Then-FBI Director James Comey and President Barack Obama discussed intercepted calls between incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador during a meeting at the White House on Jan. 5, 2017, according to a newly declassified email written by one of the meeting’s attendants, national security adviser Susan Rice.
Rice’s email had previously been released, but a portion pertaining to the conversation about Flynn remained redacted until May 19. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence approved the declassification after a request by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
The previously public portions of the email, which Rice sent to herself after the meeting, showed that Obama advised the senior officials present about being “mindful to ascertain if there is any reason that we cannot share information fully as it pertains to Russia.”
The newly declassified portion of the email shows that Comey responded to that instruction by pointing out that he is concerned about the frequency of communications between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
“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 is 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,'” Rice wrote.
The apparent effort to limit what can be shared with the incoming administration suggests that the Obama administration may have sought to conceal the existence of the investigation into the Trump campaign from the incoming Trump cabinet. The effort is potentially problematic because Trump was not under investigation at the time, and the FBI was ready to close Flynn’s case the day prior to the meeting before the bureau’s upper echelon intervened to keep it open.
Then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told then-special counsel Robert Mueller that she first learned about the Flynn–Kislyak calls from Obama himself during the same meeting at the White House on Jan. 5. Yates, who was Comey’s superior at the time, was so surprised by what she was hearing that she said she had trouble processing it “and listening to the conversation at the same time.”
The Justice Department released the special counsel interview of Yates alongside a batch of documents as part of its motion to dismiss the charges against Flynn. The documents substantially validate the theory that Flynn was set up by the FBI.
The judge in Flynn’s case didn’t rule on the motion to dismiss the charges and instead appointed a third party to argue the case against dismissal.