Trump probe into Obama-era 'unmasking' of intelligence targets finds no wrongdoing, report says

No charges and no public report likely to further irritate president

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Wednesday 14 October 2020 18:28
Serving US attorney says attorney general William Barr ‘brought shame’ on his office in a searing letter
Serving US attorney says attorney general William Barr ‘brought shame’ on his office in a searing letter

A Trump administration probe into whether Obama-era officials improperly tried to identify those whose names had been redacted in intelligence reports, has concluded with no charges and no public report.

US Attorney John Bash, the federal prosecutor appointed by Attorney General William Barr, was investigating whether procedures had been followed in the “unmasking” of the names.

The Washington Post reports sources as saying that he has concluded his review after finding no substantive wrongdoing — news likely to irritate Donald Trump at a moment in which he is already angry with AG Barr and the Justice Department.

Conservatives have long tried to frame the “unmasking” of redacted names in classified documents as a political conspiracy. It is a common practice used to help understand confidential reports.

Republican senators made public a list of officials who made “unmasking” requests in late 2016 and early 2017 that eventually led to the identification of Michael Flynn. Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec then revealed the existence of Mr Bash’s review.

The investigation was initially pushed by Congressmen Devin Nunes, with senators Ron Johnson, Chuck Grassley, and Rand Paul releasing the list of Obama-era officials in May.

While “unmasking” is allowed, the probe looked into the frequency and motives of the requests and whether officials passed information to journalists, the Post reports.

The findings are set to likely disappoint the president who has repeatedly demanded that charges be brought against his political opponents, namely Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. During a live radio interview last week Trump was informed by host Rush Limbaugh that John Durham, the prosecutor appointed by Mr Barr to looking into the FBI’s investigation of his 2016 campaign, would also not be issuing a report before the election on 3 November.

Mr Trump vowed to confront Barr over the matter, calling it an “embarrassment” and "a disgrace".

This politicisation of Justice Department activities is of great concern to many legal observers as even if no wrongdoing is found, Mr Trump and his allies can continue to say that their opponents from the Obama administration are under investigation and use that to their political advantage.

Prosecutors generally do not make public developments in cases close to elections in case they affect the results as dictated by Justice Department policies and traditions.

Mr Bash left the Justice Department last week to accept a position in the private sector.

He made no mention of the “unmasking” probe and any matters he oversaw will now be the responsibility of Gregg Sofer who will replace him as US Attorney.

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