Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham described as “disturbing” a newly revealed Inauguration Day email from Susan Rice that detailed former President Barack Obama's guidance at a high-level meeting about how law enforcement should investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The email first surfaced Monday, when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Graham, R-S.C., sent the Obama national security adviser a letter, pressing for answers about the email by next week.
“She’s sending herself an email talking about a conversation on Jan. 5 with the president, reassuring herself, and I guess the president, that this would be done by the book,” Graham said Monday night on Fox News' “The Story with Martha MacCallum.” “I think that’s odd and disturbing because we know the investigation regarding the Trump campaign was anything but by the book.”
While an attorney for Rice said there was nothing unusual about the note, White House spokesman Raj Shah told “Fox & Friends” the email “raises a lot of questions.”
Rice’s email, which she sent to herself on Jan. 20, 2017, seemed to document a Jan. 5 meeting in the Oval Office with Obama, then-Vice President Joe Biden, former FBI Director James Comey, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and herself.
“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 wrote. “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.”
Rice also wrote that 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.”
She added: “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."
Graham cast Rice’s email as “self-serving,” questioning whether Comey, at the time of the meeting, briefed the president on the source of the now-infamous anti-Trump dossier that led to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
“Do you think Comey mentioned to the president that the chief source of information regarding a FISA warrant on Carter Page came from a paid operative of the Democratic Party, Mr. [Christopher] Steele, who was on the payroll of Fusion GPS, that was being paid by the Clinton campaign, the Democratic Party, and that the dossier came from Russian sources, very unreliable and still hasn’t been verified?” Graham asked Monday night.
Graham also said the direction to “play it by the book” was “an odd thing” for the president to say in the last month of the administration.
However, Rice’s attorney Kathryn Ruemmler said there was “nothing ‘unusual’” about Rice “memorializing an important discussion for the record.”
“The Obama White House was justifiably concerned about how comprehensive they should be in their briefings regarding Russia to members of the Trump transition team, particularly Lt. General Michael Flynn, given the concerning communications between him and Russian officials,” Ruemmler said in a statement to Fox News. “The discussion that Ambassador Rice documented did not involve the so-called Steele dossier.”
Ruemmler added: “Any insinuation that Ambassador Rice’s actions in this matter were inappropriate is yet another attempt to distract and deflect from the importance of the ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in America’s democracy.”
The origins of the Russia meddling probe have come under mounting scrutiny on Capitol Hill, where Republicans are looking at how the unverified Steele dossier was used to seek a surveillance warrant against Page.
Graham questioned what Obama and Rice knew about the FISA warrant application.
“What I’m worried about is that this is an effort by the president [Obama] to basically get himself on the record through Susan Rice, and made sure that, from his point of view, everything was done by the book,” Graham said.
According to the released email, the Jan. 5 meeting followed a briefing by the intelligence community on Russian hacking during the 2016 election. Grassley and Graham said the meeting included a discussion of dossier.
But one source familiar with the meeting said it had nothing to do with Steele or the dossier. That person said it was solely focused on whether the intelligence community and the FBI needed to be careful about what Russia conversations they had with the Trump transition team.