A federal prosecutor in Texas is drawing a new kind of attention by digging into the “unmasking” of Trump campaign associates that occurred in the waning days of the Obama administration.
Attorney General William Barr last month revealed to the House Judiciary Committee that he had assigned U.S. Attorney John Bash of the Western District of Texas to probe what the Obama administration did in the name of national security.
Unmasking occurs after federal intelligence agencies incidentally pick up U.S. citizens’ conversations with foreign officials who are under surveillance.
Identities of those Americans are supposed to be protected, but top government officials who are privy to intelligence reports may request that the redacted identities of specific persons be disclosed, or “unmasked.”
In the most notorious case, Obama administration officials sought to unmask Michael Flynn, the retired Army lieutenant general who was President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming national security adviser.
The matter gained further attention after notes surfaced showing a Jan. 5, 2017, meeting in the Oval Office that included President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, national security adviser Susan Rice, and FBI Director James Comey.
In the meeting, which occurred 15 days before Trump’s inauguration, they discussed Flynn, who had been chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency for two years in Obama’s second term.
This could raise the issue of abuse of power, leading some commentators, as well as Trump, to refer to the Flynn unmasking as “Obamagate.”
Here are four things to know about Bash, the prosecutor directed by Barr to look into it.
1. Former Trump White House Legal Adviser
John Franklin Bash III, now 37, went to work in the Trump White House counsel’s office in early 2017 as special assistant to the president and associate counsel to the president.
His wife, Zina Bash, was a member of the White House Domestic Policy Council. She previously worked for the 2016 Republican presidential campaign of one of Trump’s main rivals for the nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Cruz and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, both recommended that Trump appoint Bash to replace U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin. As first assistant U.S. attorney for the district, Durbin got the top job when Obama appointed U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman as a federal judge in 2014.
Cornyn said at the time: “Texans deserve a principled prosecutor with a record of accomplishment and commitment to upholding the law, and John fits the bill.”
The Western District of Texas includes San Antonio, Austin, Waco, Del Rio, Alpine, Midland, and El Paso. Covering 600 miles of border with Mexico, the office has more than 140 lawyers.
“John Bash is a brilliant lawyer who will be an outstanding United States attorney,” Cruz said in a prepared statement when Trump nominated him. “He is committed to the fair and effective enforcement of the law, and has the integrity, judgment, and skill necessary to serve the people of the Western District as its chief federal law enforcement officer.”
2. Worked for Obama Administration
From 2012 to 2017, Bash was an assistant to the U.S. solicitor general, the Justice Department’s No. 4 official.
Bash represented the Obama administration before the Supreme Court in 10 cases focused on national security and criminal law.
Before working in the Obama Justice Department, Bash was an associate at the Washington law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher from 2008 to 2012.
3. Clerked for 2 Supreme Court Justices
Bash clerked for both an incumbent Supreme Court justice and a jurist who would go on to serve on the high court.
From 2007 to 2008, Bash was a law clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia.
From 2006 to 2007, he clerked for Circuit Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, whom Trump would name to the court in 2018.
4. Academics and Journalism at Harvard
Bash received his Bachelor of Arts degree summa cum laude from Harvard University in 2003 and his Juris Doctor magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2006.
While at Harvard, Bash was a staff writer for The Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper, usually writing conservative opinion pieces.
In one 2001 commentary, he argued for bringing ROTC back to Harvard’s campus. That same year, he wrote a piece on why conservatives should oppose capital punishment.