Updated May 19, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Declassified Susan Rice email describes Comey's concerns with Flynn

Susan Rice

Susan Rice. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell has declassified the full text of an email that memorializes former national security adviser Susan Rice's account of an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 5, 2017, in which top Obama officials discussed Michael Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador, Politico reports.

The big picture: The meeting was attended by Rice, former President Obama, former Vice President Biden, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and former FBI director James Comey. The newly declassified portion describes Comey's concerns about the "unusual" frequency of communications between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kisylak.

  • Flynn would later plead guilty to lying to FBI agents — who interviewed him weeks later on Jan. 24 — about discussing sanctions with Kislyak.
  • Earlier this month, more than two years after Flynn pleaded guilty, the Justice Department submitted a motion to dismiss the charges, arguing that the FBI engaged in prosecutorial misconduct.

The newly declassified section:

"Director Comey affirmed that he is proceeding ‘by the book’ as it relates to law enforcement. From a national security perspective, Comey said he does have some concerns that incoming NSA Flynn is speaking frequently with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. Comey said that could be an issue as it relates to sharing sensitive information. President Obama asked if Comey was saying that the NSC should not pass sensitive information related to Russia to Flynn. Comey replied ‘potentially.’ He added that he has no indication thus far that Flynn has passed classified information to Kislyak, but he noted that ‘the level of communication is unusual.'"

Why it matters: This is the second document concerning Flynn that Grenell has declassified in the past week, amid a renewed campaign by President Trump and his allies to discredit the Russia investigation.

  • Neither the Rice email nor the list of "unmasking" requests that Grenell declassified last week reveal evidence of misconduct, according to national security experts.
  • Despite Trump's unsubstantiated claims that Obama ordered the Russia investigation as a political hit job, Attorney General Bill Barr said on Monday that he does not expect the Justice Department to bring charges against Obama or Biden.

What they're saying:

As Ambassador Rice previously said, she welcomes the release of the entirety of her January 20, 2017 email, which confirms what she and others have indicated all along: that the Obama Administration had legitimate counter-intelligence concerns about National Security Advisor-designate Flynn’s communications with Russia. Thus, President Obama sought guidance from the FBI as to whether or not it was prudent to share detailed Russia-related information with him during the transition process.
Ambassador Rice’s email makes clear that no discussion of law enforcement matters or investigations took place, despite dishonest accusations to the contrary.  The email clearly states that President Obama stressed that he was “not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective.”
Furthermore, the email makes clear that the Obama Administration did not change the way it briefed Michael Flynn – but rather that President Obama asked Director Comey “to inform him if anything changes in the next few weeks that should affect how we share classified information with the incoming team.”  In fact, Ambassador Rice briefed Michael Flynn for over 12 hours, on four separate occasions and led the National Security Council in preparing and delivering to him over 100 separate briefing memos.  Ambassador Rice did not alter the way she briefed Michael Flynn on Russia as a result of Director Comey’s response. 
In the interest of transparency, Ambassador Rice again calls upon the Director of National Intelligence to release the unredacted transcripts of all Kislyak-Flynn calls. The American people deserve the full transcripts so they can judge for themselves Michael Flynn’s conduct.
— Erin Pelton, spokesperson for Susan Rice

Read the full email.

Go deeper: Grenell names Obama officials who requested "unmasking" in Flynn reports

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