Susan Rice Story Diverts From Trump Team’s Ties to Russia
The Trump campaign’s possible ties to the Russian government have dominated headlines for months. April 4 was no different, as two new developments emerged related to the Trump/Russia connection. One drastically overshadowed the other in the nightly news.
First, Buzzfeed News reported that Russian spies had tried to recruit Carter Page, former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.
However, ABC World News Tonight was the only network to report this story.
Its top-tier reporter, Brian Ross, confronted Page that day about his communications with the Russians.
“Any information I would give is again, immaterial and all public information,” the New York businessman said. “It’s just making something out of nothing.”
ABC’s April 4 broadcast had shown a clip from a February interview with the former Trump campaign adviser. No other network had interviewed Page.
Former ABC News correspondent John Martin said that his former network made the right call with this story.
“Brian Ross proves once again how important it is for network news organizations to assign top reporters to digging out the truth,” Martin said. “Stopping and questioning Carter Page at a doorway took timing, instinct and an executive producer who understood the importance of giving Ross the time and freedom to make the catch.”
But that story was drowned out by the second development—news of a request from Susan Rice, former Obama National Security Adviser, to “unmask” members of the Trump campaign and transition teams who were caught up in surveillance recordings of other targets.
Rice appeared on MSNBC earlier that day to flatly deny accusations that the Obama administration utilized intelligence for political purposes.
Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul see this as a smoking gun, even though former CIA and NSA Director Gen. Michael Hayden wrote in The Hill, “In fact, on its face, it appears (certainly so far) to be lawful, appropriate and — dare I say — maybe even routine.”
President Trump said Rice may have committed a crime, but offered no evidence.
Underlying this story is the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Rice at first attributed the attacks to a reaction to an anti-Muslim video, a claim later proven untrue.
“Mention of her name kicks up a lot confusing dust that is seen as favorable for the view of some conservatives that she was at the center of a cover-up,” Martin said. “Nothing of the sort was ever proven but the taint persists.”
All three nightly news networks covered the latest Rice story in-depth.
“[CBS News and NBC News] went with the only part of the story they had,” Martin said. “Rice’s MSNBC interview gave them a way to avoid appearing totally outplayed by the competition.”
Martin said NBC News correctly pegged Trump’s wiretapping accusations and the Rice story as “diversions:”
“Trump played the Rice card as a way to divert attention from the more important question of what efforts the Russians were making to line up possible intelligence assets around him.”
One week after ABC’s exclusive report, news broke that the FBI had obtained a secret court order, known as a FISA warrant, to monitor Page’s communications. It was part of the investigation into the Trump team’s ties to the Russian government.