|Illustration by Simon Landrain/The New Yorker.|
The biggest piece of evidence offered by rightwingers for the theory of Obama's conspiracy to do something dreadful to Trump's national security adviser Mike Flynn was the report of a meeting Obama called 5 January 2017, with FBI director Comey, deputy attorney general Sally Yates, vice president Biden, and national security adviser Susan Rice, which Rice memorialized in an email to herself on Inauguration Day two weeks later, released in a redacted version by Chuckles Grassley and Lindsey Graham in February 2018.
Rice's memo said the meeting was "following a briefing by IC leadership on Russian hacking during the 2016 Presidential election," but Obama already knew something about that—Washington Post reported 9 December that Obama had ordered an investigation following CIA conclusions on the hacking—and it seems in particular to have been the meeting where the leadership (Comey, John O. Brennan for CIA, Mike Rogers for NSA, and DNI Clapper) told Obama about the allegations in the Steele dossier, as evidence of how the Russian active measures seemed intended to favor Trump over Clinton in the election, and which Comey briefed Trump about the next day at Trump Tower (the dossier was published by BuzzFeed on the 10th), by way of warning him that the allegations were circulating;
These senior intelligence officials also included the synopsis [of the dossier, in both briefings] to demonstrate that Russia had compiled information potentially harmful to both political parties, but only released information damaging to Hillary Clinton and Democrats. This synopsis was not an official part of the report from the intelligence community case about Russian hacks, but some officials said it augmented the evidence that Moscow intended to harm Clinton's candidacy and help Trump's, several officials with knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.And it was also three days after the intelligence community first learned of the Flynn-Kislyak calls of 29-30 December, so that was also part of the discussion (though not apparently part of the discussion in Trump Tower).
Which is pretty interesting in itself, because in the Grenell list of unmasking requests there are no requests between 28 December and 5 January—IC seems to have learned about those calls by some other means. Or as I suspected Flynn's identity may have been obvious, to Clapper in particular. But chief of staff Denis McDonough did make an unmasking request the same day as the IC briefing.
Anyway, Obama's post-briefing meeting with Comey and Rice and Yates and Biden was to make it clear, according to Rice, that Obama was not calling for an investigation of the incoming administration, or the allegations in the dossier
or trying to influence the intelligence community in any way whatsoever, but just trying to ascertain what he himself should do in communicating with the Trump people—was there any information "as it relates to Russia" that it would be unsafe to share? Obviously referring to Flynn, and his ongoing relationship with the Russian ambassador. (Manafort, Papadopoulos, and Page had detached from the campaign, and Erik Prince's involvement was probably still unknown, and Kushner, who had secretly received Kislyak with Flynn at Trump Tower in early December in quest of the "backchannel", doesn't seem to have been under suspicion.) Maddeningly scrupulous about staying out of the way, just anxious that he shouldn't be indirectly feeding Russia any intelligence himself.
Ah, but! said the rightwingers, it's so suspicious! "It strikes us as odd," wrote Grassley and Graham to Rice,
that, among your activities in the final moments on the final day of the Obama administration, you would feel the need to send yourself such an unusual email purporting to document a conversation involving President Obama and his interactions with the FBI regarding the Trump/Russia investigation. In addition, despite your claim that President Obama repeatedly told Mr. Comey to proceed “by the book,” substantial questions have arisen about whether officials at the FBI, as well as at the Justice Department and the State Department, actually did proceed “by the book.”Surely he wouldn't have advised them to "proceed by the book" unless he meant the opposite! And besides, the Rice memo is redacted!
“The significance of that meeting is becoming increasingly apparent as more and more information is declassified,” [Senator Ron] 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.”So now they've unredacted the missing paragraph:
Other than that, all the material shows is how ridiculously trusting Obama and Comey and everybody in a position of authority, Democrats, Republicans, and cops, were, and how unwilling to see the collusion going on in front of their faces for fear they might look "political", as Flynn and Kushner worked with the Russians to create that backchannel and strategized over sanctions relief. Even in prosecuting Flynn they were protecting Trump, and Pence, by treating the general as a lone wolf deceiving the president and vice president, when the president and vice president were clearly in it up to their chins.
It's a nice irony that Trump was led into his biggest mistake by his terror of the Flynn investigation, firing Comey in the hope of stopping it, thereby rousing the FBI to action and getting even that genial timeserver Rod Rosenstein to involve himself in naming a special counsel. And even now, perhaps, coming back to bite him. Here's hoping!