Former FBI director James Comey pushed the White House to investigate Michael Flynn over his contacts with Russian officials despite a lack of any evidence of any wrongdoing, a recently declassified email sent by former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice to herself reveals.
The declassified ‘top secret’ email, sent to Rice’s inbox on January 20, 2017, the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, recalls a January 5, 2017 meeting in the Oval Office between then-President Obama, Vice President Biden, FBI director Comey, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and Rice herself, and details Comey’s “concerns” about Flynn.
“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,” the email reads.
“From a national security perspective, Comey said he does have some concerns that incoming NSA Flynn is speaking frequently with Russian Ambassador [Sergei] Kislyak. Comey said that could be an issue as it relates to sharing sensitive information. President Obama asked if Comey was saying that the [National Security Council] 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’,” the email added.
The email was obtained from the Justice Department by Republican Senator Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, who asked that a redacted version of the email with Comey’s response blocked out be released in full.
The email’s release comes just days after acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell declassified a list of senior Obama administration officials seeking to “unmask” Flynn as the Trump team individual communicating with Moscow during the transition. Along with Comey, that list also included Biden, other senior intelligence officials and Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough.
A spokesperson for Susan Rice suggested that the declassified email “makes clear that the Obama administration did not change the way it briefed Michael Flynn,” adding that “no discussion of law enforcement matters or investigations took place, despite accusations to the contrary.”
Trump fired Flynn shortly after his inauguration for “false statements and omissions” the national security made to the FBI, a charge Flynn initially pleaded guilty to but later sought to withdraw. Flynn spoke with Ambassador Kislyak five times in December 2016, with his calls monitored by the FBI. In them, the incoming national security advisor asked Russia not to retaliate to Obama administration sanctions over alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Kislyak obliged.
In 2018, Comey admitted to sending FBI agents to interview and potentially entrap Flynn at the White House in January 2017, saying this was something he “probably wouldn’t have done or maybe gotten away with in a more organized administration.”
The Justice Department dropped its case against Flynn on May 7 after reviewing the evidence, finding that the FBI’s questioning of Flynn was not “conducted with a legitimate investigative basis,” with his responses immaterial “even if untrue.” The move came after the release of declassified documents which showed that the FBI proceeded with its case against Flynn despite finding no incriminating evidence against him.
The Flynn saga is a part of the long-running claims made by Democrats that Trump and his associates were ‘colluding’ with Russia against US interests. These charges were conclusively debunked last year with the release of the Mueller report, but have continued to swirl in the US public consciousness. Trump administration officials and Republican lawmakers are now seeking to investigate the origins of the ‘Trump-Russia collusion’ claims, searching for evidence of criminal behaviour.
President Trump responded to the new information on Flynn with a series of fiery statements, accusing the Obama administration and the Obama Justice Department of “treasonous” behaviour and saying he was “very happy” about Flynn’s potential exoneration. On Sunday, he told reporters that Obama and Biden would receive 50 years prison sentences for their witch hunt against Flynn if he “were a Democrat instead of a Republican,” calling the case “the greatest political scam, hoax in the history of our country.”
On Tuesday, US Federal judge Emmet Sullivan set a July hearing date to have all criminal charges against Flynn formally dismissed after putting the Justice Department’s effort to close the case on hold.