WASHINGTON - Citing no evidence, President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused his predecessor's national security adviser of breaking the law, one month after he accused former president Barack Obama of illegally wiretapping him.
In an interview with The New York Times, Trump said Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, committed a crime when she asked government analysts to disclose the names of Trump associates documented in intelligence reports. Trump would not say if he reviewed new intelligence to support his claim. He told the Times he would say more “at the right time.”
“I think it's going to be the biggest story,” Trump said. “It's such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time.”
Rice is the latest target for Trump and his embattled defenders. She has firmly denied that she did anything inappropriate in requesting the identities of Trump associates. As the national security adviser, Rice would have been authorized to seek identities of people whose names were redacted from intelligence reports. Officials typically “unmask” Americans if it is deemed necessary for understanding the information. Some Trump allies have accused Rice of unmasking officials for political reasons.
“Absolutely false,” Rice declared Tuesday.
Trump on Wednesday disagreed. When the Times asked him if Rice broke the law, he said, “Do I think? Yes, I think.” The president did not specify what law he thinks Rice may have broken.
Erin Pelton, a spokeswoman for Rice, said, “I'm not going to dignify the president's ludicrous charge with a comment.”
Fitting a pattern
Trump's unfounded accusation fits a pattern for the president. Last month, he accused Obama of wiretapping his New York skyscraper and later said Obama had spied on his campaign. Neither allegation has been backed up by evidence.
Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is under FBI scrutiny for his ties to Russia. Two congressional committees are also investigating Flynn as part of larger probes into the Kremlin's influence on the 2016 election and possible coordination with Trump associates. Last week Trump said that Flynn, who resigned in February, should seek an immunity deal.
On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the House intelligence committee investigation looking into Russia's role in the 2016 election was back on track after the committee's chairman had a secret meeting on White House grounds about intelligence that Trump later said vindicated his Obama wiretapping claims. Republicans and Democrats have agreed on the witnesses to be called, Ryan said.
Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, a member of the committee, told CNN that Rice is on the witness list. A congressional aide said there were more than a dozen people on the list.
According to a U.S. official, Rice asked spy agencies to give her the names of Trump associates who surfaced in intelligence reports she was regularly briefed on. Rice's official role would have given her the ability to make those requests for national security purposes.
In an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, Rice acknowledged that she sometimes asked for the names of Americans referenced in reports. She would not say whether she saw intelligence related to Trump associates or whether she asked for their identities, though she did say that reports related to Russia increased in the final months of the presidential election campaign.
The Trump White House has been particularly incensed that intercepted conversations between Flynn and Russia's ambassador to the U.S. surfaced in news reports before the inauguration.
Rice denied that she had leaked details about Flynn's call, saying, “I leaked nothing to nobody.”