Two GOP senators want answers from Susan Rice about an ‘unusual’ email describing a Jan. 5 Oval Office meeting in which the president raised the concern, while instructing that a Russia investigation should proceed ‘by the book’
Former President Barack Obama suggested in January 2017 that information related to a federal probe of Russian election interference might have to be withheld from aides to then-President-elect Donald Trump, according to an internal White House email released Monday by two senior GOP senators.
The warning Obama delivered on Jan. 5, 2017, came during an Oval Office conversation shortly after senior intelligence officials briefed him on Russian cyber-meddling in the 2016 election. It was documented in an email then-national security adviser Susan Rice sent to herself on Jan. 20, the day of Trump’s inauguration.
Portions of the email were released Monday by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who called the missive “odd” and “unusual.”
Grassley and Graham seized on Rice’s decision to email herself a summary of the Jan. 5 meeting at 12:15 p.m. on Inauguration Day, “presumably a very short time before you departed the White House for the last time.” The move appears to have been intended to create a permanent official record of the conversation.
Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Graham asked Rice a series of questions about the conversation, including what she might have known about a private intelligence dossier alleging Kremlin influence over Trump’s campaign. The letter notes that multiple news reports have said Obama was briefed on the dossier — which includes unverified and salacious allegations about Trump — at the Jan. 5 meeting with intelligence officials.
The Oval Office conversation Rice described in her email included then-FBI Director James Comey and then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, as well as former Vice President Joe Biden. In the portion of the email the Republicans released, Rice recounted Obama making explicitly clear that he was not attempting to influence an ongoing federal probe into Russian election disruption.
“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,” Rice wrote.
“From a national security perspective, however, President Obama said he wants to be sure that, as we engage with the incoming [Trump] team, we are mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia.”
It is unclear what the officials might have said in response. Grassley and Graham said the subsequent part of Rice’s email is classified. The passage after that states that Obama asked Comey to let him know “if anything changes in the next few weeks that should affect how we share classified information with the incoming team.”
But Obama’s concern about the potential need to shield Russia material from Trump aides — including Michael Flynn, then Trump’s incoming national security adviser, who is now cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller — was not previously known before the Republicans released Rice’s email. Obama warnedTrump not to hire Flynn as his national security adviser, current and former officials have said.
The New York Times reported in March that Obama administration officials have sought to leave a trail of information in government records documenting their concern that the Trump campaign may have coordinated efforts with Russia.