Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., questioned FBI Director James Comey during a hearing Monday about who identified former National Security Advisory Michael Flynn as the U.S. citizen recorded talking with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Michael Flynn was asked to resign from his post in February after a transcript surfaced of him conversing with the Russian ambassador prior to Trump’s inauguration.
However, as Comey explained in the House Intelligence Hearing Monday, only a limited number of individuals have the authority to unmask the identity of a U.S. citizen recorded during FISA surveillance.
“It’s our practice, approved by the FISA court, of removing the names of U.S. persons to protect their privacy and their identity, unless it hits certain exceptions,” Comey explained.
“Masking means … I’ll often see an intelligence report from NSA that will say, U.S. person number one, U.S. person number two, U.S. person number three and there’s no further identification on the document,” he continued.
Earlier in the hearing, Director of National Security Mike Rogers told Gowdy that 20 people within the NSA had the authority to unmask the identity of U.S. citizens recorded under FISA surveillance.
When Gowdy asked how many people within the FBI are part of the unmasking process, Comey responded, “I don’t know for sure as I sit here.”
The South Carolina Republican then grilled Comey on who is responsible for telling the press that it was Flynn in the surveillance audio with the Russian ambassador, the disclosure of which is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Gowdy named former President Barack Obama and six of his administration officials as potential sources of the leaks.
“Do you know whether Director Clapper knew the name of the U.S. citizen that appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post?” Gowdy asked the FBI director.
“In some circumstances, sure, he was the director of national intelligence,” Comey answered, but declined to comment specifically on the Flynn case.
Comey gave similar answers when asked about the unmasking privileges of former CIA Director John Brennan, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and acting Attorney General Sally Yates.
The FBI director could not provide an answer to the unmasking authority allotted to former White House Adviser Ben Rhodes.
Gowdy had one more blunt question for Comey. “Did you brief President Obama on any calls involving Michael Flynn?” he asked.
Comey refused to provide an answer. “I’m not gonna get into either that particular case that matter, or any conversations I had with the president. So I can’t answer that,” he said.
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