Susan Rice was President Obama’s National Security Adviser
Chris Kleponis—AFP/Getty Images
April 6, 2017 6:06 AM EDT

As the FBI continues its probe into contacts between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, the President is advancing his own investigation of sorts. On April 5, a month after falsely alleging that President Obama had wiretapped him, he told the New York Times that he thinks former National Security Adviser Susan Rice may have committed a crime by unmasking the identities of Trump associates in classified intelligence reports.

There is nothing illegal about unmasking. When U.S. spies target foreign adversaries, they are required by law to protect the privacy of Americans incidentally surveilled by masking their identities in classified reports. Senior officials are allowed to request the identities of the Americans if they determine the information is needed to understand the significance of the intelligence. The process is documented and constrained by law, and the masking agencies follow the rules with what FBI Director James Comey described in recent testimony as “obsessive” discipline.

Rice says she and others followed this procedure, without any political motivation, and never leaked the results. Details of a phone transcript, between her replacement General Michael Flynn and a Russian ambassador, were leaked to the press. It revealed that Flynn had misled the White House, and he was fired by Trump.

This appears in the April 17, 2017 issue of TIME.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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