As part of its being a loyal pro-Trump media outlet, CNSNews.com uncritically promoted claims from President Trump and his supporters that the process of "unmasking" -- the process of revealing what U.S. person is being communicated with by a foreigner who is being monitored by U.S. intelligence -- was a bad thing and used as a political weapon against Trump:
- A February 2018 article touted how "Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit today seeking all documents involving former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power who reportedly sought to unmask more than 260 Americans in that election year.
- A May 2018 item quoted a Mark Levin rant: "How about unmasking? How about unmasking of individuals in Trump world and leaking their names to the media?"
- A July 2018 column by Tim Graham and Brent Bozell complained that "Obama intelligence officials were spying on the Trump campaign in 2016, unmasking identities in a search for dirt to bury him. "
- In a December 2018 article, Susan Jones wrote of Michael Flynn that "Flynn's defenders note that he was the victim of illegal surveillance and unmasking by members of the Obama administration, but so far, no one in that orbit has been held accountable."
In May, Jones wrote about how then-acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grennell would be releasing "the names of the Obama administration officials who requested the unmasking of people being surveilled by FISA warrants," adding, "As Ken Starr noted, the unmasking isn't the problem: 'The key is, who leaked the classified information? ...That is the crime. That's the very serious crime.'" The day after that article was published, Jones wrote another one quoting Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham demanding, ""The question for us as a Congress is, did the Obama administration use unmasking as a political weapon? That's the question that I want to answer."
That was followed by an article by Melanie Arter doing stenography for Trump: "Former Vice President Joe Biden can’t say he knew nothing about the unmasking of Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn if he was one of the unmaskers, President Donald Trump said Wednesday. Biden was one of several Obama administration officials whose name appears on the declassified list of officials who requested the unmasking. Also listed are former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper."
CNS cranked out more unmasking-related articles in the following days:
- Jones again touted how Former Vice President Joe Biden was among the many Obama administration officials who requested the unmasking of an American citizen who turned out to be Gen. Michael Flynn," adding that Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz called this "bad news for Joe Biden ahead."
- Jones stated that "Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) says Congress must investigate the "simply stunning" revelation that the Obama administration apparently interfered with the transition of power to the legitimately elected Trump administration," adding as she did in her previous article, "There is nothing illegal about unmasking names. But leaking those names, which is what happened to Flynn, is illegal."
- Jones then reported that "Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN's John Berman on Thursday he doesn't remember why he requested the unmasking of a name that turned out to be that of incoming National Security Director Michael Flynn."
- In yet another article, Jones wrote, "Recently released documents show that 16 Obama administration officials requested to know the name of the American citizen who was mentioned anonymously in foreign intelligence reports. That unmasked person turned out to be incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, whose name was leaked to a Washington Post columnist."
- Jones then complained that "there was no follow-up" from an interviewer after Biden denied knowledge of an investigation into Flynn, adding that "Biden's name appears on the long list of Obama administration officials who requested the unmasking of an American citizen who turned out to be Michael Flynn.
But a few days after that flurry of articles, it was revealed that Flynn's name was never masked in regard to his phone call with the Russian ambassador, meaning talk of it being "unmasked" is moot, and that talk of "unmasking" regarding Flynn likely didn't involve that conversation. Jones and CNS censored news of that finding.
Neverthesss, CNS had apparently decided that "unmasking" was a thing -- probably because the Trump White House decreed that it was. Jones excitedly wrote in a May 28 article:
U.S. Attorney John Durham, as part of his investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia case, has been looking into the issue of unmasking.
But now, U.S. Attorney General William Barr has ordered a separate review, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told Fox News's Sean Hannity Wednesday night[.]
This was followed by Arter writing that "Former Deputy Assistant General Rod Rosenstein was either complicit in wrongdoing in signing off on the FISA applications that led to the surveillance and eventual unmasking of former National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn or Rosenstein’s performance of his duties 'was grossly negligent,' Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Wednesday."
On June 12, Graham complained: "When it broke that Biden, in his last days as vice president, joined a list of other Obama officials requesting the 'unmasking' of an American who turned out to be incoming Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn — which led to a smear about the former Army major general being a Russian pawn — the story drew merely 62 seconds of coverage: 55 seconds on ABC, 7 seconds on CBS, and none on NBC. Voters who rely on these cynics for 'news' wouldn't even understand the Big Picture: that Team Obama improperly spied on the Trump campaign and was still trying to ruin Trump's presidency during the transition."
Needless to say, Jones, Arter and Graham all failed to tell their readers that Flynn's name was never masked.
Finally, CNS' agitation got the results it was looking for, as detailed in a July 28 article by Arter:
Attorney General Bill Barr told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that he has named U.S Attorney John Bash to investigate the issue of unmasking.
At the oversight hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked, “Thirty-eight people unmasked Michael Flynn's name, 48 times in a two-month time frame. Several people at the Treasury Department unmasked Michael Flynn's name. Is this an issue that Mr. Durham is looking into?”
“I’ve asked another U.S. attorney to look into the issue of unmasking, because of the high number of unmaskings, and some that do not readily appear to have been in the line of normal business,” Barr said.
And that's pretty much the last any CNS reader heard of the alleged unmasking "scandal." Why? Because that investigation turned out to be a bust. As an actual news outlet reported on Oct. 13:
The federal prosecutor appointed by Attorney General William P. Barr to review whether Obama-era officials improperly requested the identities of individuals whose names were redacted in intelligence documents has completed his work without finding any substantive wrongdoing, according to people familiar with the matter.
The revelation that U.S. Attorney John Bash, who left the department last week, had concluded his review without criminal charges or any public report will rankle President Trump at a moment when he is particularly upset at the Justice Department. The department has so far declined to release the results of Bash’s work, though people familiar with his findings say they would likely disappoint conservatives who have tried to paint the “unmasking” of names — a common practice in government to help understand classified documents — as a political conspiracy.
Bash’s team was focused not just on unmasking, but also on whether Obama-era officials provided information to reporters, according to people familiar with the probe, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive investigation. But the findings ultimately turned over to Barr fell short of what Trump and others might have hoped, and the attorney general’s office elected not to release them publicly, the people familiar with the matter said.
You will not be surprised to learn that CNS devoted no article to the unmasking probe being a failure, let alone question why Barr refused to publicly release the report. In fact, the only mention of the probe's failure at CNS in the two months since it was first reported (by others) came in passing in an Oct. 22 article by Arter, buried deep in a transcript in which CNN host Chris Cuomo noted that "the DOJ passed on its latest investigation in terms of bringing any charges about unmasking."
This is the state of "news" at CNSNews.com.