CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, said Monday night the story on Susan Rice's reported involvement in the unmasking of Trump transition officials was "ginned up" as a "distraction" from the broader probe into alleged Trump-Russia ties.
Rice, former President Obama's national security adviser, requested on several occasions the identities of "masked" U.S. persons in intelligence reports linked to President Trump's transition and campaign, according to Bloomberg.
While Rice's alleged actions were reportedly legal, critics have charged they were improper and unethical.
Sciutto appeared to dismiss the report on "Anderson Cooper 360," calling it a non-issue meant to divert attention from other stories.
"This appears to be a story largely ginned up, partly as a distraction from this larger investigation," Sciutto said.
Sciutto tweeted Monday evening that someone who worked with and is close to Rice said allegations that she did anything illegal or improper are false, arguing her requests were not unusual for a national security adviser.
Statement cont'd: "There is nothing unusual abt making these requests when serving as a sr. national security official, whether Dem or GOP"
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) April 4, 2017
Sciutto repeated the claim later that night with CNN's Anderson Cooper.
"'The idea that Ambassador Rice improperly sought the identities of Americans is false. There is nothing unusual about making these requests when serving as a senior national security official, whether Democrat or Republican,'" Sciutto said, quoting someone close to Rice.
Sciutto added that he spoke with former senior intelligence officials who served both Republican and Democratic administrations and said these requests are legal with strict protocols. The CNN reporter then explained why an official would request the unmasking of U.S. persons, noting the request must be approved by the intelligence community.
Sciutto did add later on that there are still unanswered questions about Rice's actions.
"Now, the open question is, does an Ambassador Rice or someone else in that position who has requested unmasking, then share that information with someone else?" Sciutto asked "That's possible. We don't know that at this point, but it's not sort of put on a memo and distributed around, you know, 35 people in the White House, at least by protocol."
Prior to joining CNN as chief national security correspondent, Sciutto was an Obama administration political appointee. He served as chief of staff for U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke. He left the administration in 2013 to join CNN.
Sciutto is not the only former Obama official who has dismissed criticism of Rice's reported unmasking requests. Obama's former chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, used colorful language on Twitter to say it was Rice's job to know the names of the masked Trump transition officials.
It was her fucking job to know this information! This is utter bullshit. https://t.co/YWInNoJxgI
— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) April 4, 2017