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Breaking Down The Law: Flynn Unmasking Investigation

Flynn Unmasking Investigation

We’ve heard a lot out of Washington over the last month about the “unmasking” of General Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to President Trump.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has been holding hearings on the matter, and recently released a list of government officials who requested to “unmask” General Flynn in the months leading up to President Trump’s inauguration.

The matter has become a political issue between Republicans and Democrats, leading many to ask: What is “unmasking” and why is this issue getting so much attention?

Here to discuss the matter is attorney Matt Hoffmann with Battle Born Injury Lawyers.

Thanks, etc.

  1. Okay, so the Judiciary Committee released the names of people who requested to “unmask” General Flynn in regard to a telephone call that was intercepted with the Ambassador to Russia prior to President Trump taking office. What does this mean, and why is this getting so much attention?
  • I’ve watched numerous news outlets covering this, and no matter what you watch or read, the whole “unmasking” issue is confusing. So I’ll try to simplify it.
  • First, the government can’t surveil American citizens without a warrant. That violates the 4th Amendment.
  • It’s why you need a Warrant to put a wiretap on someone’s phone.
  • However, the government can, and does, surveil foreign actors.
  • That’s just part of our government foreign intelligence work.
  • But what can happen is that the government is lawfully surveilling a phone call of a foreign diplomate, like what happened with General Flynn, but an American Citizen is on the call.
  • In that case, any documentation of that call will hide the name of the American Citizen, just labelling them as “US Citizen 1” or something like that.
  • In the Flynn case, the Govt. surveilled the Russian Ambassador in the months before Trump was sworn in, but after he was elected and had put together his transition team.
  • Flynn (member of the transition team) was on the phone call.
  • Because Flynn was a private citizen (Trump not sworn in yet), his name was redacted from all call summaries.
  • To find out who “US Citizen 1” is, a government official has to submit a formal request to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court.
  • This is what’s called “Unmasking.”
  1. So some members of the government during the Obama administration requested to know who was on the call with the Ambassador. Some are saying it’s no big deal, others are saying it’s a crime. Why is this so controversial?
  • Well, there’s questions whether the surveillance was done for a legitimate purpose in the first place.
  • Remember, you can’t surveil a U.S. citizen. So there is allegations that the only reason they were listening to calls of the Russian Ambassador was actually to record calls of Trump Transition Team officials.
  • But putting that aside, once an official learns the identity of the U.S. Citizen – once they are “unmasked” – that information, along with the content of the conversation itself, cannot be shared with anyone. It’s classified information.
  • I think that explains why so many different people (23) had made requests to unmask the identity of the caller with the Russian Ambassador, because they could not share the information with one another.
  • But if someone reveals the identity of the unmasked U.S. citizen and the content of the communication – again, classified information - to others (in Flynn’s case, the Washington Post), it is a Felony under the Espionage Act.
  • I’m not taking sides on this, I’m just telling everyone the law as I understand it.
  • But if a government official gave information to the media disclosing (1) the identity of General Flynn as the U.S. Citizen on the call with the Russian Ambassador, and (2) the content of that call, then whoever did that faces criminal prosecution.
  • Up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
  • So politics or not, it appears the law was broken and that is why this “unmasking” issue is a very big issue.