Another Death Blow to Conspiracy Theories About the Steele Dossier

With the release of the memo from the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Saturday, not many people noticed that on Friday, Susan Rice took a sledge hammer to the conspiracy theory Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsay Graham were attempting to construct.

If you remember, those two Republicans released a memo Rice wrote documenting a meeting on January 5, 2017 between Obama, former FBI Director James Comey, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and herself to discuss the issues they faced in sharing information with the incoming Trump administration on the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. As I noted previously, that meeting was a follow-up to one in which the White House was informed about the telephone calls between Michael Flynn, Trump’s incoming national security advisor, and the Russian ambassador. It is therefore not surprising that Rice wrote this about the focus of that meeting:

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.

On February 8th, Grassley and Graham sent a letter to Rice asking her to answer 12 questions about her “unusual email.” None of them related to this issue the White House faced in passing on classified information to an administration whose national security advisor was under investigation for collusion with Russia. It was clear that their questions were an attempt to further the conspiracy theories meant to undermine the investigation as a whole and specifically, the use of the Steele dossier.

The reply from Rice’s lawyer was short, sweet, and devastating. In the first paragraph, she points out that Grassley received the email in June 2017. No further commentary on that fact was included. But given their concerns, it is interesting to contemplate why they waited 8 months to address the matter.

As far as the bulk of the questions from Grassley and Graham, they were dispensed with just two paragraphs.

The memorandum to file drafted by Ambassador Rice memorialized an important national security discussion between President Obama and the FBI Director and the Deputy Attorney General. President Obama and his national security team were justifiably concerned about potential risks to the Nation’s security from sharing highly classified information about Russia with certain members of the Trump transition team, particularly Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

In light of concerning communications between members of the Trump team and Russian officials, before and after the election, President Obama, on behalf of his national security team, appropriately sought the FBI and the Department of Justice’s guidance on this subject. In the conversation Ambassador Rice documented, there was no discussion of Christopher Steele or the Steele dossier, contrary to the suggestion in your letter.

With that and the release of the Schiff memo, a death blow has been dealt to the conspiracy theories about how the Obama administration handled the Steele dossier. It will be interesting to find out whether Republicans learned their lesson from these embarrassing episodes of conspiracy-mongering.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.