Note the date and time: January 20, 2017, 12:15 p.m. Trump had just been sworn in as president minutes before. Was Susan Rice commiserating with friends while he took the oath of office? Ruminating on the legacy of the Obama years? Planning her next career move? Texting angrily to someone about how much she hates Trump? Getting plastered?
Nope, she was thinking about Russiagate, intently enough that she wanted to get something down on the record where she knew the National Archives would record it about a meeting that had been held more than two weeks before. In her final moments as a White House employee, this is what Susan Rice was focused on.
That was attached to a letter to Rice sent by Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, co-authors of the Judiciary Committee memo that corroborated key details in the Devin Nunes memo about the FBI relying on the Steele dossier to get a FISA warrant on Carter Page. According to Grassley’s and Graham’s letter to Rice, the meeting on January 5 that the email describes “reportedly included a discussion of the Steele dossier and the FBI’s investigation of its claims.” That may be less suspicious than it sounds, as January 5 was one day before Comey and other intelligence honchos went up to Trump Tower and briefed Trump on Russiagate. It was after that meeting that Comey individually briefed Trump about the dossier, which had been circulating on Capitol Hill and which Comey feared would leak to the media. (Which it eventually did.) Comey briefed Trump on it supposedly so that he’d have a heads-up about the contents in case the media got hold of it, not because the FBI was necessarily accusing him of having done anything claimed in the dossier.
It may be, in other words, that Obama’s meeting with Comey et al. the day before was devoted in whole or in part to deciding whether Trump should be briefed on the dossier and in what degree of detail. Remember, the dossier had already been used at that point in the FISA Court to authorize surveillance of Page; the FBI might have been reluctant to share details from the document with Trump since he, conceivably, might end up a target of the investigation himself. Evidently someone made the decision that, as president-elect, he had to be briefed on it regardless — but maybe not on the entire document, like the stuff relating to Page? As the email notes, Obama was concerned that there might be reasons why certain classified information would need to be withheld from Team Trump. As such, Rice’s email reeks of a CYA in how it emphasizes that Obama wanted everything done “by the book,” as though she feared — or had reason to know — that either it hadn’t been done that way to that point or wasn’t done that way in the final few weeks of the presidential transition, after the January 5 meeting. She and Obama may have feared that he’d be blamed later if/when it was later discovered that some information had been withheld from the incoming president. If that happened, the “by the book” instruction would presumably mean that Comey or other underlings were at fault, not Obama. They went rogue!
On the other hand, Fox News says the January 5 meeting wasn’t about the Steele dossier:
But one source familiar with the meeting said it had nothing to do with Steele or the dossier. That person said it was solely focused on whether the intelligence community and the FBI needed to be careful about what Russia conversations they had with the Trump transition team.
The point of the email seems to be to make sure, fairly or not, that Obama wasn’t linked to any subsequent decisions by the DOJ to prosecute Trump or his deputies for crimes. The “law enforcement” apparatus has to work according to normal protocols, he allegedly said, but the counterintelligence apparatus is a separate matter. If the FBI came to suspect that sharing info with Trump about Russia might be a problem for national security purposes, Obama wanted to know that. Pause now and consider the implications of an outgoing president feeling less than completely confident that his successor could be trusted with sensitive information.
Read the (very short) Grassley/Graham letter to Rice for a series of questions that they want her to answer. One obvious one: Did she know when she wrote this email that the dossier had been used to obtain a warrant on Carter Page? Is that why Obama was leery of Trump being briefed on the contents of the dossier? Another interesting one: Did anyone instruct, request, suggest, or imply that you should send yourself the aforementioned Inauguration Day email memorializing President Obama’ s meeting with Mr. Comey about the Trump/Russia investigation? If so, who and why?” The great mystery in the email (apart from the missing classified section, of course) is why Rice felt the urge to write it 15 days after the meeting occurred. Why not do it the day of, or the day after? All I can figure is that she wanted to use her last moments as a federal employee on Inauguration Day to make sure that some account of the meeting was vacuumed up in the National Archives for investigators to find later. Which way does that cut on the email’s credibility?