by AARON KLEIN
A key revelation in the report released last week by the Justice Department’s inspector general raises questions about the roles played by Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Susan Rice and other senior members of the Obama administration in disgraced former FBI Director James Comey’s infamous classified briefing to then President-elect Donald Trump about “salacious” material inside the anti-Trump dossier.
As Breitbart News reported, the IG reportrelates that prior to the briefing, FBI members on Comey’s team discussed the need to memorialize the exchanges between Comey and Trump during the private January 6, 2017 briefing in Trump Tower just in case Trump made statements relevant to the agency’s controversial Russia probe. In other words, they plotted to stealthily use statements Trump said to Comey in a private briefing to inform their Russia collusion investigation.
The IG further relates that Comey went on to do just that. He had a laptop waiting for him in the car, where he immediately began memorializing his private talk with Trump. He also immediately provided a “quick download” of the Trump briefing to members of “Crossfire Hurricane” – the FBI’s compartmentalized Russia collusion team — via a secured video conference.
The revelation that Comey immediately fed the details of his private meeting with Trump to the FBI team investigation unsubstantiated Russia collusion raises questions about what Obama, Biden, Rice and other Obama-era officials knew about the intent to use the planned briefing to fuel the questionable Russia investigation and surreptitiously pass the contents of the private talk to the FBI.
In his book, A Higher Loyalty, Comey writes that he told Obama, Biden and Rice about his plans to have the private briefing with Trump. He did this on January 5, 2017 in a White House briefing with Obama one day before he met Trump and underhandedly sent the details of their one-on-one to the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” team handling the Russia collusion claims.
After an extended discussion on the intelligence assessment, the president asked what the plan was for further briefings. Director Clapper explained that we were to meet the Gang of Eight the next morning—the top officials in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, briefed on intelligence matters—and then we would go immediately to New York City to brief the president-elect and his senior team. Clapper explained to Obama that there was an unusual matter that needed to be brought to Mr. Trump’s attention: additional material—what would become commonly called “the Steele dossier”—that contained a variety of allegations about Trump.
Comey writes that Obama specifically asked about the details of the “plan” to brief Trump:
Obama did not appear to have any reaction to any of this—at least none he would share with us. In a level voice, he asked, “What’s the plan for that briefing?” With just the briefest of sidelong glances at me, Clapper took a breath, then said, “We have decided that Director Comey will meet alone with the president-elect to brief him on this material following the completion of the full ICA briefing.” The president did not say a word. Instead he turned his head to his left and looked directly at me. He raised and lowered both of his eyebrows with emphasis, and then looked away. I suppose you can read whatever you want into a wordless expression, but to my mind his Groucho Marx eyebrow raise was both subtle humor and an expression of concern. It was almost as if he were saying, “Good luck with that.” I began to feel a lump in my stomach…
That same day, Comey writes, he received a call from Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, further inquiring about the plan to brief Trump. Johnson was present at Comey’s White House meeting with Obama earlier in the day.
The ex-FBI chief relates:
Later that day, I received a call from Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, who had been a friend since we were federal prosecutors together in Manhattan in the 1980s. He had been in the Oval Office that morning for the briefing. I have no idea whether he was calling me at President Obama’s suggestion, or if the two even spoke about the matter, but he gave voice to how I viewed the Oval Office eyebrow raise. “Jim, I’m worried about this plan for you to privately brief the president-elect,” he said. “Me, too,” I replied. “Have you ever met Donald Trump?” he asked. “No.” “Jim, please be careful. Be very careful. This may not go well.” I thanked Jeh for the concern and the call.
In their book, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn write about the briefing with Obama one day before Comey met with Trump.
On Thursday, January 5, 2017, the day before its public release, the intelligence chiefs briefed Obama and his senior staff. White House officials were taken aback. It was “the first time all the pieces came together for us,” one senior official said. “It seemed a much grander conspiracy than it was during the election. This was an intelligence failure and a failure of the imagination.” And when Biden was briefed about intelligence reports on the connections between various players in the Trump orbit and the Kremlin, he had a visceral reaction. “If this is true,” he exclaimed, “it’s treason.”
A few days earlier, Rice had encouraged Clapper during the daily intelligence briefing to tell Obama about the “golden showers” allegation. Obama turned to Rice and said, “Why am I hearing this?” He was incredulous. “What’s happening?” he asked. Rice said the intelligence community had no idea if this story was true but that Obama needed to be aware the allegation was circulating. “You don’t really expect to hear the term ‘golden showers’ in the President Daily Brief,” a participant in this meeting later said, “or that the guy who is going to become president may be a Manchurian candidate.
Biden, Rice Involved in Early Stages of Russia Probe
Biden and Rice were reportedly involved in the Russia probe since the early inception of the investigation. Attorney General William Barr made a series of public comments that the U.S. administration’s early handling of the Russia investigation may itself raise questions. He noted that it was first handled at a “very senior level” and then by a “small group.” Barr recently appointed a U.S. attorney to investigate the origins of the Russia collusion claims.
Breitbart News previously reported that Biden was reportedly one of the few Obama administration officials who participated in secretive meetings during the early stages of the Obama-era intelligence community’s initial operations regarding suspected Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Separately, Isikoff and Corn wrote in their book that Colin Kahl, who served as Biden’s national security adviser, participated in highly compartmentalized early principals’ meetings that took place at the White House to discuss the early stages of the Russia investigation.
Biden was also documented as being present in the Oval Office for a conversation about the Russia probe between Obama, Comey, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and other senior officials, including Rice.
In an action characterized as “odd” last year by then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Rice memorialized the confab in an email to herself describing Obama as starting “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.’”
Grassley, in a letter to Rice, commented: “It strikes us as odd 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.”
Grassley noted the unusual timing of the email sent by Rice to herself more than two weeks after the January 5, 2017 White House meeting on the Russia investigation, but mere hours before she vacated the White House for the incoming Trump administration. The email, Grassley documented, was sent by Rice to herself on Trump’s inauguration day of January 20, 2017.
Grassley wrote that “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.’”
An attorney for Rice responded to Grassley’s letter saying Rice wrote the email to herself with the goal of “memorializ[ing] an important national security discussion,” since “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.”
The attorney denied that the Steele dossier, financed by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was discussed in the Oval Office meeting.
Regarding the time stamp on the email, the attorney said that noon was not accurate and that the email was sent in the morning “since Ambassador Rice departed the White House shortly before noon on January 20.”
Still, Rice waited two weeks after the meeting to memorialize the conversation and sent the memo as one of her final acts in the White House on the last day.
The attorney said that Rice waited until the last minute “because that was the first opportunity she had to do so, given the particularly intense responsibilities of the National Security Advisor during the remaining days of the Administration and transition.”
Comey Passed Private Conversation with Trump to FBI Team Investigating Russia Hoax
Meanwhile, addressing the revelation in the IG report that Comey immediately fed the details of his private briefing with Trump to the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif) charged on Fox News that what Comey was “really doing” was “interrogating the president and then using that information and feeding it right back into the ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ team at a time when … [Neither] Congress nor the president-elect knew he was under investigation.”
Until now, Comey and other former Obama administration officials presented the unusual briefing as a courtesy to Trump to warn him about the news media possibly publically releasing embarrassing claims about the newly elected president. Questions have been raised on the need to include the dossier’s wild and unsubstantiated charges in the classified briefings. It is not the usual job of the intelligence community to warn politicians about possible pending negative publicity.
The IG report, based on interviews with Comey and other FBI “witnesses”, documents that prior to Comey’s briefing the FBI discussed utilizing Comey’s classified private talk with Trump to inform the controversial Russia collusion probe.
The report relates:
Witnesses interviewed by the OIG also said that they discussed Trump’s potential responses to being told about the “salacious” information, including that Trump might make statements about, or provide information of value to, the pending Russian interference investigation. That FBI counterintelligence investigation, known as “Crossfire Hurricane,” concerned whether individuals associated with the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election were coordinating with, or had been unwittingly co-opted by, the Russian government.
Multiple FBI witnesses recalled agreeing ahead of time that Comey should memorialize his meeting with Trump immediately after it occurred. Comey told the OIG that, in his view, it was important for FBI executive managers to be “able to share in [Comey’s] recall of the…salient details of those conversations.”
Another reason Comey provided for taking notes on his conversation with Trump was to “capture his…contemporaneous recollection” because there were “millions of ways that [the FBI] could get follow-up questions, or criticism…and [Comey] wanted to recollect exactly, from his perspective, how it had taken place.”
Right after his briefing with Trump, Comey immediately updated the FBI team probing Russia collusion claims about his private talk with the incoming president, the IG documented:
Comey told the OIG he began writing Memo 1 immediately following his meeting with Trump on January 6, 2017. Comey said he had a secure FBI laptop waiting for him in his FBI vehicle and that when he got into the vehicle, he was handed the laptop and “began typing [Memo 1] as the vehicle moved.” He said he continued working on Memo 1 until he arrived at the FBI’s New York field office, where Comey gave a “quick download” of his conversation with President-elect Trump to Rybicki, McCabe, Baker, and supervisors of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigative team via secure video teleconference (SVTC). Comey said he probably told the SVTC participants that he would send them his “detailed notes” of the interaction.
James Rybicki was Comey’s chief of staff; Andrew McCabe was FBI deputy director; and James Baker was FBI counsel.
A footnote in the report further relates:
On January 7, 2017, Comey wrote a classified email to the other Intelligence Community Directors to let them know that his “follow-up session with [the President-elect] went well” and provided them a brief summary of the conversation that was less detailed than Memo 1).
Besides failing to inform Trump that he would be taking notes on his private briefing or that he would pass those notes to the FBI team investigating the Russia claims, Comey also used the briefing to assure Trump that he was not a subject of the FBI probe.
In previous testimony, Comey admitted that he did not inform the incoming president about who financed the dossier. He also admitted in testimony that he was aware at the time that the dossier authored by former British spy Christopher Steele was financed by Democrats who opposed Trump. The dossier was paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Comey also previously stated that he pushed back against a request from Trump to possibly investigate the origins of “salacious material” – meaning the dossier — that the agency possessed in the course of its investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. This even though Comey admitted to knowing it was financed by Trump’s political opponents.
Comey’s classified briefing was subsequently leaked to the news media, with CNN on January 10, 2017 breaking the story that the contents of the dossier were presented during classified briefings one week earlier to Trump and then-President Barack Obama.
Prior to CNN’s report leaking the briefings, which was picked up by news agencies worldwide, the contents of the dossier had been circulating among news media outlets, but the sensational claims were largely considered too risky to publish.
Comey’s briefing seems to have provided the news media with the hook to publish a story on the controversial dossier containing the infamous “Russian prostitute” claims as well as unsubstantiated charges of collusion between Russia and members of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Just after CNN’s January 10 report on the classified briefings about the dossier, BuzzFeed infamously published the dossier’s full unverified contents.
The New York Times used CNN’s story to report some contents of the dossier the same day as CNN’s January 10 report on the briefings.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
Joshua Klein contributed research to this article.