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 TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada 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 YatesTime for sunshine on Trump-Russia investigation New Yorker disinvites Bannon from festival following backlash White House confirms Brennan's security clearance has been revoked MORE, FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFBI memos detail ‘partisan axes,’ secret conflicts behind the Russia election meddling assessment New grounds for impeachment? House Dem says Trump deserves it for making society worse Sessions gets unexpected support - from a Democrat who wants to impeach Trump MORE and Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenFord taps Obama, Clinton alum to navigate Senate hearing Trump endorses Republican candidate in key NJ House race Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 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 GrassleyFord lawyer proposes testifying next Thursday Yale Law School dean responds to reports that Kavanaugh hired women with 'certain look' Kavanaugh tells Senate panel: I want a hearing to 'clear my name' MORE (R-Iowa) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKim, Moon toss ball to Trump in ‘last, best chance’ for Korean peace GOP senator: Kavanaugh accuser 'moving the goalposts' Collins: Kavanaugh accuser should 'reconsider,' testify on Monday 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 PowerObama UN ambassador: I'm 'filled with optimism & determination' after McCain's funeral Whatever happened to the 'unmaskings' probe? Former UN envoys urge Pompeo to restore funding for Palestinian aid agency 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.”