A lawyer for Susan Rice said in a letter Friday that the former national security adviser sent herself an email on her last day in office documenting a meeting with President Obama and his top national security advisers about sharing intelligence with the incoming Trump administration in order to create a “permanent record” of the discussion.
Kathryn H. Ruemmler of Latham & Watkins LLP wrote:
Given the importance and sensitivity of the subject matter, and upon the advice of the White House Counsel’s Office, Ambassador Rice created a permanent record of the discussion. Ambassador Rice memorialized the discussion on January 20, because that was the first opportunity she had to do so, given the particularly intense responsibilities of the National Security Advisor during the remaining days of the Administration and transition.
The letter, reported by Politico, was sent in response to a list of questions from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), after they discovered an email Rice had sent herself on January 20, 2017 at 12:15 p.m. — as she was leaving office.
Her email stated that on January 5, 2017, intelligence community leadership had briefed President Obama on Russian hacking during the 2016 election, and that after the briefing, the president had a “brief follow-on conversation” with FBI Director Jim Comey and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in the Oval Office, where she and Vice President Biden were present.
Rice wrote that the president began the follow-on 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,” she wrote. “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.”
“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,” she wrote.
Grassley and Graham wrote Rice that it struck them as “odd” that she would need to send herself such an unusual email in her final moments in office about the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation. They wrote:
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. In addition, despite your claim that President Obama repeatedly told Mr. Comey to proceed ‘by the book,’ substantial questions have arisen about whether officials at the FBI, as well as at the Justice Department and the State Department, actually did proceed ‘by the book.’
They submitted a list of questions for her to respond, including when she first became aware of the FBI’s investigation, when she learned about the allegations made in the Steele dossier, and how and when she knew the dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Rice’s lawyer ignored the majority of their 12 questions and offered an unsolicited narrative that Obama and his national security team were “justifiably concerned” about potential risks to the nation’s national security from sharing highly-classified information about Russia with “certain members” of the Trump transition team, “particularly Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.”
Her lawyer confirmed that the Obama administration monitored the communications of the Trump team and Russian officials “before and after the election” — which she said were “concerning.”
“In light of concerning communications between members of the Trump team and Russian officials, before and after the election, President Obama, on behalf of his national security team, appropriately sought the FBI and the Department of Justice’s guidance on this subject,” she wrote.
Rice’s lawyer also sidestepped questions as to when she learned of the dossier and when she knew it was funded by the Clinton administration and the DNC. Instead, she simply wrote: “In the conversation Ambassador Rice documented, there was no discussion of Christopher Steele or the Steele dossier, contrary to the suggestion in your letter.”
The lawyer also called the timestamp of the email showing she sent it at 12:15 p.m. “not accurate,” and said Rice had sent it “shortly before noon.”
Rice’s lawyer said Rice was “not briefed on the existence” of any FBI investigation into allegations of collusion between Trump’s associates and Russia, and that she later learned of the “fact of his investigation” from Comey’s March 2017 public testimony acknowledging that it existed.
She also denied that Rice knew the FBI sought surveillance warrants connected to the FBI’s investigation.
“Ambassador Rice was not informed of any FISA applications sought by the FBI in its investigation, and she only learned of them from press reports after leaving office.”