Ben Rhodes new focus of 'unmasking' investigation

Ben Rhodes, the longtime aide to former President Barack Obama who once bragged he didn’t “know anymore where I begin and Obama ends,” is the new focus of a House probe examining whether Obama staffers improperly requested the identities of American citizens during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes wrote to National Security Agency head Adm. Michael Rogers on Aug. 1 requesting “the total number of unmasking requests made by” Rhodes in the 13 months preceding President Trump’s inauguration. “Unmasking” refers to the formal request to identify Americans in an intelligence document.

Nunes’ letter – showing a lighter touch than displayed by the subpoenas issued recently by the Intelligence Committee to other Obama officials – asked for the documents by Aug. 21.

Rhodes, who is active on Twitter with mostly anti-Trump posts, hasn’t yet commented on the committee letter or whether he made such unmasking requests. 

An Obama foreign policy speechwriter who became an adviser and later emerged as the key force behind creating a self-proclaimed Iran nuke deal “echo chamber” to push the controversial agreement across the finish line, Rhodes freely boasted about his success spinning information to reporters in a controversial New York Times Magazine article. 

He was also known for his access to the former president. Dubbed “Obama’s foreign policy whisperer” by The Washington Post, Rhodes is the newest ex-Obama team member to have his name emerge in the slow-developing unmasking investigation.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, ex-National Security Adviser Susan Rice and former CIA Director John Brennan previously had been named in requests from the House Committee. Brennan and Rice have admitted to issuing unmasking requests, but said the asks occurred only as part of their official duties. Power and Rhodes both would have had legal authority to unmask U.S. citizens; however, Nunes is looking into whether those requests were abused or politically motivated.

The Intelligence Committee “found evidence that current and former government officials had easy access to U.S. person information and that it is possible that they used this information to achieve partisan political purposes, including the selective, anonymous leaking of such information,” Nunes wrote in a July letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

He added that one unidentified official had made “hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama Administration” and only one of those requests “offered a justification that was not boilerplate and articulated why” the identity of the person was needed.

Nunes’ letter appeared to reference Power as the anonymous official. Power’s attorney denied she leaked classified information but didn’t address the larger issues in Nunes’ letter.