Add this one to the pile.
Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham published a letter today, in which they asked Susan Rice, formerly national security adviser to Barack Obama, to explain why she sent an unusual email to herself on the final day of the Obama administration.
The email reads like a “memorandum for the record,” meant to document an event Rice dates to 5 January 2017. Apparently, the time hack on the email is 12:15 PM (Eastern) on 20 January 2017.
In other words, it’s the last thing Rice did on the way out the door. That makes its contents curious, to say the least.
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Grassley and Graham certainly find it so. They describe how they came to know of the email:
As part of that effort, the Committee sent a request to the National Archives for records of meetings between President Obama and then-FBI Director Comey regarding the FBI’s investigation of allegations of collusion between associates of Mr. Trump and the Russian government. In response, the Committee received classified and unclassified versions of an email you sent to yourself on January 20, 2017 – President Trump’s inauguration day. If the timestamp is correct, you sent this email to yourself at 12:15pm, presumably a very short time before you departed the White House for the last time.
The email, according to the senators, purports to document the 5 January meeting.
On January 5, following a briefing by IC leadership on Russian hacking during the 2016 Presidential election, President Obama had a brief follow-on conversation with FBI Director Jim Comey and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in the Oval Office. Vice President Biden and I were also present.
Grassley and Graham note that the meeting “included a discussion of the Steele dossier and the FBI’s investigation of its claims.” They continue, quoting Rice:
President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the Intelligence and law enforcement communities “by the book”. The President stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book.
Now, here is the part that really jumps out at me. The senators quote from Rice’s email (emphasis added):
From a national security perspective, however, President Obama said he wants to be sure that, as we engage with the incoming team, we are mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia.
According to the senators’ letter, this is followed by a classified portion of the email. But after that passage, the issue of information sharing with the Trump team is reiterated:
The President asked Comey to inform him if anything changes in the next few weeks that should affect how we share classified information with the incoming team. Comey said he would.
I think Grassley and Graham speak for many of us with their next observation.
It strikes us as odd that, among your activities in the final moments on the final day of the Obama administration, you would feel the need to send yourself such an unusual email purporting to document a conversation involving President Obama and his interactions with the FBI regarding the Trump/Russia investigation.
Was this a CYA email to show that the Obama administration realized that it shouldn’t share information with the Trump team?
That in itself would be a damning data point about the Obama administration – not about Trump. If Obama and his top officials genuinely thought Trump couldn’t be trusted, and dealt with it by considering withholding information from him – but never told Congress or the people that, even if it was still unresolved on their last day in office – that’s on them. And it’s really bad on them.
Maybe such an email sounded self-exculpatory to Rice’s ears. It wouldn’t be the first time an Obama official’s ears heard something in a way very different from the people’s.
The explanation that the email was “placed,” in order to raise questions later, would require that someone be expected to find it later, of which there could be no guarantee. That comes off to me as weirdly elaborate. Not where I would go first with this.
Grassley and Graham have asked Rice to explain. We’ll see what they get back.