“January 5 was the day President Obama was presented with the ballyhooed report he had ordered to be rushed to completion by multiple intelligence agencies before his administration ended, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.” The briefing that day was conducted by four intelligence-community leaders: James Comey, Michael Rogers, John Brennan, and James Clapper, directors respectively of the FBI, NSA, CIA and the Office of the National Intelligence Director.
Just as significant: January 5 was the day before these same intelligence-community leaders would brief President-elect Trump on the same report.
Also on hand at the January 5 White House briefing were Vice President Joe Biden and acting Attorney General Sally Yates. According to Rice, immediately after the briefing, President Obama had his two top law-enforcement officials, Yates and Comey, linger for “a brief follow-on conversation” with the administration’s political leadership: Obama, Biden, and Rice.
Let’s think about what was going on at that moment. It had been just a few days since Obama imposed sanctions on Russia. In that connection, the Kremlin’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, had contacted Trump’s designated national-security adviser, Michael Flynn. Obama-administration leadership despised Flynn, who (a) had been fired by Obama from his post as Defense Intelligence Agency chief; (b) had become a key Trump supporter and an intense critic of Obama foreign and national-security policy; and (c) was regarded by Yates and Comey as a possible criminal suspect — on the wayward theories that Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak could smack of a corrupt quid pro quo deal to drop the sanctions and might violate the never invoked, constitutionally dubious Logan Act.
What else was happening? The Justice Department and FBI had gone to the FISA court on October 21, 2016, for a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. That warrant relied largely on the Steele dossier, which alleged a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin involving (a) a cyberespionage operation against the 2016 election, (b) corrupt negotiations regarding the sanctions, and (c) the Kremlin’s possession of “kompromat” that would enable the Putin regime to blackmail President-elect Trump.
Significantly, by the time of this January 6 meeting with Trump, the 90-day surveillance period under the FISA warrant would have had just a bit over two weeks left to run — it was set to expire just as Trump was to take office. (Reporting suggests that there may also have been a FISA warrant on Paul Manafort around this time.) The Obama administration was therefore confronting a deadline if the FISA warrant was to be renewed while Obama was still in power. The officials in the meeting would need to figure out how the investigation could continue despite the fact that its central focus, Trump, was about to be sworn in as president.
Obama had incredibly claimed that he never intervened in cases under investigation by the Justice Department and FBI. He was emphatic in an April 2016 interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace: “I do not talk to the attorney general about pending investigations. I do not talk to FBI directors about pending investigations. We have a strict line and always have maintained it.” Ever the cheeky Obama, he made this claim while in the same breath arguing against indicting Hillary Clinton.
Obviously, if Obama was having a “follow-on conversation” with Yates and Comey, what it was following on was the briefing he’d just received about an investigation implicating the Trump campaign in Russian espionage. (As Comey’s March 20 House testimony would later elucidate, Russia’s interference in the election was always seen by law-enforcement officials as inseparable from suspected Trump campaign collusion in that interference.) There would be no reason to have such a follow-on conversation unless Obama wanted an update on what his law-enforcement officials were doing.” (Read more: National Review, 2/15/2018) (Archive)