Rice’s odd memo: Did Obama withhold intel from Trump?

Rice’s odd memo: Did Obama withhold intel from Trump?

In his final weeks in office, did President Obama suggest withholding national security information from the lawfully elected incoming president of the United States and his team?

Excerpts of a newly unearthed email that Obama national security adviser Susan Rice wrote to herself on her last day at the White House raise that important question.

Rice sent herself the email 15 minutes after President TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE formally took office on Jan. 20, 2017. In it, Rice purports to summarize a high-level meeting she attended about two weeks earlier on Jan. 5, 2017. Also in attendance, she says, were President Obama, Deputy Attorney General Sally YatesSally Caroline YatesSupreme Court hands Trump predictable win on travel ban IG report doesn’t fault Comey for ‘partisanship,’ but it should have for his incompetence Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Health chief grilled on Trump drug pricing plan, ObamaCare case MORE, FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyComey: 'Patriots need to stand up and reject' Trump's behavior Swalwell: Trump delaying end of Russia probe with refusal to testify Why does Congress keep playing political games on FBI oversight? MORE and Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden: Trump, Putin presser was 'beneath the dignity' of the presidency Biden: I’m ‘ashamed’ of Trump’s border policies Biden to ramp up campaigning for Dem candidates after Labor Day: report MORE. The meeting, writes Rice, was held after a briefing by intelligence community leadership on “Russia hacking during the 2016 Presidential election.” According to news reports, the meeting also addressed the anti-Trump “dossier” political opposition research paid for by the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party. We now know the FBI used the dossier, in part, to justify wiretapping a former Trump adviser.

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In her email, Rice states that President Obama prefaced the meeting by stressing that he wasn’t “asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective” and that every aspect should be handled “by the book.” So what was the meeting about?

 

Next comes the “But …” 

“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,” writes Rice.

The next part of the email is classified. Yet, taken by itself, Rice appears to be saying that Obama suggested the outgoing administration withhold information from the lawfully elected incoming administration — for national security reasons. Could that mean they were devising rationales to keep Trump officials from learning about the controversial surveillance practices they had used against Trump associates?

It’s unclear why Rice would have decided to record her version of events weeks later, in an email to herself, moments after Trump became president. Republican Sens. Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Kavanaugh paper chase heats up MORE (R-Iowa) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump stuns the world at Putin summit Overnight Defense: Washington reeling from Trump, Putin press conference Ryan: 'The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally' MORE (R-S.C.) sent a letter to Rice’s attorney yesterday asking for an explanation of the “odd” email.

Last fall, it was discovered that Rice was one Obama official involved in the controversial practice of “unmasking” names of political figures whose communications were captured “incidentally” during government surveillance. Rice has insisted she had legitimate reasons for doing so.

Government surveillance of U.S. citizens is strictly regulated because it’s such an invasive privacy intrusion. Even when their communications are “incidentally” captured as part of a legal wiretap on a legitimate national security target, the U.S. citizens’ names are supposed to be hidden or “masked” from others inside the intelligence agencies. “Unmaskings” are supposed to be rare and legally justified through a carefully vetted processes. The surveillance and unmasking of political figures or journalists was normally considered especially sensitive by intelligence analysts and something usually avoided so they wouldn’t appear to be improperly spying on Americans for political reasons.

But during the 2016 campaign, it became routine for the Obama administration to unmask U.S. citizens’ names. Unmasking requests were made almost daily under the name of the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha PowerSamantha Jane PowerFormer UN envoys urge Pompeo to restore funding for Palestinian aid agency Overnight Defense: White House 'strongly objects' to ZTE provision | Senate subpanel advances 5B Pentagon spending bill | New questions about VA pick Advocates urge Trump to extend protected status for Yemenis amid civil war MORE. They included the names of Trump associates who had been surveilled by U.S. intelligence. However, Power reportedly told Congress someone else used her name on many of those unmasking requests. The mystery of who hasn’t been solved. Power and Rice have firmly denied being responsible for leaks to the press about the content of surveillance material collected and used against Trump associates. 

Rice owes Sens. Grassley and Graham answers to their questions about her email to herself by Feb. 22.

Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy-award winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times bestsellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program “Full Measure.”