What Obama Knew, and When He Knew It

Last week, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified information to the effect that U.S. intelligence agencies “obtained insight into Russian intelligence analysis alleging that U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump by tying him to Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic National Committee.” Ratcliffe also indicated at that time that CIA Director John Brennan briefed President Obama and others on the intelligence. Today Ratcliffe declassified documents relating to last week’s communication, including handwritten notes by John Brennan.

Brennan’s notes, reportedly dated July 28, 2016, relate to a briefing that he gave on that date to President Obama, “JC” (James Comey), “Denis” (Denis McDonough), and “Susan” (Susan Rice). The version of the notes that I have seen includes pages five and six. Here they are:


The notes are so heavily redacted that it is barely accurate to say that they have been declassified. The relevant text reads:

We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from….

CITE alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on 26 July of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security services.

President Obama had several comments or questions, only one of which survives redaction. He wanted to know whether there was any evidence of collaboration between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Brennan’s answer to that question isn’t recorded in the notes, but we know from other documents that the fact that there was no such evidence was communicated to Obama. Contributions by Comey, McDonough and Rice are fully redacted.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Brennan’s notes is their date (assuming July 28 is correct). According to the intelligence report, Hillary Clinton approved the plot to smear Trump with the Russia collusion fiction on July 26. Just two days later, the head of the CIA, the FBI Director, the National Security Adviser, the President’s Chief of Staff and the President himself met, presumably in the Oval Office, to discuss the intelligence. The report, picked up by spying on the Russians, who I take it were spying on Hillary, was obviously top priority and was taken seriously by the intelligence community, in the person of Brennan.

Given the prominence that the Russia hoax gained over the ensuing months, there must have been other conversations about it involving Obama and top administration officials. To my recollection, we have only seen the notes from one such meeting. One wonders, too: did anyone from the Obama administration ask Hillary Clinton about her alleged plan to smear Donald Trump? If so, it seems that no record survives; or, at least, no such record has become public.

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