Political Scandals

With Dems Focused On Russia, One GOP Congressman Turns To 'Unmasking'

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes is splitting the focus of the Russia investigation to include "unmasking."

With Dems Focused On Russia, One GOP Congressman Turns To 'Unmasking'
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Just as the investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election was picking up steam, Republicans and Democrats started squabbling about which direction to take.

The House Intelligence Committee issued seven subpoenas — four are seeking information from former national security adviser Michael Flynn and President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Those four were approved by both parties.

But the other three target Obama administration officials about "unmasking" or how investigators found out which members of Trump's team communicated with Russian officials.

Those subpoenas were reportedly issued solely by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the committee chairman, with no input from Democrats.

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Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the vice chair and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, claimed the unmasking subpoenas were an attempt to "shift attention away from the Russia probe."

But Nunes responded on Twitter, saying, "Seeing a lot of fake news from media elites and others who have no interest in violations of Americans' civil liberties via unmaskings."

Nunes reportedly hasn't always been so opposed to the practice. He reportedly signed off on at least five unmasking requests from the committee relating to either Trump or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

U.S. intelligence services monitor lots of foreign communications and sometimes pick up conversations with U.S. citizens incidentally. Intelligence reports usually redact the names to protect privacy. But government officials can ask for the names to be shown, or "unmasked," if it helps them better understand the report.

It's worth noting that unmasking names in an intelligence report and leaking those names to the public are two totally different things.

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Officials say unmasking is a fairly standard process in the intelligence field. The National Security Agency reportedly unmasked nearly 2,000 people in 2016.

Democrats have questioned if Nunes should be involved in the investigation at all. He stepped back from the Russia probe after he was accused of sharing information about the investigation with the Trump administration.

But some Republicans say he never fully recused himself but just stepped aside briefly from the Russia probe and that these unmasking subpoenas are separate from the Russia investigation.