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Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice denied Tuesday that the Obama administration spied on Trump campaign associates for political reasons last year, though she acknowledged that on occasion she requested the identity of Americans swept up in U.S. surveillance efforts.
In an interview with MSNBC, Rice said she sometimes asked for the identity of Americans who communicated with foreign individuals, a request known as “unmasking” in intelligence jargon.
The interview came after Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported that Rice sought out the identities of Trump associates while reviewing communications collected during surveillance of foreign targets. Conservative media commentators have said the reports back up President Trump’s unsubstantiated claim last month that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.
Lake noted in his original report that in her role as national security adviser, Rice’s requests to unmask Americans swept up in foreign surveillance was “likely within the law.”
But Rice did not say if the individuals whose identities she requested included Mr. Trump or any of his campaign aides. She also denied the Obama administration ordered secret surveillance of Trump as part of a political operation.
“Absolutely false,” Rice told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
Rice’s “unmasking” request last year and recent comments on her role in the surveillance efforts have placed her at the center of the wiretapping controversy in recent days.
She also faced criticism Tuesday for denying that she had any knowledge that U.S. intelligence agencies in 2016 intercepted communications between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials.
House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., last month announced the existence of White House documents that he said offered proof that the Obama administration intercepted Trump’s campaign communications while monitoring foreign officials, a practice called “incidental collection.”
In an interview on PBS NewsHour shortly after Nunes’ claim, Rice told Judy Woodruff that she was surprised by his announcement.
The Washington Post on Tuesday cited the PBS NewsHour interview and raised questions about Rice’s recent comments on the wiretapping controversy, though the newspaper noted her denial was unclear due to the way the question had been presented.
To save time for broadcast, the full first question was summarized in the anchor intro leading into NewsHour’s March 22 interview with Susan Rice.
In the first question, PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff asked Rice about Nunes’ disclosure that Trump “and the people around him may have been caught up in surveillance of foreign individuals and that their identities may have been disclosed. Do you know anything about this?” Woodruff added.
“I know nothing about this. I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today,” Rice answered. The full first question is unedited in the video above.
On Tuesday, Rice defended herself in the MSNBC interview, saying that her job as national security adviser involved seeking out information on U.S. surveillance efforts.
As a top national security official, Rice said, “I only receive what the intelligence community thinks I or any other senior official needs to see.” She added, “That’s necessary for me to do my job.”
Daniel Bush is PBS NewsHour's Senior Political Reporter.
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