The Corner

National Security & Defense

The Rice CYA Memo, Unredacted

National Security Adviser Susan Rice with President Barack Obama at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, September 5, 2013. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

How amusing to find President Obama’s national-security advisor, Susan Rice, suddenly calling for public release of the Flynn–Kislyak conversation intercepted by the Obama administration in late December 2016. I called for its release nearly three-and-a-half years ago. Dr. Rice, in a familiar pattern for her, has spent the ensuing years saying things that were obviously untrue only to reverse herself once the paper trail starts to dribble out.

Try not to get dizzy. Rice has gone from claiming to have had no knowledge of Obama administration monitoring of Flynn and other Trump associates, to claiming no knowledge of any unmaskings of Trump associates, to admitting she was complicit in the unmaskings, to — now — a call for the recorded conversation between retired general Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to be released because it would purportedly show that the Obama administration had good reason to be concerned about Flynn (y’know, the guy she said she had no idea they were investigating).

Naturally, we have now learned that Rice was deeply involved in the Obama administration’s Trump–Russia investigation, including its sub-investigation of Flynn, a top Trump campaign surrogate who was slated to replace Rice as national-security advisor when President Trump took office. Last night, I did a column for Fox News, analyzing the newly unredacted paragraph from Rice’s previously reported email memorializing a White House meeting on these subjects.

The meeting took place on January 5, 2017, and involved Rice, Obama, and Vice President Biden, the administration’s top political hierarchy on national-security matters, along with Obama’s top law-enforcement and counterintelligence officials, deputy attorney general Sally Yates (soon formally to take the acting AG role she was already performing), and FBI director James Comey. Prior redactions had already demonstrated that the meeting’s central purpose was to discuss the rationale for withholding intelligence about Russia from the incoming Trump national-security team.

It is perfectly obvious that not all Russia information was being withheld. Indeed, the following day, Comey would join other intelligence chiefs to brief then-president-elect Trump on Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign (and we now know the FBI treated Comey’s conversation with Trump as an investigative mission). What Obama officials decided to conceal was the Obama administration’s investigation of the Trump campaign — a probe based on the absurd theory that Trump’s campaign had conspired in the Kremlin’s hacking and other cyberespionage operations.

The Obama administration hoped to conceal what it had done so that the FBI and the Justice Department, which Comey and Yates would be staying on to lead, could continue the investigation even after Trump took office. And, of course, they did just that; in fact, the Bureau and DOJ renewed the 90-day FISA surveillance warrant on Carter Page just before Trump was inaugurated, and would renew it two more times (in April and June 2017) after Trump was in power — renewals that were easier to green-light because both Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been sidelined from the Trump–Russia investigation.

Clearly, Rice, Obama, and Biden realized it would eventually become known to President Trump and top advisers that the Obama administration had both investigated his campaign, and had laid the groundwork to persist in investigating his administration. The patent point of Rice’s last-second email — written “To the File” (what file?) as she was leaving her office on January 20, memorializing a meeting that had occurred over two weeks earlier — was to shift responsibility from President Obama to FBI Director Comey for the pursuit of the Trump–Russia probe.

The newly unredacted paragraph from Rice’s email relates that Comey reported to Obama, Biden, and Rice on the FBI’s investigation of Flynn. The FBI director is said to have framed it as both a “law enforcement” matter (the theory that Flynn committed a crime by violating the moribund Logan Act) and a “national-security” matter (the counterintelligence investigation that the Bureau had actually closed for lack of evidence but was extending due to the Kislyak conversation — despite the lack of any wrongdoing).

According to Rice, Comey was non-committal when Obama asked whether Russia intelligence should be withheld from Flynn — “potentially,” he is quoted as responding. Rice claims Obama left the matter of concealing information from the Trump team unresolved, with the proviso that Comey was to report back if there were any changes.

Again, remember that Rice wrote this email on January 20. She knew it had been 15 days since the meeting. But her email includes no indication that Comey ever reported any changes back to Obama. We are left to conclude that Obama must never have directed that anything be done. Hey, if it turns out the FBI kept up its Trump–Russia investigation, that must have been Comey’s doing — Obama had nothing to do with it. Yup.

It is vital that the documentary record, which should have been uncovered years ago, continue being brought to light. It is good that Trump’s National Intelligence director Ric Grenell is forcing the issue. But let’s not forget: When it turns out that Obama officials have intentionally inserted after-the-fact CYA memos into “the File,” we have to ask why they have done so . . . and to read what they’ve written with that in mind.

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