Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell has decided to declassify information about Obama administration officials who were behind the “unmasking” of Michael Flynn -- whose calls with the former Russian ambassador during the presidential transition were picked up in surveillance and later leaked -- and their names could soon be made public, a source confirmed.
Fox News confirmed that a new round of documents is expected, in the wake of a document dump last week that renewed focus on the Russia investigation and specifically the treatment of Flynn. The unmasking concerns events between the November 2016 election and Inauguration Day 2017, Fox News is told.
Another source familiar with the intelligence told Fox News that Grenell is moving to declassify several pieces of intelligence in stages, with this being one part of it. Asked if former President Barack Obama's name is on the list of officials involving in unmasking Flynn, the source would not say but stressed the list would make waves.
The Wall Street Journal, which reported on the looming release overnight, cited a senior government official who called Grenell's move unprecedented, as it came just days after the Justice Department dropped its case against Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser. It is now up to Attorney General William Barr to release the names publicly.
Unmasking occurs after U.S. citizens' conversations are incidentally picked up in conversations with foreign officials who are being monitored by the intelligence community. The U.S. citizens' identities are supposed to be protected if their participation is incidental and no wrongdoing is suspected. However, officials can determine the U.S. citizens' names through a process that is supposed to safeguard their rights.
Officials in the Obama administration have acknowledged that they unmasked some Americans in intelligence reports, but insisted that their reasons were legitimate. Susan Rice, Obama’s former national security adviser, said she unmasked the identities of Trump officials during the transition, according to ABC News. She has denied leaking their identities or being politically motivated.
An official told ABC News that Grenell visited the Justice Department at some point last week and had the list with him. The move coincided with the department's stunning reversal in the Flynn case, which was previously seen as special prosecutor Robert Mueller's signature case from the Russian collusion investigation.
The decision to drop the case was made even though prosecutors, for the past three years, have maintained that Flynn lied to the FBI in a January 2017 interview about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn pleaded guilty to this, but later sought to withdraw the plea.
Recent documents released in the case included handwritten notes in which FBI officials questioned what the purpose of interviewing Flynn. "What is our goal?" one of the notes read. "Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?"
In court documents filed last week, the Justice Department said that after reviewing newly disclosed information and other materials, it agreed with Flynn’s lawyers that his Jan. 24, 2017 interview with the FBI should never have taken place because he had not had inappropriate contacts with Russians. The interview, the department said, was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis.”
Sidney Powell, one of Flynn’s lawyers, told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” that FBI agents did their best to hide their investigation and attempted to entrap Flynn. She mentioned a meeting on Jan. 5, 2017 at the White House that included Obama, then-FBI Director James Comey, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan.
Powell said the “whole thing was orchestrated and set up within the FBI, Clapper, Brennan and in the Oval Office meeting that day with President Obama,” she told anchor Maria Bartiromo.
Bartiromo asked Powell if she believed the scandal reached up to Obama, and Powell responded, “Absolutely.”
Trump later tweeted, “OBAMAGATE,” indicating that he believes that Obama worked to undermine his presidency.
When asked by a reporter in the Rose Garden what crime he is accusing Obama of committing, Trump responded: “Obamagate, it’s been going on for a long time, it’s been going on from before I got elected, and it's a disgrace that it happened. You look at now all of this information that’s being released and from what I understand that’s only the beginning.”
Fox News' Ed Henry and Morgan Phillips and the Associated Press contributed to this report