In an apparent Senate and Team Trump effort to something something a new Trump-demanded Obama “scandal,” the Trump administration has declassified an additional portion of a previously disclosed email from Ambassador Susan Rice to herself documenting an Obama meeting with FBI Director James Comey and other top officials over the potential national security threat posed by Trump transition member Michael Flynn’s “frequent” private contacts with the Russian ambassador.
What’s the new disclosure show, then? That intelligence leaders were extremely alarmed by Flynn’s behavior, with Comey informing Obama that Flynn “potentially” represented a security risk severe enough that the Obama administration should avoid passing him sensitive information. While Obama wanted law enforcement and intelligence communities to handle their concerns “by the book,” Obama told Comey to “inform him” if anything came up that “should affect how we share classified information with the incoming team.”
The declassified portion can be found at Politico:
“Director Comey affirmed that he is proceeding ‘by the book’ as it relates to law enforcement. 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 was 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.’ 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 that he would.”
That doesn’t sound like anyone in the Obama administration doing anything scandalous. That sounds like the director of the FBI warning that Flynn’s behavior had raised red flags to such an extent that he was not entirely sure the Trump transition team member was not passing classified information to the same hostile foreign power that had engaged in an ambitious hacking and propaganda campaign to throw the election to Flynn’s boss.
The question, then, is why Trump’s, let’s say “intelligence,” leaders have seen fit to declassify this not-exactly-breaking information at this particular moment. We can assume it is mostly an effort to throw chaff, part of the now-familiar Republican effort to flood media airwaves with unspecific claims of impropriety backed by mountains of unrelated things that prove nothing of the sort. Mostly, though, we can gather that the Trump-demanded effort to investigate the Obama administration for alleged wrongdoing in the intelligence community’s repeated discoveries of strange connections between Trump campaign officials and individuals under U.S. surveillance is now in full swing.
Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, threw out an alarming trial balloon when he pseudo-bravely suggested that he didn’t foresee pursuing criminal charges against either the last sitting president or against Trump election opponent Joe Biden for their role in overseeing intelligence officials who discovered Russian election hacking. It was intended to suggest that such a thing could be reasonably possible, rather than the objectively insane rantings of a fascist cabal. Barr’s aggressive move to force his department to come up with something, anything at all, to prove something sketchy must have been afoot in the Russian investigation and in Flynn’s prosecution goes hand-in-hand with new efforts to immunize Flynn from his own guilty plea after Flynn admitted to lying to federal investigators about his own role as paid agent of a foreign power.
The Republican Senate, and especially Trump allies like Sen. Lindsey Graham, have been positively frothing in their efforts to assist.
In the meantime, here’s one new thing we know: As president, Obama made clear to his subordinates that he would be staying out of whatever investigations or intelligence operations surrounded the incoming transition team. But he also asked to be kept informed if intelligence found reasons why he and his team should not be sharing classified intelligence with a specific member of the Trump transition team who had been making so many unusual contacts with the Russian ambassador, post-hacking effort, that the FBI could not assure him with confidence that Flynn wasn’t acting as a foreign spy.
As we’ve seen, the FBI had good reason to be worried. Coupled with similar questionable contacts by Roger Stone, by Jared Kushner, by Paul Manafort, by Donald Trump Jr., and by other campaign-connected lackeys, intelligence experts were trying to figure out whether the whole Trump operation was a subsidiary of foreign saboteurs—during and after the most sophisticated foreign attack on U.S. elections in the nation’s history.