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 administration eyes proposal to block jet engine sales to China: report Trump takes track to open Daytona 500 Brazile 'extremely dismayed' by Bloomberg record 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 YatesGraham requests interviews with DOJ, FBI officials as part of probe into Russia investigation Sally Yates blasts Trump for using DOJ as 'personal grudge squad' Biden: 'I sure would like Michelle to be the vice president' MORE, FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyDOJ attorney looking into whether CIA withheld info during start of Russia probe: NYT Graham requests interviews with DOJ, FBI officials as part of probe into Russia investigation Raising the Barr isn't always the best way to combat corruption MORE and Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats redefine center as theirs collapses Speculation swirls around whether Bloomberg will make Las Vegas debate stage Pelosi: 'I'm not counting Joe Biden out' 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 GrassleyOvernight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case Mnuchin defends Treasury regulations on GOP tax law Wyden, Mnuchin clash over Trump tax returns, Hunter Biden probe MORE (R-Iowa) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamUS defense chief says Taliban deal 'looks very promising' but not without risk Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Graham requests interviews with DOJ, FBI officials as part of probe into Russia investigation 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 PowerPresident Trump's strike of choice Obama reveals his top books of 2019 Former US envoy Samantha Power: Trump finding 'new ways to compensate Putin for election interference' 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.”