MSNBC: Covering Trump Surveillance Story Helps Russia ‘Undermine’ American Democracy

So desperate to discredit a bombshell Bloomberg report that former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice sought to unmask Trump transition officials caught up in intelligence surveillance, on Monday afternoon, MSNBC host Katy Tur outrageously suggested that simply reporting on the story was helping Russia “undermine our democratic institutions.”

During the 2 p.m. ET hour, Tur talked to the journalist who broke the news, Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake, and tried to dismiss his reporting by conflating it with a blog post from a conspiracy theorist: “Eli, the same details from your report appeared last night in another report by the man who pushed the Pizzagate story. Does that concern you?”

Lake flatly rejected her insinuation: “Well, I have nothing to do – I mean, I was unaware of that when I was reporting my story. I know there are a lot of other mainstream journalists who are reporting it. I don't know how that guy got his information, and I can tell you, it had no effect on my reporting.”

Earlier in the exchange, Tur tried to spin Rice’s request that Donald Trump associates be unmasked as “perfectly routine.” Lake implored viewers to the issue seriously:

And I have to say to the viewers of MSNBC, who I think tend to lean more on the progressive side, I think Democrats should be very concerned about this. Because if the Obama White House can do this during the transition to the Trump transition, then there’s nothing that would stop the Trump administration from doing this to his political opponents, if it’s fairly easy for senior White House officials to do this kind of thing and gather that kind of intelligence if it’s not directly related to, you know, clearly national security foreign intelligence reasons.

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Moments after the conversation with Lake concluded, Tur spoke to former FBI Special Agent Clint Watts and feared: “A story like we just saw in Bloomberg, and also the same story that was in the Pizzagate guy’s media blog post, do stories like that advance what Russia is trying to do in order to undermine our democratic institutions?”

Watts proclaimed: “Yeah, they’re ammunition for their system....it’s much more beneficial to them to take that which is already gaining traction, other false stories, and just reinject those into the system and audiences that they have the influence in.”

Minutes before bringing Lake on, Tur tried to downplay the Rice story by asking New York Times National Security Reporter Matthew Rosenberg: “This idea of unmasking has been very much a talking point that we’ve been hearing in the past few days. Talk to me about that report, and was there anything in there that was a bombshell?”

Predictably, Rosenberg ranted:

I mean, this is the amazing thing. In a month in which – let's be honest, a month ago, Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, recused himself. Jim Comey, a few weeks ago, the Director of the FBI, announced there was an espionage investigation involving in the White House. And yet, we’re here talking about a very narrow technical issue of intelligence....There’s no big bombshell there....There’s no great big bombshells here....So it does seem to be taking a very narrow, small issue to distract from much bigger issues that they don't want to talk about.

Here is a full transcript of Tur’s April 3 exchange with Lake:

2:22 PM ET

TUR: As the President continues to push an unsubstantiated claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama, anonymous report that appear to bolster Trump’s assertions are starting to proliferate online. The latest, from Bloomberg, says President Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice repeatedly sought to unmask the names of Trump aides in raw intelligence reports. The same day, Nunes made those initial claims that U.S. spies may have scooped up communications from the Trump transition team, this is what Rice had to say.

SUSAN RICE: I knew nothing about this. I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today. I really don't know to what Chairman Nunes was referring.

TUR: The GOP is already weaponizing this story. Senator Rand Paul tweeting, “Smoking gun found! Obama pal and noted dissembler Susan Rice said to be spying on Trump campaign.”

Joining me now, the man behind that Bloomberg report, Eli Lake. Eli, thanks for joining us.

ELI LAKE [COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG VIEW]: Thanks for having me.

TUR: Does that – is there a disconnect there between what Susan Rice said in that interview with Judy Woodruff and what you are reporting?

LAKE: Well, I mean, she was not asked directly about unmasking the names of U.S. persons who were incidentally collected in intelligence reports, so I suppose that there is sort of wiggle room there and she may have thought it was referring to something else. And the backdrop of this is the Trump tweet that said that Obama had illegally wiretapped Trump Tower, which is – which no – there’s been no support for that specific claim. Although I think it's significant that there were a number of these kinds of raw reports and that Susan Rice had sought to find out who the individuals were when they were referring to the Trump transition activities.

TUR: As the acting National Security Adviser at the time, isn’t it perfectly routine for her to ask to unmask names so she can see them, so she can better understand an investigation that is ongoing?

LAKE: Well, if it was about Russia, but remember, the original claim from Chairman Nunes was that these reports had nothing to do with Russia. And in addition to that, it really depends on the context. I mean, yes, it’s true that you can have senior political appointees unmasking incidental collection like this if there were sort of a pending terrorist attack or some sort of – you know, a server was taken over by bots in a cyber attack of some sort like that. So that sort of thing happens, but, you know, the bar is pretty low. Is there sort of a foreign intelligence, you know, value to any of this? Which could mean just about anything.

And in this particular case, it appears, at least – and I'd like to see the White House declassify these reports so we can all look at the evidence ourselves – but from my sources, it appears that this was, you know, pretty much rumor, valuable potential political information about the Trump transition plans for when they came into office and who they were meeting with and their views on foreign policy. Again, it's a pretty low bar and maybe the real scandal here is that the rules need to be tightened and the surveillance law needs to be reformed.

TUR: Were you able to find out if she was successful in unmasking these names? Doesn’t she have to have that granted by NSA Mike Rogers?

LAKE: Yes, but she – in a lot of cases she was able to unmask the names later.

TUR: But could Mike Rogers be considered somebody out for a political hit on anybody in the Trump campaign, considering he was trying to get a position within the Trump administration?

LAKE: No, I don't think Mike Rogers could, but I think it’s also the standard practice. We know from before, when in the middle of the Iran deal fight in 2015, that the names of members of Congress and Americans who were in Jewish groups were incidentally collected and unmasked and sent to the White House when – during the legal surveillance of Israeli senior officials. So this kind of thing has happened before.

And I have to say to the viewers of MSNBC, who I think tend to lean more on the progressive side, I think Democrats should be very concerned about this. Because if the Obama White House can do this during the transition to the Trump transition, then there’s nothing that would stop the Trump administration from doing this to his political opponents, if it’s fairly easy for senior White House officials to do this kind of thing and gather that kind of intelligence if it’s not directly related to, you know, clearly national security foreign intelligence reasons.

TUR: Eli, the same details from your report appeared last night in another report by the man who pushed the Pizzagate story. Does that concern you?

LAKE: Well, I have nothing to do – I mean, I was unaware of that when I was reporting my story. I know there are a lot of other mainstream journalists who are reporting it. I don't know how that guy got his information, and I can tell you, it had no effect on my reporting.

TUR: Eli Lake, appreciate your time.

LAKE: Thank you.

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