Nor was anything said on the calls themselves to indicate an inappropriate relationship between Mr. Flynn and a foreign power. Indeed, Mr. Flynn’s request that Russia avoid “escalating” tensions in response to U.S. sanctions in an effort to mollify geopolitical tensions was consistent with him advocating for, not against, the interests of the United States. At bottom, the arms-length communications gave no indication that Mr. Flynn was being “directed and controlled by … the Russian federation,” much less in a manner that “threat[ened] … national security.” Ex. 1 at 2, Ex. 2 at 2.

Indeed, the Attorney General even claimed the call was “laudable,” even while lying that it didn’t conflict with Obama’s policies.

But it’s not just in the courts where DOJ is working hard to protect the guy who really did harm the US. In an effort to sow the propaganda case for Mike Flynn, the Trump Administration has been on a declassification spree, including — by Ratcliffe — the transcripts of some (but not all) of Flynn’s calls with Sergey Kislyak, something that has never been done before. Significantly, the claims that Nakasone and Ratcliffe make in their declarations in the Bolton case, especially with regards to disclosing SIGINT burns the collection going forward, were clearly violated when Ratcliffe declassified the transcripts.

To be honest, I won’t weep if Bolton is prosecuted. He would have had more legal protection had he testified during the impeachment inquiry, which would have done more good for the country. It would be an abuse, but such abuse has been directed against far more vulnerable and admirable people.

But the comparison of the claims Mike Ellis is making about Trump’s third National Security Advisor with the treatment given his first — the guy who actively sold out his country rather than did so with his inaction — only serves to emphasize how Trump subjects what traditionally gets called national security to loyalty.

The greatest “national security” sin a Trump Administration official can commit, this comparison shows, is disloyalty to Donald Trump.

Who Violated Their Designated Role: Ezra Cohen-Watnick or Susan Rice?

In the original version of the latest right wing claim — that Susan Rice requested that multiple incoming Trump figures’ names be unmasked in intercepts — Mike Cernovich describes the genesis of Devin Nunes’ concern this way:

The White House Counsel’s office identified Rice as the person responsible for the unmasking after examining Rice’s document log requests. The reports Rice requested to see are kept under tightly-controlled conditions. Each person must log her name before being granted access to them.

Upon learning of Rice’s actions, H. R. McMaster dispatched his close aide Derek Harvey to Capitol Hill to brief Chairman Nunes.

But as Eli Lake — fresh off having apologized for letting Devin Nunes use him — tells the story, close Mike Flynn associate Ezra Cohen-Watnick discovered it and brought the discovery to the White House Counsel’s office, whereupon he was told to “end his own research” on unmasking.

The pattern of Rice’s requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government’s policy on “unmasking” the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally. Normally those names are redacted from summaries of monitored conversations and appear in reports as something like “U.S. Person One.”

The National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, was conducting the review, according to two U.S. officials who spoke with Bloomberg View on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. In February Cohen-Watnick discovered Rice’s multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities. He brought this to the attention of the White House General Counsel’s office, who reviewed more of Rice’s requests and instructed him to end his own research into the unmasking policy.

This repeats a claim Lake had made in his earlier apology post, which he presented as one detail in the NYT version of this story that was not accurate.

Another U.S. official familiar with the affair told me that one of the sources named in the article, former Defense Intelligence officer Ezra Cohen-Watnick, did not play a role in getting information to Nunes. This official said Cohen-Watnick had come upon the reports while working on a review of recent Justice Department rules that made it easier for intelligence officials to share the identities of U.S. persons swept up in surveillance. He turned them over to White House lawyers.

But it adds the detail that Cohen-Watnick had been told to stand down. That would explain why Lake and others would want to claim that Cohen-Watnick wasn’t involved in dealing all this to Nunes: because he had already been told not to pursue it further. If the multiple accounts saying he was involved in the hand-off to Nunes, it appears he did.

The WaPo’s version of this included a detail not included by the right wingers: that Cohen-Watnick went to John Eisenberg, not Don McGahn, with his “discovery.” Eisenberg is significantly responsible, dating back to when he was at DOJ, for ensuring that ordinary Americans would be sucked up in surveillance under PRISM. For him to be concerned about the legal unmasking of Americans’ identities (to the extent that did exist — and the record is still unclear whether it did) is laughable.

The timing of Cohen-Watnick’s research — dating back to February — intersects in interesting ways with the timeline in this March 14 Politico story of H.R. McMaster’s attempt to sideline him, which was overruled by Steven Bannon.

On Friday [March 10], McMaster told the National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence programs, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, that he would be moved to another position in the organization.

The conversation followed weeks of pressure from career officials at the CIA who had expressed reservations about the 30-year-old intelligence operative and pushed for his ouster.

But Cohen-Watnick appealed McMaster’s decision to two influential allies with whom he had forged a relationship while working on Trump’s transition team — White House advisers Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. They brought the matter to Trump on Sunday [March 12], and the president agreed that Cohen-Watnick should remain as the NSC’s intelligence director, according to two people with knowledge of the episode.

The House Intelligence Committee first asked NSA, CIA, and FBI for details on unmasking on March 15, the day after this story broke, at which point Nunes already knew of the White House effort. When Nunes first blew this up on March 22, he falsely claimed that that March 15 request had been submitted two weeks earlier.

It’s clear the right wing wants to shift this into Benghazi 2.0, attacking Susan Rice for activities that are, at least on the face of it, part of her job. But the only way the White House could be sure that she (or Ben Rhodes, who they’re also naming) were the ones to leak this would be to investigate not just those two, but also all the FBI (which would have access to this information without unmasking these names, which not a single one of these right wing scribes admit or even seem to understand). That is, the only way they could make credible, as opposed to regurgitated right wing propaganda accusations about leakers is to have spied even more inappropriately than they are accusing the Obama White House of doing.