Tuesday brought a much-anticipated chance to hear Susan Rice address reports she requested the "unmasking" of what might be called Trump persons caught in U.S. intelligence intercepts. The only problem was, Rice did not address reports she requested the unmasking of Trump persons caught in U.S. intelligence intercepts.
Appearing on MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell program, Rice explained at some length that, as a general matter, unmasking has taken place, and that she requested it when she served as former President Barack Obama's national security adviser. Then Mitchell began to ask a key question.
"Within that process, and within the context of the Trump campaign, the Trump transition, did you seek the names of people involved in — to unmask the names of people involved in the Trump transition, the Trump campaign, people surrounding the president-elect — " Mitchell said.
"Let me begin," Rice responded, only to have Mitchell continue — and ruin — the question by adding, "in order to spy on them, in order to expose them."
What began as a straightforward question — Did you unmask Trump persons? — turned into a query on motive. Rice immediately picked up on Mitchell's cue.
"Absolutely not for any political purposes, to spy, expose, anything," Rice said. "But let me — "
"Did you leak the name of Mike Flynn?" Mitchell asked.
"I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would," Rice responded.
It turned out Rice actually wanted to address Mitchell's original question — if only to say she couldn't answer it.
"But let me explain this," she said. "First of all, Andrea, to talk about the contents of a classified report, to talk about the individuals on the foreign side, who were the targets of the report itself, or any American that may have been collected upon incidentally, is to disclose classified information. I'm not going to do that. And those people who are putting these stories out are doing just that."
"I can't describe any particular report I saw, and by the way, I have no idea what reports are allegedly being described by those who are putting out this story. I don't know what time frame they were from, I don't know the subject matter, and I don't know who they think was collected upon."
The short version of Rice's story: I know nothing, but whatever I did, I did it legally and properly and without leaking.
Also on Tuesday, Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who has actually seen the documents that started the whole unmasking controversy, spent another day saying nothing about what he has seen.
Schiff has frequently criticized committee chairman Devin Nunes for his handling of the document matter. But ever since Schiff got a chance to see the documents, last Friday, he has had zero to say about what's in them.
First on Tuesday — at precisely the time Rice was appearing on MSNBC — Schiff released a statement on the subject of incidental collection. But not on the substance of the documents: "I cannot comment on the content of these materials or any other classified documents, and nothing should be inferred from the fact that I am treating classified materials the way they should be treated — by refusing to comment on them," Schiff said.
Not long after, Schiff appeared on CNN. "As you probably know, I can't discuss the contents of what I saw at the White House," he said. All he could say, Schiff continued, is that he has asked that the documents be shared with all the members of the House and Senate intel committees. "I expect that will be fairly imminent," Schiff said.
The public can only hope he's right. Right now, outsiders know only what Nunes has said about the documents. There were "dozens" of intelligence reports involving the incidental collection of Trump figures in Obama administration intercepts, Nunes has said. The names of some had been unmasked, according to Nunes, and none of the documents had to do with Russia.
Both Rice and Schiff spent Tuesday talking at some length about incidental collection, which certainly leaves the impression that it occurred, and that it might well have touched TrumpWorld. But the public needs to know more, soon.