GOP senators question 'unusual' message Susan Rice sent herself on Inauguration Day

Two top Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are questioning former national security adviser Susan Rice about an "unusual" message she sent to herself on Jan 20, 2017 — President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE's Inauguration Day.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyDem: 'Bulls---' to say GOP doing everything to contact Kavanaugh accuser Grassley wants unredacted version of letter from Kavanaugh's accuser Attorney for Kavanaugh accuser criticizes Senate panel's ‘rush to a hearing’ MORE (R-Iowa) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin Graham GOP senator: Kavanaugh accuser 'moving the goalposts' Collins: Kavanaugh accuser should 'reconsider,' testify on Monday Grassley willing to send staff to California to speak with Kavanaugh accuser MORE (R-S.C.) questioned Rice about why she sent a note detailing a conversation she observed on Jan. 5 between then-FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHillicon Valley: Trump's exclusive interview with Hill.TV | Trump, intel officials clash over Russia docs | EU investigating Amazon | Military gets new cyber authority | Flynn sentencing sparks new questions about Mueller probe Comey: Mueller may be in 'fourth quarter' of Russia probe READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV MORE and then-President Obama.

"It strikes us as odd that, among your activities in the final moments on the final day of the Obama administration, you would feel the need to send yourself such an unusual email purporting to document a conversation involving President Obama and his interactions with the FBI regarding the Trump/Russia investigation," they wrote in a letter to Rice. 

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They said that in the message, Rice noted how Obama repeatedly emphasized during the meeting on Russia's election hacking with Comey that he wants every aspect of the issue handled "by the book."

"The President stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book," Rice wrote, according to an excerpt included in the senators' letter. "From a national security perspective, however, President Obama said he wants to be sure that, as we engage with the incoming [Trump] team, we are mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia."

Grassley and Graham said despite her repeated mention of Obama stressing the need for a proper investigation, "substantial questions have arisen about whether officials at the FBI, as well as at the Justice Department and the State Department, actually did proceed 'by the book.' "

They asked Rice to address roughly a dozen questions related to her note and what she knew at the time about the Russia investigation, like whether she has "any reason to dispute the timestamp of the email" as well as other surrounding circumstances of her note.

Kathryn Ruemmler, the former White House counsel in the Obama administration now representing Rice, dismissed the senators' suggestion that her note was unusual.  

“There is nothing ‘unusual’ about the National Security Advisor memorializing an important discussion for the record. 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 said in a statement.

The two senators said they found record of her note through the National Archives, which preserves files from a presidential administration.

The GOP senators' own unusual letter comes at a time when Republicans are intensely scrutinizing whether Obama-era officials sought to damage Trump's presidential campaign.

Earlier this month, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released a classified memo detailing claims that the FBI and Justice Department misled a clandestine spy court in a surveillance warrant application on Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

The memo, drafted by the staff of Intelligence Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesRussia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems Nunes: Russia probe documents should be released before election Gowdy: House Intel panel should release all transcripts from Russia probe MORE (R-Calif.), argues in part that federal authorities failed to disclose the key fact that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Trump's exclusive interview with Hill.TV | Trump, intel officials clash over Russia docs | EU investigating Amazon | Military gets new cyber authority | Flynn sentencing sparks new questions about Mueller probe READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV Keeping up with Michael Avenatti MORE and the Democratic National Committee partially funded the controversial dossier alleging ties between Trump and Russia, which was used in part to obtain the surveillance warrant against Page. The judge overseeing this particular case, however, was notified that the information came from a politically motivated source.

Trump said the Nunes memo vindicates him in the Russia probe, while other GOP lawmakers, including Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanElection Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls On The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Nancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? MORE (R-Wis.), said it does not impact special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation into Russian interference.

Graham and Grassley also asked Rice what she knew about the surveillance application to obtain a warrant on Page at the time she sent her note.

"The discussion that Ambassador Rice documented did not involve the so-called Steele dossier. 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," Ruemmler continued.

Two senior Democrats on the Judiciary committee, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Grassley wants unredacted version of letter from Kavanaugh's accuser Gillibrand: Kavanaugh accuser shouldn't participate in 'sham' hearing MORE (Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents Dems call on Senate to postpone Kavanaugh vote Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski MORE (R.I.), were carbon copied on the letter to Rice, but neither signed off on it.

Spokespeople for Feinstein and Whitehouse did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Republican letter.

Updated Tuesday, 9:24 a.m.