Trump officials push back on Rice explanation over Inauguration Day memo: ‘That email screams out CYA’
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s now-public email to herself documenting a sensitive Obama White House meeting concerning the Russia probe appeared to be an effort to make sure history was written in “their narrative,” current and former Trump administration officials argue.
On Jan. 20 2017 – the day of President Trump’s inauguration – Susan Rice wrote an email to herself describing an Oval Office meeting that occurred 15 days earlier, in which top officials in the outgoing Obama administration discussed surveillance that captured conversations of Rice’s incoming successor, Michael Flynn.
Rice spokeswoman Erin Pelton told Fox News that Rice documented the contents of that meeting at the direction of Obama’s White House counsel, Neil Eggleston. Her attorneys have said the same thing. Further, a statement from Pelton downplayed the significance of the email, which was fully declassified and released earlier this week.
She said it makes clear “no discussion of law enforcement matters or investigations took place.”
The email notably reflects former President Barack Obama himself saying matters should be conducted “by the book,” which then-FBI Director James Comey affirmed.
However, one former Trump administration official says that explanation doesn’t really let Rice off the hook.
“That email looks like it’s written to cover the whole upper level of the administration,” said former Trump DOJ Official Ian Prior, who maintains the Rice email was likely the result of discussions between Rice and senior White House officials, rather than at the direction of the White House Counsel’s Office. “It’s written so if the contents of that meeting are ever exposed, that the history will be written in their narrative.”
“That email screams out CYA,” said a current Trump administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Who writes an email on Inauguration Day saying ‘we did everything by the book?” the official asked. “You only write an email like that to yourself to protect yourself because you have concerns that perhaps there is a problem.”
This official noted that those in the Oval Office, especially Comey, likely would have seen a transcript of Flynn’s calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Details from the email about Obama’s comments during that meeting had already been made public. But Comey’s remarks had been classified until this week.
The memo shows Comey pointed out that the “volume” of Flynn’s contact was unusual, but also noted that Flynn hadn’t passed on anything classified. He went on to suggest that the administration might not want to share sensitive information on Russia with Flynn, though Pelton says Rice did not change the way she briefed Flynn as a result.
“One thing is for sure,” Prior said. “That email proves that Rice lied about her knowledge of surveillance of incoming Trump administration officials.”
During a 2017 interview on PBS “NewsHour,” Rice said she was “surprised” by statements from then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., that Trump officials’ communications may have been obtained in surveillance by federal law enforcement. “I know nothing about this,” Rice said during the PBS interview.
On Jan. 23, 2017, The Washington Post broke the story that the FBI was looking into communications between Flynn and Kislyak, three days after the Oval Office meeting memorialized in Rice’s email.
Prior thinks that is no coincidence: “They were planning to leak that information to the press, and this email was giving them cover. They pulled the pin on the grenade, threw it and this email is them hiding behind the sandbags.”
It remains unclear who may have leaked the details.
U.S. Attorney John Durham is reviewing the origins of the investigation into Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. DOJ officials tell Fox News that Durham will also be looking into the ‘unmasking’ activities of senior Obama administration officials, including those pertaining to Flynn’s identity.