At least five former government officials who are either on President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team or reportedly in contention for a position in his cabinet were involved to varying degrees in handling intelligence related to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a Daily Caller News Foundation review has found.
Two potential cabinet picks — Sarah Bloom Raskin and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall — and a Biden transition team official — Stephanie L. O’Sullivan — submitted so-called unmasking requests for intelligence about Flynn weeks before the start of the Trump administration, according to a document declassified earlier this year.
According to The New York Times, Raskin is under consideration to serve as secretary of the Treasury Department, while Sherwood-Randall is on the shortlist to lead the Energy Department.
O’Sullivan, who was the principal deputy director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), is currently the Biden transition team’s lead liaison to the intelligence community.
Susan Rice, who was Flynn’s predecessor as a national security adviser, was also involved in White House discussions about the FBI’s investigation into Flynn.
She wrote an email to herself just before leaving office on Jan. 20, 2017 regarding an Oval Office meeting two weeks earlier in which then-FBI Director James Comey discussed Flynn’s calls with Kislyak. Rice, who is reportedly under consideration to serve as Biden’s secretary of state, wrote in the email to herself that Biden was in the meeting where Flynn was discussed.
Another member of the intelligence community team is Bob Litt, the former general counsel for ODNI.
According to FBI documents, Litt discussed with colleagues in early January 2017 whether Flynn had violated an obscure law called the Logan Act during conversations the retired Army general had on Dec. 29, 2016 with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
James Clapper, who was director of ODNI under President Obama, testified to the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 that Litt was the official who first informed him of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak.
Republicans have expressed deep skepticism of the Obama-era intelligence community, citing what they claim are unwarranted investigations of Flynn and other Trump associates.
The Justice Department’s inspector general faulted the FBI for misleading a federal court in order to obtain authorization to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The IG also said in a report last year that the FBI used an agent in August 2016 to collect evidence in a briefing with then-candidate Donald Trump and Flynn during a briefing about foreign intelligence threats.
To support their theory of Obama-era misdeeds, Republicans have seized on Obama administration officials’ requests to unmask Flynn in dozens of intelligence reports in December 2016 and January 2017.
Submitting unmasking requests is not in and of itself improper. U.S. officials routinely submit them when they want to understand the full context of intelligence reports they receive from the National Security Agency.
But Republicans have questioned whether officials intentionally sought intelligence reports knowing that Flynn was named in them. They have also pressed for investigations into leaks of classified information regarding Flynn.
Attorney General William Barr tapped a U.S. attorney in Texas earlier this year to investigate the unmasking requests. The prosecutor reportedly concluded the inquiry without finding any criminal wrongdoing.
Biden himself submitted a so-called unmasking request on Jan. 12, 2017, for an intelligence report that discussed Flynn, according to the document declassified earlier this year.
Raskin, who served as deputy secretary of Treasury, submitted a request on Dec. 14, 2016. Sherwood-Randall submitted a request on Dec. 15, 2016 as deputy secretary of the Department of Energy.
O’Sullivan, the former ODNI official, submitted her request on Jan. 7, 2017.
It is not clear what information about Flynn was in the reports, or why Biden and the three other officials submitted requests for the intelligence documents.
Flynn’s supporters have also accused Obama officials of using the Logan Act, which has never been prosecuted in U.S. history, to justify continuing an investigation of Flynn.
FBI investigators planned as of Jan. 4, 2017 to shut down a counterintelligence investigation of Flynn, but bureau officials intervened at the last minute to keep the probe open, citing a possible Logan Act violation.