Former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s recently-declassified January 2017 email cited no wrongdoing by then-incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn in speaking with a Russian ambassador and said then-FBI Director James Comey’s biggest concern was that Flynn was talking to the ambassador too much.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell recently declassified an email that Rice had written herself hours before leaving the White House on January 20, 2017, about a January 5, 2017, Oval Office meeting with then-President Obama and his top advisers, including then-Vice President Joe Biden, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, then-CIA Director John Brennan, then-FBI Director James Comey, and then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
Rice’s email was first discovered and released in 2018 by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), as part of their investigation into the FBI’s handling of the investigation into the Trump campaign. The email emphasized that Obama wanted to make sure the investigation was proceeding “by the book.”
However, the email was still partially classified until Tuesday, after Grenell declassified it fully upon request by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI).
The newly-declassified portion revealed that Comey only had “some concerns” that Flynn was speaking “frequently” with then Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak, and that it “could” be an issue as it related to the outgoing Obama National Security Council sharing sensitive information with Flynn about Russia.
Obama then asked Comey if he meant that the NSC should not pass sensitive information about Russia to Flynn. Comey only said “potentially,” and said thus far there was no indication Flynn passed on any classified information to Kislyak.
Notably, there was no expression of concern over any specific wrongdoing. As recently declassified interview transcripts have revealed, the FBI had moved to close its investigation of Flynn as a potential Russian agent a day before that January 5, 2017, meeting, and then-FBI agent Peter Strzok intervened to keep the investigation open on the basis of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak.
Those calls were then used as a pretext by the FBI to interview Flynn at the White House. Top FBI officials discussed whether the goal of the interviews was to get Flynn to admit to a violation of the Logan Act, an obsolete 1799 law that has never been successfully prosecuted, or get him to lie so that Flynn could be prosecuted or fired.
In the newly-declassified portion of the email, Rice wrote, “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 thus far that Flynn has passed classified information to Kislyak, but he noted that ‘the level of communication is unusual.’”
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