We have known for more than two years that, on the day of President Trump’s inauguration and just minutes before she left the White House for the last time, Susan Rice, then President Obama’s National Security Adviser, wrote a memo to herself about “Russia.” Specifically, she documented the fact, presumably for her later protection should the matter become public, that on January 5, 2017, President Obama had directed her to lie to her incoming counterpart, General Michael Flynn, about the Russia investigation that was then ongoing, in which General Flynn himself was, unbeknownst to him, one of the targets. This deception violated all historic norms, but it was vital if the Obama holdovers (James Comey et al.) were to be able to continue their “Russia investigation,” a bare pretext for unraveling Trump’s presidency, post-inauguration.
I wrote about Rice’s memo here. At that time, one key paragraph had been redacted from the memo. This is the text of the memo as we knew it two years ago:
On January 5, following a briefing by IC [intelligence community] 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.
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.
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.
Next comes the redacted paragraph, which was classified. It has now been declassified by Acting DNI Richard Grenell, in response to a request from Senators Charles Grassley and Lindsey Graham:
Director Comey affirmed that he is proceeding “by the book” as it relates to law enforcement. From a national security perspective, Comey said he does have some concerns that incoming NSA Flynn is speaking frequently with Russian ambassador Kislyak. Comey said that could be an issue as it relates to sharing sensitive information. President Obama asked if Comey was saying that the NSC should not pass sensitive information related to Russia to Flynn. Comey replied “potentially.” He added that he has no indication that Flynn has passed classified information to Kislyak, but he noted that “the level of communication is unusual.”
The memo concludes, as previously disclosed:
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.
What is the significance of the newly-declassified paragraph? Several things stand out.
1) Rice fingered Comey as the person who supplied the basis for lying to her successor.
2) Note that Comey distinguished between the FBI’s law enforcement investigation and a separate “national security perspective.” It has been widely pointed out that Comey’s FBI carried out a criminal investigation against Trump and his associates in the guise of a national security investigation. They are quite different things, but Comey improperly merged the two. You can see the “national security perspective” offered as a distinct rationale in January 2017.
3) The stated grounds for lying to General Flynn were ridiculously weak. Comey claims that Flynn “is speaking frequently with Russian Ambassador Kislyak.” How frequently? We have all heard about one telephone conversation. How many others were there? We don’t know. Comey admits, in any case, that Flynn hadn’t said anything untoward to the Ambassador, just as it was later admitted that in the one conversation that has been the subject of public focus, Flynn did nothing wrong. Nonetheless, because Comey claimed “the level of communication [was] unusual,” Obama’s officials should take the step–unprecedented, as far as I know–of lying to a new administration’s incoming national security staff.
4) Lying about what? Rice’s memo is notably discreet here. She refers twice to “information…as it relates to Russia.” What does she mean? Information about our military dispositions vis-a-vis the Russians, on the ground that Flynn might pass them on to the Russian Ambassador? Of course not. No doubt Flynn was filled in on all such matters, with no faux concern that he might traitorously pass them on to the Russians. No: Rice’s “Russia” means the “Russia investigation,” in all of its permutations, which now stands revealed as the Obama administration’s effort first to guarantee Hillary Clinton’s election, and, failing that, to disable the new Trump administration before it could get off the ground.
Rice foresaw that despite the Obama holdovers’ best efforts, the truth about their “Russia investigation” could come to light someday. If that happened, she wanted it to be on record that President Obama had authorized her to lie, on advice from James Comey. This is not surprising, but it fills an important gap in our understanding of the corruption of the Obama administration.