Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice Responds to Declassification of Email

May 20, 2020 Updated: May 21, 2020

The last national security adviser of the Obama administration claimed that a newly declassified email showed no discussions of law enforcement matters took place.

The email “makes clear that no discussion of law enforcement matters or investigations took place, despite dishonest accusations to the contrary,” Erin Pelton, a former government spokeswoman, said in a statement on behalf of Susan Rice.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified a block of text from an email Rice wrote to herself on Jan. 20, 2017, her last day serving in the Obama administration.

The email recounted what transpired during a Jan. 5, 2017, meeting in the Oval Office of the White House.

In the newly revealed portion of the email, Rice said then-FBI Director James Comey told President Barack Obama that he was doing things “by the book.”

Comey related concerns about retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the incoming national security adviser for president-elect Donald Trump, because of conversations Flynn was having with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time. Comey said there was no evidence that Flynn passed classified information to the Russian. He also claimed the level of communication was “unusual.”

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Then-President Barack Obama, left, and then-FBI Director James Comey in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on Dec. 3, 2015. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Obama asked if Comey was saying the National Security Council should avoid passing sensitive Russia-related information to Flynn. Comey replied “potentially,” according to Rice’s account.

Pelton said the Obama administration had “legitimate counterintelligence concerns” about Flynn’s conversations.

“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,” she added.

After asserting Rice’s message showed no discussion of law enforcement matters or investigations took place, Pelton said: “the email clearly states that President Obama stressed that he was ‘not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective.”

Rice, she continued, ended up briefing Flynn for over 12 hours and led the council in preparing and delivering to him over 100 briefing memos.

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White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice, listens to incoming White House National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn, speak at the 2017 Passing The Baton conference at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington on Jan. 10, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Rice “did not alter the way she briefed Michael Flynn on Russia as a result of Director Comey’s response,” the statement said.

Rice reiterated calls for Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, to release the unredacted transcripts of the calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador.

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Richard Grenell in Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 8, 2019. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

“The American people deserve the full transcripts so they can judge for themselves Michael Flynn’s conduct,” Pelton said.

Rice wrote the email on Jan. 20, over two weeks after the meeting took place and the same day Trump was sworn into office.

Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to President Trump, said during a Wednesday appearance on Fox News that Rice “lacks credibility.”

“She can’t be trusted. And she’s proved that,” Conway said. “If Rice becomes the running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, she would be asked in a debate: ‘What did you know? When did you know it? Why are you writing emails to yourself?'”


Another recently released document disclosed another perspective on the meeting.

Sally Yates, the deputy attorney general at the time, told the special counsel appointed in 2017 to oversee the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller, that she was stunned to learn Obama already knew information about Flynn’s calls with the Russian ambassador.

A larger meeting initially took place in the Oval Office before Obama dismissed everyone but Yates, Rice, Comey, and then-Vice President Biden.

Obama told the group he didn’t want additional information about the matter but wanted to know whether the White House should, in light of the information, treat Flynn differently.

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Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Yates “was so surprised by the information she was hearing that she was having a hard time processing it and listening to the conversation at the same time,” the agents who interviewed her wrote in a report about the interview.

She did remember Comey mentioning the Logan Act, a centuries-old law that’s never been successfully prosecuted.

Flynn was interviewed by FBI agents later in January 2017 about his conversations with Kisylak. He eventually pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI. But he moved in recent months to withdraw the plea, asserting misconduct, including by his own attorneys, who he said had a conflict of interest in the case. The Department of Justice also filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying the interview lacked a legitimate investigative purpose.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who was appointed by Obama, declined to immediately dismiss the case, instead appointing a retired judge to advise him on whether Flynn should face a perjury charge.

Flynn’s lawyers asked a higher court to order the judge to let the motion to dismiss go through.

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