WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he believes Susan Rice, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, committed a crime by searching for the identities of Trump associates named in the intercepted communications, but rejected requests for evidence, the New York Times reported.
In an interview, Trump declined to tell the New York Times if he had checked the intelligence to bolster his claim about Rice, but said it would be explained “at the right time.”
Rice said she had no immediate comment on the president’s comments when contacted by Reuters.
Later Wednesday, Erin Pelton, a Rice spokeswoman, said in an email to Reuters: “I am not going to dignify the president’s ridiculous indictment with a comment.”
Trump and his allies have focused on unsubstantiated reports that Rice, who served as Obama’s national security adviser, disclosed the names of Trump’s aides involved in US surveillance of foreign targets.
Rice dismissed the reports as “absolutely false” in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday.
According to five US intelligence officials, Rice followed standard procedure in asking the National Security Agency to reveal the names of US citizens who had been in contact with Russians whose communications were monitored by US intelligence. .
It’s unlikely he knew that any unidentified Americans had a connection to Trump, officials said.
As the White House national security adviser, Rice could not order the NSA to reveal the identities of any Americans. Instead, he could only request that he do so.
Such requests, which several senior officials are authorized to make, trigger a legal and intelligence review by the agency to determine whether revealing the name has potential intelligence value and could pose a threat to United States security, one said. of officials. who is familiar with the process and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal intelligence procedures.
There is nothing unusual, much less suspicious, about any request from Rice, another intelligence official said, especially since it could have revealed Russian intelligence contacts or agents operating in the United States. This official and two other intelligence officials said the NSA often receives dozens of such requests in a month.
John Culhane, a professor at Widener University Delaware School of Law, said he thought Rice could have a credible defamation lawsuit against Trump. Though public figures like Rice face a higher standard in presenting such claims, Culhane said he could argue that Trump displayed a “reckless disregard” for the truth.
But the president generally enjoys immunity from civil suits for official acts, Culhane noted, and a court could find that Trump’s interview with the newspaper was within the scope of his official duties.
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