Two months ago, President Donald Trump went on with conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt to talk about a MAJOR scandal involving, among others, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“We’re talking about unmasking, yes,” Trump told Hewitt on August 11. “That was a big deal. Horrible deal where they unmasked him so many times. I think he’s got to have the record for unmasking. Maybe I do, you know, because we’re still looking how many times did they unmask me. Let’s find that out, too, because look, they were spying on our campaign.”
What Trump was referencing – since it’s, uh, hard to figure out from his quote – is the practice of senior administration officials requesting to know an individual’s name in order to better understand an intelligence report. (As a matter of policy, all names of individuals are redacted in intelligence reports.) The process, which is known as “unmasking,” is relatively rare but not entirely unheard of.
In May, Republican Sens. Ron Johnson (Wisconsin) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) released the names of a number of Obama administration officials who might have sought to unmask Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn’s identity in intelligence reports in the run-up to Trump taking office. (The names were on a document that had been recently declassified by Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell.)
Among the names on that list? Biden.
Trump, who embraces any conspiracy theory that suits his own political interests, immediately seized on the news as evidence of (yet another) plot against him and his allies by the previous administration.
“The unmasking is a massive – it’s a massive thing,” Trump said shortly after the release of the names. “It’s – I just got a list. It’s – who can believe a thing like this? And I watched Biden yesterday on ‘Good Morning America’ being interviewed by one of your colleagues, George Stephanopoulos, and he said he knew nothing about anything. He has no idea. He knows nothing about anything.”
(Sidebar: In a letter responding to Grenell’s request to declassify the unmaking requests, the head of the NSA wrote that the “unmasking was approved by through NSA’s standard process, which includes a review of the justification for the request,” adding: “While the principals are identified below, we cannot confirm they saw the unmasked information.”)
So important to Trump was this unmasking news that Attorney General William Barr tasked John Bash, the US Attorney in San Antonio, in late May with conducting an investigation into whether the unmasking was politically motivated.
That investigation has ended, according to The Washington Post. And it has ended without any charges being brought against Biden or any other Obama administration official. Or even any public report of its findings.
Trump, despite amplifying the initial reports if unmasking, has yet to offer any thoughts about the investigation ending without any sort of findings of wrongdoing.
This is my surprised face.
There’s a pattern here, of course. From his initial insistence that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election (for which he has provided zero evidence) right through these unmasking claims, Trump has desperately seized onto anything and everything that would suggest that not only did the so-called “deep state” work to keep him from winning but it has also done everything it can to hamstring his presidency. Despite all of that, of course, Trump insists he has accomplished more in his first term than any other president. Ever.
Remember how Trump repeatedly raised questions about whether Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 election to help him and hurt Hillary Clinton? Well, the intelligence community, special counsel Robert Mueller and the US Senate Intelligence Committee all said that that’s exactly what happened.
Or how Trump said that the entire Russia investigation was politically motivated by people out to get him? It wasn’t.
Or how Trump said that President Barack Obama and Biden had “spied” on his presidential campaign? Also, debunked.
Or how the DNC email server was somehow in the possession of the Ukrainians? It isn’t.
Or how Google and social media sites are biased against conservatives? Not quite.
Time and time again, the President has attempted to elevate fact-free conspiracy theories solely because he believes they may provide him the life raft that his drowning campaign badly needs. And when facts are presented that clearly refute his baseless claims, he has been unwilling to acknowledge them.
If past is prologue, then, Trump will either a) ignore the end of the unmasking investigation completely or b) write it off to the “deep state.” (Worth remembering: Bash was appointed to look into the unmasking by Barr. And no one can reasonably conclude, based on his actions, that Barr is anything but strongly pro-Trump.)
But facts are facts. And yet again, Trump’s attempt to suggest his political opponents were engaged in nefarious behavior has totally and completely fizzled out.