- REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
- Susan Rice, the former national security adviser, said through her attorney Friday that she documented a controversial January 2017 meeting she had with senior Obama administration officials because they were “justifiably concerned” about ties between Russia and members of the incoming Trump administration.
- Rice’s attorney said she memorialized the meeting upon the advice of the White House counsel’s office, and that she was not aware of the existence of the FBI’s Russia investigation at the time.
- That Rice acted to document the meeting after being advised to do so by the White House counsel’s office is a key indication of how concerned the Obama administration was about the potential national-security risks of sharing classified intelligence with the Trump transition team.
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The attorney representing former national security adviser Susan Rice said Friday that Rice memorialized a January 2017 meeting between herself and senior Obama administration and law enforcement officials because they were “justifiably concerned” about the risks that could come with sharing classified intelligence with President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration.
Rice’s attorney, Kathryn Ruemmler, made the assertion in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee explaining why Rice documented the meeting, which took place on January 5, 2017. Rice contemporaneously memorialized the discussion fifteen days later, on January 20.
During the meeting, Rice’s memo said, then-President Barack Obama suggested intelligence officials be cautious about sharing information about the Russia investigation with the Trump transition team, “particularly” incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn. By that time, multiple senior members of the campaign had been in contact with high-ranking Russians, including Flynn, incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
Rice memorialized the discussion on January 20, 2017 upon the advice of the White House counsel’s office, Ruemmler’s letter said. Two sources with knowledge of the matter confirmed to Business Insider that Rice did not approach the White House counsel’s office to seek advice about creating a memo following the meeting. Rather, they said, the White House counsel’s office approached her and directed her to document the meeting, which Rice subsequently did.
That Rice acted on the White House counsel’s advice was a key indication of how concerned the Obama administration was about the potential national-security risks brought by members of the new administration, legal experts said Friday.
The letter added, contrary to Senate Republicans’ claims, that the January 5 meeting did not include any discussion of former British spy Christopher Steele or the Steele dossier, an explosive collection of memos alleging Trump-Russia collusion that the FBI is using as a roadmap in its investigation.
Rice was not aware of the Russia investigation at the time of the meeting, according to Ruemmler’s letter. She first learned of the investigation when then FBI director James Comey publicly confirmed its existence in March 2017. She was also “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,” the letter said, responding to questions about whether Rice had knowledge of the FBI’s application to surveil former Trump adviser Carter Page.
Republicans first raised concerns about Rice’s memo on February 8, 2018. In a letter sent to Rice, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham said it was “odd” she felt the need to send “such an unusual email purporting to document a conversation involving President Obama and his interactions with the FBI regarding the Trump/Russia investigation” to herself on her final day as an Obama administration official.
Graham later added that the email was “disturbing” and suggested it was evidence that Obama interfered in the Russia probe in an effort to undermine Trump.
But Ruemmler noted in her letter, citing Business Insider’s previous reporting, that Grassley obtained Rice’s memo in June 2017 – nearly eight months before they sent her a letter raising questions about the email. Given their concerns, it is unclear why Grassley and Graham waited eight months before addressing the matter with Rice. Their representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment earlier this month.
With respect to the lawmakers’ inquiry about the timing of the memo, Ruemmler said in Friday’s letter that Rice documented the meeting fifteen days after it took place “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.”