Senate Republicans obtained Susan Rice's email 8 months before they sent her a letter about it
- Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley obtained a copy of former National Security Adviser Susan Rice's email memorializing a January 2017 meeting on June 16, 2017.
- But Grassley and committee member Lindsey Graham didn't raise questions about the email, which they described as "unusual" and "disturbing," until February 8, 2018.
- It's unclear why the lawmakers waited almost eight months to address the email, which they suggested was proof of former President Barack Obama's influence over the FBI's Russia investigation.
The Senate Judiciary Committee obtained a copy of former National Security Adviser Susan Rice's email documenting a meeting she had with former President Barack Obama and top intelligence officials eight months before raising concerns about the email, Business Insider has learned.
Rice's email memorialized a January 5, 2017 meeting she attended with Obama, then-Vice President Joe Biden, then-FBI Director James Comey, and then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
According to the email, which she sent herself on January 20, 2017, Obama suggested that intelligence officials be cautious when sharing information related to the FBI's Russia investigation with the Trump transition team.
After stressing that he wanted to ensure the Russia investigation was conducted "by the book," Rice wrote, Obama wanted 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."
Sens. Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham said in a letter to Rice sent on February 8, 2018 that 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.
Grassley's and Graham's letter to Rice last week was the first time lawmakers had raised questions about the email, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
They said in their letter that they had asked the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for all records of communications between Obama and Comey regarding the FBI's Russia investigation, but they did not elaborate on when they had made the request.
A copy of Rice's email attached to the letter says it was partially declassified on June 13, 2017, but it wasn't initially clear whether it had been declassified specifically in response to the lawmakers' request, and whether Grassley and Graham received the email then or at a later date closer to when they sent the letter.
But a letter from NARA obtained by Business Insider indicates that the lawmakers sent an initial records request to the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, on May 17, 2017 - the same day special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to oversee the Russia probe - and asked NARA for the records on May 24, 2017.
NARA sent Grassley a declassified version of Rice's email on June 16, 2017, less than a month after he made the initial request, and three days after it was declassified. A person familiar with the matter confirmed to Business Insider that the email was declassified in response to Grassley's request.
It is unclear why, given the lawmakers' concerns about the email, they waited eight months before addressing the matter with Rice.
In addition to Grassley and Graham, Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse were copied on NARA's response. A classified version of Rice's email was sent separately to the Office of Senate Security last June.
Grassley's and Graham's representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
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Legal experts and counterintelligence veterans largely agreed that they could see no reasonable justification for why Grassley and Graham would hold off for eight months on acting on what they described as an "unusual" and "disturbing" email.
John Sipher, a former CIA clandestine services officer, said it was difficult to see a reason why, "other than that they are flailing and looking for any and every excuse to muddy the waters and divert attention."
Cornell Law School vice dean and criminal law expert Jens David Ohlin also put it bluntly.
"If they held this in their back pocket, and brought it out at a strategic moment to maximize its impact, that would suggest a level of political gamesmanship that is conduct unbecoming [of] senior members of the US Senate," he said in an email.
Rice's lawyer, Kathryn Ruemmler, forcefully pushed back against the Graham-Grassley letter earlier this week.
"There is nothing 'unusual' about the National Security Advisor memorializing an important discussion for the record," Ruemmler said in a statement. "The Obama White House was justifiably concerned about how comprehensive they should be in their briefings regarding Russia to members of the Trump transition team, particularly Lt. General Michael Flynn, given the concerning communications between him and Russian officials."
Ruemmler also disputed the letter's claim that the meeting included discussion of the Steele dossier, an explosive collection of memos alleging Trump-Russia collusion that was authored by ex-British spy Christopher Steele. The FBI is said to be using the dossier as a "roadmap" in its Russia investigation.
"The discussion that Ambassador Rice documented did not involve the so-called Steele dossier," Ruemmler said. "Any insinuation that Ambassador Rice's actions in this matter were inappropriate is yet another attempt to distract and deflect from the importance of the ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in America's democracy."
Here's a timeline of the events:
- January 5, 2017: Rice meets with Obama, Biden, Comey, and Yates.
- January 20, 2017: Rice memorializes the meeting in an email to herself.
- May 17, 2017: Grassley asks McGahn for records of interactions between Obama and Comey about the Russia investigation.
- May 24, 2017: Grassley makes the same request to the National Archives.
- June 13, 2017: Rice's email is partially declassified in response to Grassley's request.
- June 16, 2017: The general counsel at the National Archives responds to Grassley's request with a copy of Rice's email.
- February 8, 2018: Grassley and Graham raise concerns about the email in a letter to Rice.
See NARA's response to Grassley:
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