Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham Are All Aboard the Conspiracy Theory Bandwagon

We have a new conspiracy theory developing on the right in an attempt to undermine the Mueller investigation. I’m not even sure what this one is attempting to suggest, but it is making the rounds, so let’s take a look.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham have released a memo that former National Security Adivsor Susan Rice emailed on the day that Trump was inaugurated. It laid out what happened at a meeting with Obama on January 5, 2017 to discuss the Russia investigation that was attended by Comey, Biden, Yates, and Rice.

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. 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.

Here is the portion that is getting the most attention:

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 any information fully as it relates to Russia.

The next portion of the memo is redacted, but Rice ends by saying that the president asked Comey to inform him if anything changes over the next few weeks that would affect how classified information is shared with the Trump team.

The meeting Rice described in that memo was a follow-up to this one:

On Jan. 5, FBI Director James B. Comey, CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. briefed Obama and a small group of his top White House advisers on the contents of a classified intelligence report showing that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump. That’s when White House officials learned that the FBI was investigating the Flynn-Kislyak calls. “The Flynn-Kislyak relationship was highlighted,” a former senior U.S. official said, adding that the bureau made clear “that there was an actual investigation” underway.

The president had just been informed that his successor’s national security advisor was being investigated for possible collusion with the Russians. In response, Obama told those who attended the follow-up meeting to conduct the investigation “by the book” and inform him if their findings affected how classified information should be shared with the incoming team. I would imagine that the redacted portion has to do with how the intelligence community obtained information from phone calls between Kislyak and Flynn. Facing an unprecedented and potentially dangerous situation, Obama’s caution seems imminently wise.

Graham and Grassley have also published a letter they wrote to Susan Rice in which they asked her to respond to twelve questions they have about this email. Of course, they don’t mention Michael Flynn, but instead continue to focus on their obsession with the Steele dossier. For example:

When did you become aware of any surveillance activities, including FISA applications, undertaken by the FBI in conducting that investigation? At the time you wrote this email to yourself, were you aware of either the October 2016 FISA application for surveillance of Carter Page or the January 2017 renewal?

During the meeting, did Mr. Comey or Ms. Yates mention potential press coverage of the Steele dossier? If so, what did they say?

During the meeting, did Mr. Comey describe the status of the FBI’s relationship with Mr. Steele, or the basis for that status?

When and how did you first become aware of the allegations made by Christopher Steele?

When and how did you first become aware that the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic National Committee funded Mr. Steele’s efforts?

In other words, it is a fishing expedition into matters not related to Rice’s email. I suppose that the former national security advisor is required to respond to these questions, but her attorney has already set the record straight.

“There is nothing ‘unusual’ about the National Security Advisor memorializing an important discussion for the record,” Kathryn Ruemmler, a counsel for Rice, said in a statement. “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 added: “The discussion that Ambassador Rice documented did not involve the so-called Steele dossier. 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.”

This is the second time that the conspiracy theorists on the right have attempted to turn a legitimate concern of the Obama administration about Russian meddling into something nefarious. Just last week we saw them assume that a meeting to prepare the former president to confront Vladimir Putin was about his desire to get involved with the Clinton email investigation. That one also blew up in their faces.

As they continue with this nonsense, it becomes increasingly clear that Republicans are willing to do and say anything in an attempt to undermine the Mueller investigation, even if it means providing cover for Russia’s attempt to undermine an election.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .