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World News

U.S. quietly ends probe of Obama-era 'unmasking' of Trump allies - sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department has ended its probe into whether Obama administration officials improperly “unmasked” associates of President Donald Trump mentioned in intelligence reports, two congressional sources said on Wednesday.

It found no wrongdoing, one of the sources said.

Unmasking refers to the naming of U.S. citizens whose identities were blacked out in reports from the National Security Agency that captured their communications with a foreign national.

Trump and his allies have sought to portray the use of the process during the administration of his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, as a misuse of government authority.

It is a routine practice, and Trump administration officials have made thousands of such requests, government statistics show.

The Justice Department in May appointed John Bash, a federal prosecutor from Texas, to lead the inquiry after Republican senators unveiled a declassified list of U.S. officials who made requests that ultimately disclosed intercepted conversations between Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russia’s ambassador.

Flynn was later charged with lying to the FBI about those conversations, and the Justice Department is now asking a federal judge to have that charge dismissed.

Bash resigned from the department this month without a mention of his findings. The Washington Post, which first reported the results of Bash’s review, said the Justice Department did not intend to release the results.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Trump has in recent days complained about the Justice Department’s lack of indictments against his political rivals.

He lashed out at Attorney General William Barr during interviews with Fox News, saying Barr would go down in history “as a very sad, sad situation” if he did not indict Trump’s rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Trump reiterated his frustrations in an interview with Newsmax TV for the “Greg Kelly Reports” show due to air on Wednesday evening and declined to say whether he would keep Barr in the job should Trump be re-elected in November.

“I’m not happy with all of the evidence I have, I can tell you that. I’m not happy,” Trump said.

Bash is one of several federal prosecutors in Trump’s Justice Department to investigate Republican concerns on everything from the FBI’s handling of investigations into Hillary Clinton to the prosecution of Flynn.

Last year Barr appointed John Durham, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, to investigate U.S. intelligence officials for their handling of a probe into Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Barr told some lawmakers not to expect a report before Election Day on Nov. 3 because Durham is focused on prosecutions and he fears a public report could interfere with that goal, according to a Capitol Hill aide familiar with the matter.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller

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