Posts Tagged ‘Susan Rice’

These politicians are driving New Yorkers out of the state — Plus, weird Susan Rice e-mail looks like cover-up for Obama

February 14, 2018

By Michael Goodwin
The New York Post

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Andrew Cuomo

Think of it as whistling past the graveyard, going for a long walk on a short pier or shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Any and all of those images describe how City Hall and Albany are courting disaster by failing to face the facts of the new federal tax law.

Although the vast majority of New Yorkers will get a tax cut, the new limit of $10,000 of state and local tax deductions could yield federal tax hikes for many high earners.

They have been claiming most of the deductions in question because they pay the bulk of city and state income taxes. The changes could hit their wallets hard and give them an extra incentive to leave high-tax states.

And with a combined city and state top rates approaching 13 percent, New York is among the highest of the high. Without changes, the annual migration of wealthy New Yorkers to states with no income taxes could turn into a stampede.

They’ll take their wealth and income with them, creating budget emergencies here that could lead to layoffs and sharply reduced services. It’s not hard to imagine a declining quality of life leading still others to bolt in domino fashion.

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Mayor de Blasio

Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio are aware of those grim scenarios, but you would never know it from their actions.

Nearly two months after President Trump signed the new tax law, both continue to spend as if the good times will last forever.

The mayor’s proposed budget is up by 4.7 percent, and Cuomo’s by 4.1 percent, according to analysts. And that’s before the city council and legislature add their wish lists.

Combined, city and state spending is nearing $200 billion for one year alone, but it’s never enough.

Yet instead of talking about the most logical response to the federal law — cutting local spending and tax rates — the two Democrats are acting as if attacking Trump and Republicans will make the problem go away.

It won’t, and Cuomo and de Blasio are wasting precious time they should use to start making New York more attractive to the biggest taxpayers.

Cuomo is at least playing around with two ideas he claims could mitigate the federal changes. One, a complex voluntary payroll-tax plan, aims to help employees of participating companies reduce their federal taxes to make up for the lost deductions.

His second idea would set up charities for health and education programs and let people pay state income taxes there, with payments then supposedly deductible.

Other states are trying similar gimmicks, and like New York, are vowing to sue Washington.

None of those sound like winning ideas. The complexities of the payroll-tax could sink it or severely limit its appeal, and the IRS could rule that the charities gambit is illegal.

As for the lawsuits, it’s hard to imagine the Supreme Court finding the tax law unconstitutional because it’s inconvenient for blue-state politicians.

Then again, Cuomo isn’t so much looking for an answer as buying time to get past his campaign for a third term.

Indeed, his comments about the tax law — it’s an “assault,” a “dagger” and a “missile — suggest he’s more interested in trying out talking points than changing the state’s killer tax-and-spend habits.

“He’s putting off the inevitable,” one insider says. “He gets the issue, but he wants to wait until after the election.”

Then there’s Mayor Putz. He believes the more spending the better, and is adding employees as if they are on sale.

Most city labor contracts expire this year, and with the average employee now costing taxpayers about $140,000 annually in salary and benefits, that number is certain to increase.

Yet, like a broken record — or an ideologue — the mayor has one answer for all problems: tax the rich. That will be hard if they move to Florida.

“He doesn’t believe in spending restraint,” the insider said. “For him, hiring and spending are a religion.”

Unlike the governor, the mayor is term-limited, so he’s probably planning to stick his successor with soaring costs. Meanwhile, he’ll spend his second term trying to create a national profile for himself as someone who is solving income inequality by making the rich poorer.

That’ll sell to the Bernie Sanders crowd, but the mayor should not make his case while standing next to a door in New York. He might get run over in the stampede for the exits.

FBI clues damn bam

“Don’t let up,” a friend living abroad wrote a few weeks ago about corruption at the FBI. “Trump has them all on the run.”

The note came to mind when I saw the weird e-mail Susan Rice wrote to herself on Inauguration Day last year.

Image result for obama and susan rice

At first glance, the e-mail, which purports to recount remarks President Obama made two weeks earlier to Rice, FBI head James Comey and others about the Russia probe, makes no sense. But ask yourself why Rice repeated that Obama wanted everything done “by the book,” and it smells as if she’s preparing a last-minute defense for Obama, and maybe herself.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, pit bulls on government misbehavior, wrote to Rice about the e-mail while noting that there were lots of doubts about whether the FBI actually did proceed “by the book.”

Hopefully, she’ll have to give her answer under oath, as should Comey and anybody else in the room.

As for Obama, I always assumed the corruption hunt would end up on his doorstep. I didn’t assume it would get there so quickly.

Times’ bad ‘my bad’

Corrections in The New York Times can obfuscate as well as reveal, and yesterday was a case in point. One began this way: “An Op-Ed essay on Saturday about the dangers of being a sanitation worker misstated the number of such workers killed on the job annually. It was 31 in 2016, not one a day.”

Wait, what? Instead of 365, the number of deaths was 31?

That’s a helluva error, and it sent me to find the essay, where it quickly became apparent that the mistake was hardly incidental. The inflated number was the basis of an original headline — “A Waste Worker Dies Everyday” — and author Carl Zimring used it to invoke Martin Luther King Jr. and his support for striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., the day before he was assassinated.

Having established an aura of death and the moral high ground, Zimring claimed that current working conditions “aren’t at all unlike those in Memphis in 1968.”

It’s a silly argument made possible only by the grossly inflated death totals. Once the actual numbers are known, the central claim of the entire piece makes no sense. But don’t hold your breath waiting for The Times to admit that.


Make Iran Great Again

January 4, 2018

Like Barack Obama, Iran’s leaders don’t know how a real economy works.

U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama at the United Nations in New York City, Sept. 25, 2014.
U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama at the United Nations in New York City, Sept. 25, 2014. PHOTO: ANTHONY BEHAR-POOL/GETTY IMAGES

Iran erupted last Thursday. By Friday, the protests against the government, which began in Mashhad near the Afghan border, had spread to dozens of cities. So when we traveled on Saturday to a movie theater on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to see “Darkest Hour,” Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill, imagine the jarring dislocation when the theater’s previews included a trailer for an admiring documentary of Barack Obama’s foreign-policy making, “The Final Year.”

The preview screen filled with expressions of earnest intent from Mr. Obama, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes and the Iran nuclear deal’s handmaiden, John Kerry. About 100 minutes later, we were watching Churchill shout at his war cabinet that you cannot do deals with dictators. That would have been about the time this weekend that protesters in Iran were shouting “Death to Khamenei !” It’s nice to see the Iranian people have a sense of humor.

Producing the past week’s protests against the Iranian regime was not the goal of the six-party Iran nuclear deal. Back then, the Khamenei-Rouhani regime was represented as America’s partner in a good cause. Now the governments of the U.S., U.K., France and Germany (Russia is a Khamenei ally, and China only supports crackdowns) have to decide whether their Iranian partner is the people in the streets or the government that is shooting them.

In the preview of “The Final Year,” the Obama team members convey confidence in the rightness of everything they did. But as we learned in November 2016, there was one big thing the Obama people never understood: how a real economy works. By real economy, I mean the private economy, not the economy of public spending.

A central element of the nuclear deal was that it would “help” the Iranian people by lifting sanctions and injecting $100 billion of unfrozen assets into Iran’s economy. This was much the same economic theory behind the Obama administration’s 2009 injection of $832 billion into the U.S. economy. Both flopped because both made the real economy essentially a bystander to state guidance.

The Obama $832 billion went up the government’s fireplace flue. The Iranian $100 billion went into ballistic missile production and for Iran’s proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

The moment has arrived for invidious comparisons.

Donald Trump is president because the Obama-Clinton Democrats forgot about hard-pressed voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. The Khamenei-Rouhani regime is under assault because working-class Iranians began this week’s revolt in cities beyond the capital.

Come to think of it, isn’t that disconnect between the people running governments and the people trying to make a living in the real economy the core reason behind the world-wide burst of populism?

It’s the reason France’s working-class voters and young, underemployed college graduates sent Emmanuel Macron and a heretofore nonexistent party into the French presidency. It’s the reason working-class Brits lunged for Brexit. This new global reality—perform or get shoved aside—is the reason Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman imposed reforms.

The Iranians shouting, “Leave Syria, think of us!” are the West Virginia coal miners shouting, “Make America Great Again.” That’s not yahooism. It is anxiety directed at incumbent elites who tell the public that reduced levels of economic growth are the new normal. The world’s populations will not accept that.

Iran—like North Korea—has taken its best and brightest and stuck them inside a mountain to build atomic bombs, leaving the economy in the hands of Brussels-grade technocrats.

Besides calling for higher taxes in its recent budget, even as prices have spiked for basic foodstuff, Hassan Rouhani’s government has pursued import-substitution policies by imposing high tariffs on many imported goods. Needless to say, Iranians can’t get the clothing, appliances and electronics they want.

To combat a massive cellphone-smuggling operation, Iran recently slapped a 5% duty on them atop the 9% value-added tax and required registration with Iran’s telecom user database. Now, millions of smuggled phones will make it harder for the ayatollahs to kill texting among protesters. The bazaar may prove stronger than the theocracy.

A theme now emerging in Western media is that if Europe’s leaders support President Trump’s “aggressive” posture toward Tehran, that will undermine both the sanctified Obama nuclear deal and support for “liberals” in the Rouhani government. This is where we came in, watching Winston Churchill convince a timid British establishment that an outward-moving dictatorship won’t stop at anyone’s border.

The moment has arrived to admit that Iran’s missiles, nuclear technology and armies won’t stay inside its borders until the people getting shot in the streets are recognized and supported by a too-timid world.


Appeared in the January 4, 2018, print edition.

Bob Mueller’s Sideshow

October 31, 2017

Nunes’s Intelligence Committee plods on with the real Russia investigation.

President Trump's Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 17.
President Trump’s Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 17. PHOTO: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The best way to think of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Monday-morning indictments is as a compliment—backhanded as it may be—to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes.

Like the special prosecutor, Mr. Nunes and his committee have been investigating the 2016 presidential campaign. Unlike the special prosecutor, Mr. Nunes has unearthed hard evidence about both Russian influence on the election and domestic spying on Trump campaign officials. And if the committee gets the documents it has been demanding for months about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s handling of the salacious Christopher Steele dossier, this week may end even more explosively than it’s begun.

Right now that’s hard to imagine, given how Washington has been overwhelmed by Monday’s indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates, as well as news that another former campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts. Though a court will determine whether Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates are guilty of the crimes they are accused of, surely it is worth noting that those charges, serious as they may be, have little to do with what Mr. Mueller was supposed to be investigating when he was named special prosecutor, to wit: “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.”

Meanwhile Mr. Nunes and the Republicans on his intel committee plod on. They do so in the face of mockery and contempt from the Beltway press corps, and sabotage and obstruction by Democrats, especially those on the committee. The obstruction includes a manufactured ethics charge against Mr. Nunes that has deliberately been kept unresolved in the House Ethics Committee as part of an effort to keep a cloud hanging over Mr. Nunes so long as he continues to ask real questions about not only the Russians but our own government.

So what has Mr. Nunes’s committee found? Turns out that in the Obama years, especially in 2016, officials made many requests to unmask the identities of Americans, including Trump campaign officials, who were caught up in foreign surveillance.

When asked about it by PBS’s Judy Woodruff back in March, Obama national security adviser Susan Rice claimed she was “surprised” and told Ms. Woodruff “I know nothing about this.” Under oath before Mr. Nunes’s committee, Ms. Rice’s memory returned, and she admitted of unmasking senior figures in the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile the committee learned that Ms. Rice’s colleague at the United Nations, Ambassador Samantha Power, had made hundreds of unmasking requests. During Ms. Power’s appearance before the committee, she oddly claimed others were doing much of the asking—even though her name was on these requests. Did anyone outside the House committee think to ask why a Democratic White House was so free with such sensitive info in an election year?

Then there’s the Russian question. The Steele dossier is at the heart of the narrative that Mr. Trump had colluded with Moscow to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. Now the same people who pushed this narrative have lost all interest in the document that helped fuel it. When two of Fusion’s three partners invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than reveal who paid for the dossier, it looked as though we might never find out.

But the committee didn’t give up. It subpoenaed Fusion’s bank records, ultimately forcing the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to acknowledge they had paid for the dossier, notwithstanding earlier Clinton campaign denials. On Saturday the committee announced a deal over Fusion’s bank records it said would “secure the Committee’s access” to what it needed for its investigation.

Big questions remain for the FBI. The main one requires a simple yes-or-no answer: Did the FBI use the information in the Steele dossier to spy on Trump campaign associates? If so, did it first verify the information in the dossier?

And why would the FBI want to pay for more information from a man doing opposition research for Mrs. Clinton?

Here’s another way to put it: As all eyes remain on Special Counsel Mueller and the men he’s indicted, it may be well to pay more attention to a much-maligned committee on Capitol Hill. Because after months of stonewalling and the public intervention of House Speaker Paul Ryan, the FBI has agreed to provide the documents Congress asked for. Mr. Nunes’s office confirms that the FBI documents it has long sought are supposed to arrive this week.

Messrs. Manafort and Gates may well be guilty of everything they’ve been charged with. But this week, thanks to a congressional committee’s persistence, we may find out the answer to what surely is a much more combustible question: whether a presidential campaign was able to leverage opposition research based on Russian disinformation to bring about an FBI investigation into its rival’s campaign.

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Appeared in the October 31, 2017, print edition.

Susan Rice: “We can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea.”

August 12, 2017

North Korea’s substantial nuclear arsenal and improving intercontinental ballistic missile capacity pose a growing threat to America’s security. But we need not face an immediate crisis if we play our hand carefully.

Given the bluster emanating from Pyongyang and Bedminster, N.J., Americans can be forgiven for feeling anxious.

Shortly after adoption of new United Nations sanctions last weekend, North Korea threatened retaliation against the United States “thousands of times” over. Those sanctions were especially potent, closing loopholes and cutting off important funding for the North. August is also when the United States and South Korea conduct major joint military exercises, which always set Pyongyang on edge. In August 2015, tensions escalated into cross-border artillery exchanges after two South Korean soldiers were wounded by land mines laid by North Korea. This juxtaposition of tough sanctions and military exercises has predictably heightened North Korea’s threats.

We have long lived with successive Kims’ belligerent and colorful rhetoric — as ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, I came to expect it whenever we passed resolutions. What is unprecedented and especially dangerous this time is the reaction of President Trump. Unscripted, the president said on Tuesday that if North Korea makes new threats to the United States, “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” These words risk tipping the Korean Peninsula into war, if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, believes them and acts precipitously.

Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.

We carefully studied this contingency. “Preventive war” would result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties. Metropolitan Seoul’s 26 million people are only 35 miles from the border, within easy range of the North’s missiles and artillery. About 23,000 United States troops, plus their families, live between Seoul and the Demilitarized Zone; in total, at least 200,000 Americans reside in South Korea.

Japan, and almost 40,000 United States military personnel there, would also be in the cross hairs. The risk to American territory cannot be discounted, nor the prospect of China being drawn into a direct conflict with the United States. Then there would be the devastating impact of war on the global economy.

The national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, said last week that if North Korea “had nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States, it’s intolerable from the president’s perspective.” Surely, we must take every reasonable step to reduce and eliminate this threat. And surely there may be circumstances in which war is necessary, including an imminent or actual attack on our nation or our allies.

But war is not necessary to achieve prevention, despite what some in the Trump administration seem to have concluded. History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea — the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

It will require being pragmatic.

First, though we can never legitimize North Korea as a nuclear power, we know it is highly unlikely to relinquish its sizable arsenal because Mr. Kim deems the weapons essential to his regime’s survival. The North can now reportedly reach United States territory with its ICBMs. The challenge is to ensure that it would never try.

By most assessments, Mr. Kim is vicious and impetuous, but not irrational. Thus, while we quietly continue to refine our military options, we can rely on traditional deterrence by making crystal clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies would result in annihilation of North Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis struck this tone on Wednesday. The same red line must apply to any proof that North Korea has transferred nuclear weapons to another state or nonstate actor.

Second, to avoid blundering into a costly war, the United States needs to immediately halt the reckless rhetoric. John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, must assert control over the White House, including his boss, and curb the Trump surrogates whipping up Cuban missile crisis fears.

Third, we must enhance our antimissile systems and other defenses, and those of our allies, which need our reassurances more than ever.

Fourth, we must continue to raise the costs to North Korea of maintaining its nuclear programs. Ratcheting up sanctions, obtaining unfettered United Nations authority to interdict suspect cargo going in or out of the North, increasing Pyongyang’s political isolation and seeding information into the North that can increase regime fragility are all important elements of a pressure campaign.

Finally, we must begin a dialogue with China about additional efforts and contingencies on the peninsula, and revive diplomacy to test potential negotiated agreements that could verifiably limit or eliminate North Korea’s arsenal.

Rational, steady American leadership can avoid a crisis and counter a growing North Korean threat. It’s past time that the United States started exercising its power responsibly.

House Intelligence Panel Issues Seven Subpoenas in Russia Probe

May 31, 2017

Four are related to Russia investigation, three to ‘unmasking’ controversy, individuals say

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week.

Former CIA Director John Brennan testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

The House Intelligence Committee issued seven subpoenas on Wednesday, in a sign that its investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election is ramping up in scope and intensity, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Republican-led committee issued four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation. Three subpoenas are related to questions about how and why the names of associates of President Donald Trump were unredacted and distributed within classified reports by Obama administration officials during the transition between administrations.

The committee has subpoenaed the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency for information about what is called “unmasking.” Republicans on the committee have been pushing for a thorough investigation of how the names of Trump campaign officials became exposed in classified intelligence reports based off intelligence community intercepts.

Those subpoenas seek information on requests made by former national security adviser Susan Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power for names to be unmasked in classified material. The three didn’t personally receive subpoenas, the people familiar with the matte said. Mr. Brennan, Ms. Rice and Ms. Power didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Power hasn’t previously been reported as a potential witness in the probe so her inclusion in the subpoenas may mean Republicans are broadening their areas of investigation.

Typically, information about Americans intercepted in foreign surveillance is redacted, even in classified reports distributed within the government, unless a compelling need exists to reveal them. Unmasking requests aren’t uncommon by top intelligence community officials but Republicans want to know whether any of the unmaskings of Trump campaign officials during the transition were politically motivated.

The four subpoenas related to the Russia investigation remain unknown but Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, has previously said that former national security adviser Mike Flynn would be subpoenaed by the panel. It is unclear if Mr. Flynn is one of the four targeted Wednesday.

The House Intelligence Committee is one of two bodies currently probing the question of whether Russian meddled in the 2016 election and whether anyone from Mr. Trump’s campaign played a role. The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation and has already issued subpoenas to Mr. Flynn and his businesses. Mr. Trump has said there was no collusion with Russia and called the investigation a witch hunt. Russia has denied the allegations.

The House panel also sent a letter to former White House press aide Boris Epshteyn asking him to voluntarily submit information to the committee. Mr. Epshteyn briefly served as special assistant to the president in the Trump administration before departing his post earlier this year.

“Like many others, Mr. Epshteyn has received a broad, preliminary request for information from the House Intelligence Committee,” an attorney for Mr. Epshteyn said Wednesday. “This is a voluntary request. Mr. Epshteyn has not been subpoenaed nor do we anticipate that he will be. We have reached out to the committee with several follow up questions and we are awaiting their response in order to better understand what information they are seeking and whether Mr. Epshteyn is able to reasonably provide it.”

Write to Byron Tau at

Iran, Syria And Russia Issue Warning To US; Ex-Syrian General Confirms Assad Lied About Turning Over Chemical Weapons

April 16, 2017

“I could not stand and watch the genocide.”

A day after Iran, Russia and Syria called for an international investigation into the sarin attack on the north Syrian town of Shaykhun and threatened the United States that new strikes on Syrian army positions would not be tolerated, a former Syrian general revealed Assad lied when he said he had turned over all of his chemical weapons in 2013.

Former Brig. Gen. Zaher al-Sakat, who defected from the Syrian army in 2013 and is now living in an undisclosed European country, said during an interview with the British newspaper Telegraph that Assad has deceived United Nations inspectors who came to oversee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

Under the Russian-brokered deal — used by the Obama Administration as an excuse to backtrack on an earlier decision to take military action against the Assad regime — the Syrian dictator was supposed to hand over his entire chemical agents inventory but managed to hide at least 700 tons of chemical agents.

Sakat, who used to be the director of the chemical warfare department of the Fifth Division of the Syrian army, says that after the strike on Shaykhun on April 4, Assad still has hundreds of tons chemical weapons at his disposal.

“They admitted only to 1,300 tons, but we knew in reality they had nearly double that. They had at least 2,000 tons. At least,” the defected general told The Telegraph.

Sakat claimed Assad ordered him to carry out attacks with chemical weapons on three occasions but sabotaged the order by switching deadly chemical agents for harmless chemicals in the bombs he had to prepare.

“I couldn’t believe at the beginning that Assad would use these weapons on his people,” he told the British paper.

“I could not stand and watch the genocide. I couldn’t hurt my own people,” he added.

Sakat’s allegations about the chemical weapons stockpile in Addad’s possession are deemed quite “plausible” by Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, the former commander of the UK’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regimen.

Bretton-Gordon thinks Assad used old sarin gas in the attack on Shaykhun because of the relative low number of casualties.

Read the rest:

Syria Attack Exposes Failed Obama, Kerry Deal to Rid Syrian Regime of Chemical Weapons (What should we think about the Iran nuclear deal?)

April 12, 2017

Efforts to identify gaps in original mission quickly unraveled; Moscow came to see probe as politicized

A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad adorns a wall as a United Nations vehicle carrying OPCW inspectors leaves a hotel in Damascus in October 2013.

A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad adorns a wall as a United Nations vehicle carrying OPCW inspectors leaves a hotel in Damascus in October 2013. PHOTO: LOUAI BESHARA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

ISTANBUL—The suspected sarin gas attack in Syria last week revealed one of the worst-kept secrets in international diplomacy: A 2013 deal brokered by Russia and the U.S. failed to cripple the Assad regime’s ability to make or use chemical weapons.

International investigators were already looking into eight incidents involving chemical weapons use just since the start of this year, according to a report by the United Nations Secretary General. Evidence was mounting that Damascus continued to use chemicals—including some it had pledged to give up—in attacks on its citizens, according to Western officials and others involved in the disarmament effort.

But Russia disputed the findings of investigators and experts and blocked any meaningful punishment at the United Nations, and Western powers declined to go further. In recent months, inspectors and diplomats trying to dismantle the chemical weapons program concluded they had hit a wall.


The April 4 attack, which killed at least 85 adults and children, is a stark example of the challenge: It was launched from an airfield where inspectors years earlier had identified and destroyed a chemical weapons facility, according to two people familiar with the work of the joint mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations at the time.

Ridding Syria of Chemical Weapons: A Timeline

Western and allied intelligence agencies say the Syrian government has had a chemical weapons program since the 1980s. But Damascus never acknowledged having such weapons until a large-scale sarin attack outside Damascus in 2013- in the middle of a civil war to unseat President Bashar al-Assad- almost triggered U.S. military action. Instead, it led to a U.S.-Russian deal to clear Syria of its chemical weapons. Here are key moments since the start of the Syrian war to dismantle the program:

August 2013 — A sarin gas attack hits the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, killing at 1,429 people, according to the U.S. government.
U.N. investigators already in Syria on the request of the Syrian government divert their attention to the Ghouta attack and conclude that chemical weapons were used on “a relatively large scale” in Eastern Ghouta.
September 2013 — U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118 establishes a joint OPCW-U.N. mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program.
October 2013 — Syria officially accedes to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
To address mounting reports of chlorine attacks in rebel-held areas, the OPCW creates a separate fact-finding mission to investigate and confirm the possible use of toxic chemicals, including chlorine, as a weapon in Syria. (The mission’s mandate is only to verify if and what chemicals were used, not to identify perpetrators of attacks)
March 2014 — OPCW inspectors report major anomalies in the Syrian government’s disclosures on its research and production facilities. The OPCW also creates a “Declaration Assessment Team” to “attempt to clarify gaps and discrepancies in Syria’s initial declaration.”
June 2014 — The joint OPCW-U.N. mission says that all declared weapons materials of the Syrian Arab Republic have been removed.
September 2014 — The OPCW fact-finding mission publishes a report concluding with “a high degree of confidence” that chlorine was used as a weapon systematically and repeatedly in three villages in northern Syria.
March 2015 — U.N. Security Council Resolution 2209 condemns the use of chlorine gas in Syria, noting that it is “the first ever documented instance of the use of toxic chemicals as weapons within the territory of a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
August 2015 — Following a U.S.-backed proposal, the U.N. Security Council establishes a “Joint Investigative Mechanism” between the U.N. and the OPCW to hold accountable those responsible for chemical attacks in Syria. Its mission is to identify “individuals, entities, groups or governments” involved.
April 2016 — The U.S. State Department says in a report that Syria hasn’t declared all elements of its chemical weapons program, in violation of its obligations and international norms.
January 2017 — The Obama administration imposes sanctions on 18 senior Syria officials it says are involved in the use of chemical weapons, the first such sanctions on Syrian officials related to chemical weapons use.
February 2017 — Russia and China veto a U.N. Security Council resolution seeking to sanction the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons.

Sources: OPCW, U.N., WSJ research


The U.S. struck the Shayrat Airfield, where Syrian and Russian forces worked side-by-side in recent months, with 59 Tomahawk missiles last week.

White House officials suspect Russia may have known Syria was preparing to launch a chemical attack, and on Tuesday accused Moscow of trying to cover it up.

The Syrian airforce has resumed bombing runs from the airbase since the U.S. airstrike.

“Assad didn’t fire his last salvo of CW, that’s for sure,” a U.S. official said, using an abbreviation for chemical weapons.

The U.S.-Russian agreement in 2013 sought to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons program.

“Expectations are high… to deliver on the promise of this moment,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at the time.

The mandate of the mission that took up the work later narrowed the parameters to eliminating declared stockpiles and facilities.

Critics of the deal early on said it amounted to a victory for President Bashar al-Assad, who dodged an American military intervention at a moment of regime weakness in exchange for only what chemical stockpiles his regime would declare.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both of whom had backed U.S. military action in Syria, criticized the deal then for leaving out an explicit threat of military force for any failure by Syria to comply, calling it “an act of provocative weakness.”

Obama administration officials said the deal successfully rid Syria of the majority of its chemical weapons and that the alternative—a war with Syria or even Russia —would have been far worse.

Some officials involved in the OPCW-U.N. mission defend its success, saying it had a limited mandate and worked under unprecedented conditions to remove and destroy from Syria chemical weapons declared by the Syrian government. By August 2014, behind schedule but still not a year from its deployment, the mission removed 1,300 metric tons of chemicals from Syria, some destroyed at sea in operations that had never been tried before.

Any effort to paint the mission as flawed is “revisionism,” one official involved in its early set-up said, because “all parties involved seemed to be quite content with what had been declared, on the same page as to the extent and nature of the Syrian CW program.”

Non-proliferation experts concur in that assessment.

“Though not acknowledged openly, it is not possible to achieve 100% disarmament of a CW program and verify such, even in the best of circumstances and over a long-period of time. Syria in 2013 was anything but best case scenario,” said Michael Elleman, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who served on U.N. weapons inspection missions in Iraq. “I still view the mission as a success, from a non-proliferation perspective.”

U.S. and allied intelligence agencies meanwhile are trying to get a better picture of Syria’s chemical weapons after the attack.

A Wall Street Journal investigation in 2015 showed that the regime hid some nerve agents, scattered stockpiles to complicate the work of inspectors, and continued to operate weapons-research facilities even after the main mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in 2014 ended.

More recent concern among U.S. and allied officials, before the latest attack, centered on how traces of sarin were still showing up on the Syrian battlefield. Damascus was also turning to new toxins, such as chlorine and developing new munitions, according to Western officials tracking the issue.

Syria has repeatedly denied it has used chemical weapons.

Western officials and others directly involved in the effort to rid Syria of chemical weapons described in interviews what took place in the months and years that followed the 2013 deal.

The technical efforts to try to identify what the original mission omitted or missed—and the rare U.S.-Russian unity of purpose that backed it—would begin to unravel even before the Danish ship carrying the last batch of chemicals departed the Syrian port of Tartous in the summer of 2014. That spring, the team tasked with dismantling the program saw such inconsistencies between the Syrian government’s declarations and previous intelligence assessments that the OPCW set up a new team dedicated to filling the gaps.

In the months that followed, as scientists studied results from destroyed facilities and inspected equipment that Damascus had denied was related to chemical weapons, the discrepancies grew wider. For example, inspectors couldn’t reconcile the quantities of munitions the Syrians were producing with the chemical weapons they said they had intended to produce.

At the same time, the organization created a separate fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of chlorine attacks—which fell outside the mandate of the inspectors working on destroying the chemical weapons program—in rebel-held areas.

The follow-up work infuriated Russia and Iran, which wanted the OPCW to focus on a narrowly-defined technical mission, according to mission officials and diplomats. Chlorine attacks on rebels surged again several months later, and the OPCW fact-finding mission concluded in a public report that chlorine had been used as a weapon systematically in three villages in northern Syria.

In Damascus, the OPCW team trying to get clearer answers from the government on its initial declarations struggled to get face-time with the relevant officials. Several times they were told Syria had no other information to offer because no paper documents existed related to its chemical weapons program, a major state secret.

“What could be done?” said Wa’el Alzayat, a former advisor to Samantha Power, the U.S.’s former envoy to the U.N, recalling that time period in 2014. “There was no recourse on the U.N. Security Council because of the Russian veto, and there was no recourse on the ground because the [former] administration didn’t want to get involved militarily.”

At the U.N., reports to the Security Council based on briefings from the OPCW made clear Syria was skirting its obligations, but drafts were often watered down to avoid clashing with Russia, diplomats said. “There was absolutely no appetite in the U.N. or among member states to open that can of worms,” a senior U.N. official said. “Everybody conveniently decided to put it to rest, while the bureaucracy continued to report.”

The U.S. scored a diplomatic victory in late 2015, getting Russia at the Security Council to back a new U.N. mission with the OPCW, called the Joint Investigative Mechanism, to identify individuals, entities, groups, or governments involved in chemical weapons in Syria. “Pointing the finger matters,” Ms. Power, the U.S. envoy at the time, told the Security Council.

The resolution came after three more fact-finding missions in Syria established a pattern of attacks with chlorine, and indirectly pointed the blame at the government by identifying that helicopters were used in the attack.

They also found that in at one instance, Islamic State militants had likely used chemical weapons too. Syria had tried to “exercise veto power” over the fact finding missions, according to a U.S. State Department report, but was overruled by the organization.

Damascus at this time again said it had never used chemical weapons, and warned about their use by terrorist groups.

Within months of the new mission starting its work, U.S. and European officials believed they had the evidence they needed to coax Russia into their camp and consider U.N.-backed sanctions on the Syrian regime.

The mission identified Syrian military units and officials believed to be involved in chemical weapons attacks. But Moscow made clear it considered the reporting politicized and didn’t think any of the evidence was credible enough, U.N. diplomats said.

After a report on those findings, which one European official described as “the smoking gun,” was published in the early fall of 2016, it took several months for any response to be debated in earnest, and then attention turned to the Russian-backed Syrian government campaign to drive rebels out of the city of Aleppo.

By the end of 2016, the U.N. was citing “no progress” in the effort to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program. With no movement at the U.N., Western nations reverted to sanctions. In November 2016, the E.U. placed sanctions on 17 Syrian officials. The Obama administration followed the move in January 2017, sanctioning 18 senior Syrian officials it said were involved in the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

In March, OPCW investigators told their counterparts at the U.N. they had no new information to report from Syria and were aiming to resume high-level consultations with the Syrian government in early May.

Corrections & Amplifications
Samantha Power was the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in 2015. An earlier version of this article misspelled her surname on second reference. An earlier version of this story (April 12)

Write to Nour Malas at


What should we think about the Iran nuclear deal?

Susan Rice Mostly Wrong About Syria’s Chemical Weapons: “The Obama administration had a tendency to oversell what was accomplished…”

April 10, 2017

Fox News

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AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Former Obama official Susan Rice’s claim just a few months ago that the Assad regime “voluntarily and verifiably” gave up its chemical weapons stockpile earned a full rebuke from a prominent fact-checker on Monday in the wake of last week’s chemical attack.

The Washington Post fact-checker gave the former national security adviser a rating of “four Pinocchios” — the worst rating on their truth scale.

“The reality is that there were continued chemical-weapons attacks by Syria,” the Post wrote.

This was after another fact-checking outfit, PolitiFact, retracted its “mostly true” rating for a 2014 claim from then-Secretary of State John Kerry that “100 percent” of those weapons were removed from Syria.


Rice’s claim, however, was more recent. In January, she told NPR that the Obama administration was able to “find a solution” on Syria that didn’t require the use of force – and still dealt with the chemical weapons threat, using diplomacy.

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“We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile,” she claimed.

Then came last week’s attack that killed dozens and that the U.S. suspects involved sarin nerve gas. The strike prompted President Trump to launch missiles late last week against the base suspected of being used to carry out the attack.

Rice’s comments about the 2013 agreement to purge the Assad regime’s chemical weapons quickly were called into question, along with the claims of other Obama officials.

The Washington Post noted, “the Obama administration had a tendency to oversell what was accomplished, perhaps because Obama received so much criticism for not following through on an attack if Syria crossed what Obama had called ‘a red line.’”

“The reality is that there were continued chemical-weapons attacks by Syria — and that U.S. and international officials had good evidence that Syria had not been completely forthcoming in its declaration and possibly retained sarin and VX nerve agent,” the Post wrote.

Citing Rice’s exact words, the fact-check column ruled: “She did not explain that Syria’s declaration was believed to be incomplete and thus was not fully verified — and that the Syrian government still attacked citizens with chemical weapons not covered by the 2013 agreement. That tipped her wordsmithing toward a Four.”

Sebastian Gorka: Russia, Iran and Susan Rice said, “There are no chemical weapons in Syria” — “President Trump and the United States will not lead from behind.”

April 9, 2017


 Trump and Gorka on 
the Fox News Hannity 
show in August 2016 

 President Donald Trump and Sebastian Gorka. CREDIT: FOX NEWS 


Sebastian Gorka appeared on the Fox News morning porogram “Fox and Friends” on Sunday, April 9, 2017.

In discussing President Trump’s cruise missile strike on the Syrian airfield after the use of chemocal weapons, Dr. Gorka said, “Diplomacy without force to back it up is just worlds.”

He said, “President Obama said he would lead from behind, which is an oxymoron.”

“President Trump and the United States will not lead from behind.”

Dr. Gorka reminded the audience that, “Obama national security adviser Susan Rice said Syria had no chemical weapons. That was clearly wrong.”


.Image: Sebastian GorkaSebastian Gorka, center, talks with Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, left, before a meeting with President Donald Trump on cyber security at the White House in January. Martin H. Simon/Redux



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In January, Susan Rice Assured NPR the Obama Admin Removed Chemical Weapons From Syria

It seems the former national security adviser has a credibility problem.

Susan Rice in 2015 Photo credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta.

According to a recent headline from Reuters, “U.S. intelligence agencies suspect Assad did not turn over all chemical weapons stockpile.” The evidence of the recent chemical attack in Syria makes that declaration little more than stating the obvious. However, back in January in an in interview with NPR, Obama national security adviser Susan Rice was still touting the Obama administration’s success at removing chemical weapons in Syria:

We were able to find a solution that didn’t necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria, in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished. Our aim in contemplating the use of force following the use of chemical weapons in August of 2013 was not to intervene in the civil war, not to become involved in the combat between Assad and the opposition, but to deal with the threat of chemical weapons by virtue of the diplomacy that we did with Russia and with the Security Council. We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.

Read more:

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Obama Administration Knew Syria Still Had Chemical Weapons, Despite Saying Otherwise

DNI James Clapper said as much last February.

Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is announced as national security adviser, Feb. 20, 2017. Photo credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster delivered remarks in Florida today to give some background on the strikes against Syria Thursday. He made one curious comment that raises a lot of troubling questions:

And the one thing that I will tell you though, there was an effort to minimize—to minimize risk to third-country nationals at that airport—I think you read Russians from that—but that—and we took great pains to try to avoid that. Of course, in any kind of military operation, there are no guarantees. And then there were also measures put in place to avoid hitting what we believe is a storage of sarin gas, so that that would not be ignited and cause a hazard to civilians or anyone else.

Emphasis added. Now recall that John Kerry bragged on Charlie Rose in 2014 about the Obama administration cutting an historic deal that removed “100 percent of the declared chemical weapons” from Syria. I don’t know how much of a caveat the word “declared” constitutes, but as recently as January former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice was confidently announcing that the Obama administration had removed chemical weapons from Syria. (Suffice to say, it’s been a bad week for Rice’s credibility.)

Read more:


Syria's President Bashar al-Assad heads the plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling al-Baath party, in Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA July 8, 2013. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad heads the plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling al-Baath party, in Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria’s national news agency SANA July 8, 2013.  Credit: Reuters/SANA/Handout via Reuters



Kerry and Lavrov. John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov in 2013. They engineered a deal to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. AP photo


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White Helmet rescue workers try to find children buried in the wrechage of Aleppo by Russian and Syrian Bombing — after the Obama Adminstration withdrew from the Middle East.

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  (“The President Blinked”: Why Obama Changed Course on the “Red Line” in Syria)


United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, left, Secretary of State John Kerry, second from right, and National Advisor Susan Rice, right, listen while US President Barack Obama speaks during the 68th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters. (photo credit: AP/Seth Wenig)

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, left, Secretary of State John Kerry, second from right, and National Advisor Susan Rice, right, listen while US President Barack Obama speaks during the 68th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters. (photo credit: AP/Seth Wenig)




Kerry: ‘Provisional agreement’ reached with Russia on cessation of hostilities in Syria


kerry lavrov

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry react during a joint news conference after their meeting in Moscow, May 7, 2013.Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters



Could Russia-U.S. Deal on Syria Chemical Weapons Lead to a Non-Imperial, New Internationalism?
SEPTEMBER 16, 2013

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US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, September 2013 (photo credit: AP/Keystone/Martial Trezzini)

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Secretary of State John Kerry, (r.), speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, (c.), in Geneva, Switzerland, in January, 2014. The pair will meet in New York Monday , when they will participate in a conference at the United Nations on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. LAURENT GILLIERON/EPA


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before a meeting in Geneva January 14, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Should anyone believe Iran is telling us the truth about their nuclear weapons?


Related image

U.S. Navy sailors held by Iran, January 2016

Tom Cotton: It’s ‘unusual’ for White House officials like Susan Rice to make unmasking requests

April 7, 2017
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice: ‘I leaked nothing to nobody’
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Former White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice is battling claims that she mishandled classified information in requesting the identities of people connected to President Donald Trump’s transition team in raw intelligence reports.

Some Republicans have latched onto allegations about former National Security Adviser Susan Rice to bolster their narrative that President Barack Obama’s administration misused intelligence for political purposes.

A few media sources, most prominently Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake, have said Rice repeatedly asked to learn the names of unidentified American citizens who appeared in intelligence reports in connection to the Donald Trump campaign and transition. These reports are based on anonymous sources, and Rice has neither confirmed nor denied them.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Congress should investigate because if the story is true, it’s strange that someone in Rice’s White House position would request for names to be unmasked.

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Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark

“You’re right that it’s not necessarily illegal,” Cotton said in an April 4 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “It is unusual, though. The White House doesn’t conduct criminal investigations. The White House doesn’t conduct counterintelligence investigations. The White House is a consumer of intelligence. Normally, those kind of unmasking requests would be done by the agencies responsible for those activities.”

However, experts in intelligence collection and classified information told us it’s normal for someone in such a high-up national security role to make unmasking requests, and it would be hard, though not impossible, to abuse the practice for political purposes.

“It’s not unusual at all,” said Joshua Rovner, chair of international politics and national security at Southern Methodist University and author of Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence.

What ‘unmasking’ is and how it works

We couldn’t find a way to quantify how often national security advisers or other White House officials make unmasking requests, but experts said it’s a routine, legitimate occurrence.

The FBI and NSA regularly produce reports for government customers. The customer could be another investigating agency, Congress, the Justice Department or the White House. If an American’s name appears in a piece of intelligence — for example, if agents intercept a conversation between two foreign nationals who mention an American friend in passing — those preparing the report generally“mask” the American’s name, replacing it with something like “U.S. Person.”

The recipient of the report might decide that in order to fully understand the intelligence, they need to know the “U.S. Person’s” identity. So they make a request for the name to be unmasked, and the agency that produced the report either approves or denies the request. The NSA approved 654 requests in 2015, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

It’s not just agencies conducting criminal or counterintelligence investigations that make the unmasking requests, as Cotton said. It’s anyone who consumes intelligence reports.

“The national security adviser, who is a consumer of the most selective and restricted intelligence products, would certainly be entitled to request unmasking in the course of his or her duties,” said Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy.

For example, a national security adviser might learn from an intelligence report that a foreign agent is trying to cultivate an unnamed U.S. official. They would need to know the official’s name in order to alert him or her in advance, or to get a full picture of the situation, Rovner said.

Unmasking for political purposes?

Implied in Cotton’s statement is that Rice may have made unmasking requests for political purposes. The idea is that an official could use unmasking requests to surreptitiously dig up information about a U.S. citizen, such as a political opponent, without a warrant to surveil them.

But experts said abusing the unmasking process would be difficult, in large part because the agency does the actual unmasking, not the requester.

The official who wants to abuse the process would have to get agency workers on board with her plan because they would have to make sure she receives reports about the American in question. They would also have to make sure that any unmasking request would be granted, said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty & National Security Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, a civil liberties group.

“It’s certainly not an easy or direct route to spying on political opponents,” she said, adding that there are other provisions of surveillance laws that are far more susceptible to abuse.

Only a select group of high-up officials in the intelligence and national security communities have the authority to make or approve unmasking requests, and they have to do so while complying with an elaborate set of minimization guidelines, compliance procedures and documentation, said Susan Hennessey, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former NSA lawyer.

These procedures, along with the intelligence community’s extreme sensitivity to accusations of political abuse, likely deters intelligence officials from complying with illegitimate unmasking requests, Rovner said.

Hennessey added that the media reports about Rice are so inconsistent and vague that it’s not really possible to assess whether the unmasking requests in question (if they occurred) were legitimate.

But “I have not seen anything in the public record that indicates there is any kind of problem here,” she said.

Our ruling

Cotton said, “It is unusual” for a White House official like former National Security Adviser Susan Rice to make unmasking requests.

As the president’s top consultant on issues of national security, Rice and other national security advisers consume a large amount of intelligence. There are numerous legitimate reasons why Rice might ask an intelligence agency to reveal the identity of an unnamed person in an intelligence report.

It might not be an everyday occurrence, but it is not so “unusual” as to raise suspicion, as Cotton said. We rate Cotton’s claim False.

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Tom Cotton
Republican senator from Arkansas
“It is unusual” for a White House official like former National Security Adviser Susan Rice to make unmasking requests.