CNN’s John King questioned on “Inside Politics” the explanations put forward by Barack Obama’s national security advisor, Susan Rice, about her request to unmask the names of members of Donald Trump’s transition team in intelligence reports based on intercepted communications. King pointed out the differences between Rice’s explanations that she offered in two separate television appearances. Entirely different reactions were evident on the rival MSNBC network.
On March 22, Rice appeared on PBS, saying, “I know nothing about this. I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today. I really don't know to what Chairman [Rep. Devin ] Nunes was referring. But he said that whatever he was referring to was a legal, lawful surveillance and that it was potentially incidental collection on American citizens.”
King said of Rice’s PBS appearance, “When asked at first, her name was not involved at first in the conversation at this point. When asked at first the House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes says there was unmasking done by Obama administration officials.”
King contrasted the March 22 statement with Rice’s interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday. King said, “Remember the beginning of that. ‘I know nothing about this.’ This is the same Susan Rice moments ago on MSNBC.” In the clip from MSNBC, Rice says, “There are occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to. Name not provided. Just a U.S. person. And sometimes in that context, in order to understand the importance of the report and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out or request the information as to who that U.S. official was.”
King reacted, saying: “Not to be a jerk here but will the real Susan Rice please stand up?” Joining King was Yahoo! News correspondent Olivier Knox, who said, “The second part of that on MSNBC there is a perfectly logical explanation on how unmasking works but the problem is the previous comment in which she denies any knowledge of it so she can't in the same breath…”
King responded, “Welcome to the witness list!”
On MSNBC, on Tuesday’s edition of Hardball, host Chris Matthews and MSNBC political David Corn commented on Rice and the current controversy over “unmasking.” They suggested that accusations being laid against Rice are both racist and sexist. They played a clip of Sen. Tom Cotton’s interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt in which he said that Rice is the “Typhoid Mary” of the Obama administration.
Matthews suggested that the Trump administration is seeking to distract from attention from investigations into supposed connections between official Russians and the Trump political campaign. Fellow panelist Simon Marks sought to say that Rice has indeed given contradictory statements about her role.
After reading a tweet by Fox News personality Mike Huckabee about Rice being in an orange jumpsuit, Corn (who is chief Washington correspondent for the leftist Mother Jones magazine) reacted: “Oh god!” Matthews said, “Huckabee has no shame. These guys are trooping along, like camp followers of Trump.” When Corn suggested that Republicans see a “pinata” in Rice, Matthews said, “Notice it's always a female? Just a thought.” Marks interjected, “Well, that’s true. That's also true. But I do think she slightly played into her hand — into their hands.” Matthews retorted, “Typhoid Mary?” and Marks responded, “No. Clearly not. But the best things Susan Rice could do is not —” Matthews cut him off, saying “Susan Rice's job is to watch national security. As she told Andrea today, our colleague, she made it very clear what she was doing was when she saw an American name show up in a surveillance of a foreign perhaps agent, she wanted to know who that was. What's wrong with that?”
Corn claimed that Rice has not done anything wrong, while Marks suggested that she is not blameless with regard to surveillance on Trump and his team. Matthews responded with the line from the Democrats: “She said there was no surveillance. She wasn't saying she didn't pick up some names by asking through proper authorities who are they talking about...By the way, this is all after the election. This wasn't politics.”
Corn reiterated suggested that criticism of Rice is racist:
“At the end of the day, we need some element of decency. When Rand Paul gets out there and says she's abused this right, there is not an iota of evidence that she's abused anything. Calling her Typhoid Mary? She — all we know now is that she did her job. Did she do something wrong? There is no information indicating that. So they are making her, you know, basically they're defaming her without any reason to do so because she's a woman. Maybe because she's a black woman. Maybe because they didn't like her during Benghazi.”