Former national security adviser Susan Rice told the House Intelligence Committee that she "unmasked" the names of President Donald Trump's associates because she wanted to find out why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates visited Trump Tower in NY previous year without notifying the U.S. government, CNN reported on Wednesday.
The crown prince's trip to NY came shortly before the UAE brokered a January 11 meeting between a Trump associate and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles islands to create a back channel of communication between Trump and Russia.
Zayed met with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon on December 15, sources told CNN.
Officials from the United Arab Emirates broke with protocol and did not tell the Obama administration about the visit to NY, which was first reported by the Washington Post in April.
News of Rice's unmasking request first emerged in April, when Bloomberg reported that Rice had tried to learn the identities of several Trump transition team members whose communications with foreign officials were picked up as part of the US' routine intelligence-gathering operations.
Rice's previously undisclosed revelation in a classified setting shines new light on a practice that had come under sharp criticism from the committee chairman, California Rep. Devin Nunes, and President Donald Trump, who previously accused Rice of committing a crime.
"I didn't hear anything to believe that she did anything illegal", Florida Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican helping to lead the panel's Russian Federation invesigation, told CNN of Rice's testimony. "No one was coming in to sell anything or arrange anything".
Zayed reportedly acted as an envoy for Trump ahead of another meeting in January in the Seychelles, remote islands in the Indian Ocean, where the Post said that Blackwater founder and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's brother Erik Prince met with an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The meeting with Zayed was of particular interest to USA officials because it came just before the UAE helped set up a line of communications between the US and Russian governments.
Gowdy, however, told the Daily Caller that there was "nothing that came up in her interview that led me to conclude" she had improperly unmasked any Trump officials or leaked their names to the press.
Why is the unmasking controversial?
Members of the House Intelligence Committee appear to concur with that assessment. "That's why the President called for Congress to investigate this matter and why the Department of Justice and Intelligence Community are doing all they can to stamp out this unsafe trend that undermines our national security". The Justice Department said in a court filing Friday that the DOJ and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have no evidence to support Trump's claims. "I'm not aware of any reason to bring her back".