Senate

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 Trump's Inauguration Day.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) questioned Rice about why she sent a note detailing a conversation she observed on Jan. 5 between then-FBI Director James Comey 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. 

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 Nunes (R-Calif.), argues in part that federal authorities failed to disclose the key fact that Hillary Clinton 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 Ryan (R-Wis.), said it does not impact special counsel Robert Mueller'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 Feinstein (Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (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.

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