A powerful Senate committee chairman has asked the Trump administration to fully declassify an unusual email a top Obama aide sent herself regarding Michael Flynn on the eve of her departure. In a letter reviewed by POLITICO, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) made the request of Attorney General Bill Barr.
Through a spokesperson, the aide said she welcomes the release of the email.
At issue is a meeting then-President Barack Obama had with senior officials in the Oval Office on Jan. 5, 2017. President Trump and his allies say the meeting may have involved problematic discussions of Flynn, a retired lieutenant general who was set to become Trump’s national security adviser. Democrats vehemently defend the president and his aides, saying all discussions involving Flynn were appropriate.
“I understand your office is currently reviewing a January 20, 2017, email from former national security advisor Susan Rice,” Johnson wrote in the letter. “In that email, Ambassador Rice summarized an Oval Office meeting with President Obama and other administration officials that occurred on January 5, 2017. A majority of Ambassador Rice’s email was declassified but a portion of the email remains classified.
“The significance of that meeting is becoming increasingly apparent as more and more information is declassified,” Johnson wrote. “For these reasons, it is essential that Congress and the American people understand what occurred during that January 5, 2017, meeting and how it was later characterized by administration officials. The declassification of Ambassador Rice’s email, in whole, will assist these efforts.”
“On January 5, following a briefing by IC leadership on Russian hacking during the 2016 Presidential election, President Obama had a brief follow-on conversation with FBI Director Jim Comey and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in the Oval Office. Vice President Biden and I were also present,” Rice wrote in a portion of the email that was declassified.
“President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the Intelligence and law enforcement communities ‘by the book,’” Rice continued. “The president stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book.”
“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,” Rice added.
Another unredacted portion of the email reads: “The president asked Comey to inform him if anything changes in the next few weeks that should affect how we share classified information with the incoming team. Comey said he would.“
A spokesperson for Rice said supports the effort to release her email. “Ambassador Rice would welcome the release of the entirety of her January 20, 2017 email, as well as all of the intelligence reports related to Michael Flynn,” the spokesperson said.
When the redacted email surfaced in early 2018, Rice’s then-attorney, Kathy Ruemmler, told reporters there was “nothing unusual” in Rice “memorializing an important discussion for the record.”
Last week, Johnson asked the intelligence community to reveal the names of officials who made so-called unmasking requests that revealed Flynn’s name.