Not a single reporter at Wednesday’s Christian Science Monitor (CSM) Newsmaker breakfast asked about “unmasking” of Trump administration officials and leaks to the media during a morning interview with Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is the ranking member on the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
Most of the questions for Schiff were about Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the legal plight of President Donal Trump’s former National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn.
The intelligence committee is investigating the unmasking of Trump officials, and the illegal leaks of their names to media outlets. But not a single reporter posed a question on either subject to the panel’s top Democrat. “Unmasking” refers to revealing the names of individual Americans intelligence agencies overhear when eavesdropping on conversations of foreign persons of interest.
The CSM event has been an important interview opportunity for Washington newsmakers since 1966, and it also provides a glimpse into what’s top-of-mind among members of the national press corps. Four presidents and five vice presidents have attended the newsmaker events. The Schiff interview was held at the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C.
Wednesday’s questioning was all Russia all the time. Obama aides use of U.S. intelligence assets to spy on Trump campaign officials and the flood of national security leaks that have driven news reporting for much of 2017 were never in play.
Thirty-six reporters posed 15 questions to Schiff at the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Washington D.C.
Schiff spoke once about the unmasking issue, but only to complain about having been denied access to National Security Agency (NSA) documents that allegedly show former National Security Advisor Susan Rice unmasked Trump’s aides who spoke with foreign officials.
Under the 1947 National Security Act, only the Senate and House intelligence chairmen can see the most classified documents. The ranking Democrat or Republican does not have automatic access.
“We’re still trying to get those documents for the full committee,” Schiff huffed in an April 6 CNN interview. “We would like the White House’s help if they are sincere about wanting to share this information. But as yet, we have not been able to make those documents available to the full committee.”
The White House eventually caved and shared the documents with Schiff and later with all the committee Democrats. After Schiff saw the documents, however, he fell totally silent.
He remained silent Wednesday as none of the reporters asked about the NSA documents and the unmasking issue. And none asked whether he was concerned about the continuing leaks of sensitive or classified information by their colleagues.
According to the newspaper’s website, the CSM breakfast promises “in-depth conversations,” which it often accomplishes. The briefings are on-the-record meetings, and they often feature newsmakers who are otherwise hard to reach for journalists.
“The goal is light – not heat,” according to the Monitor.
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