Colin Kahl, who served as Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, participated in the secretive and highly compartmentalized early principals’ meetings that took place at the White House to discuss the controversial early stages of the Russia investigation, according to a book.
The tidbit was contained in the March 2018 book Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump by Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News, and David Corn, Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones.
The detail is newly relevant in light of renewed scrutiny of Biden’s role during the Obama administration’s initial operations related to the Russia probe.
Attorney General William Barr has in the past two weeks 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.
In their book, Isikoff and Corn confirmed other mainstream media reports describing a small, tightly-held unit of senior officials and experts handling the initial probe efforts.
By July 31, 2016, they note, “the FBI had formally opened a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump’s campaign’s ties to Russians, with sub-inquiries targeting four individuals” — Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos.
Then-CIA Director John Brennan got together with FBI Director James Comey and NSA Chief Mike Rogers, they document, asking them “to dispatch to the CIA their experts to form a working group at Langley that would review the intelligence and figure out the full scope and nature of the Russian operation.”
In discussing how to respond to the information gathered, Isikoff and Corn write, the traditional interagency process of deputy chiefs meeting to formulize options for the heads of agencies — also referred to as principals — was bypassed for a more secretive route.
Usually, when the White House invited the deputies and principals to such meetings, they informed them of the subject at hand and provided “read ahead” memos outlining what was on the agenda. This time, the agency officials just received instructions to show up at the White House at a certain time. No reason given. No memos supplied. “We were only told that a meeting was scheduled and our principal or deputy was expected to attend,” recalled a senior administration official who participated in the sessions.
Also, they write that principals and deputies could not bring additional staffers, as is routine in other briefings.
Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, chaired the principals meeting, which the authors write included Kahl, who served as Biden’s national security adviser from October 2014 to January 2017.
Kahl was present to inform Biden about what happened inside the meetings, they write:
Rice would chair the principals’ meetings — which brought together Brennan, Comey, Kerry, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — with only a few other White House officials present, including White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco, and Colin Kahl, Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser. (Kahl had to insist to Rice that he be allowed to attend so Biden could be kept up to speed.)
Kahl did not return a Breitbart News request for comment. He is currently co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.
Kahl has drawn media attention for his frequent anti-Trump tweets and boasts on his Twitter profile that he is the “Likely Ops Chief” of the “Echo Chamber” — clearly a sarcastic reference to reports about a 2017 document titled “The Echo Chamber” that was purportedly circulated among Trump advisers listing former Obama administration officials accused of working to undermine the Trump administration.
At the early meetings about the Russia probe, meanwhile, the authors write that from the State Department “only a small number of officials were cleared to receive the most sensitive information on the Russian hack,” notably including John Kerry’s chief of staff, Jonathan Finer.
An extensive New Yorker profile of anti-Trump dossier author Christopher Steele named Finer as obtaining the contents of a two-page summary of the dossier and eventually deciding to share the questionable document with Kerry.
An official from Kerry’s State Department, Victoria Nuland, reportedly also greenlit the July 5, 2016 meeting in which Steele officially handed the dossier to the FBI, Isikoff and Corn write elsewhere in their book.
Notably, Kahl, Finer and Nuland were each on a list of 10 former Obama administration officials that Devin Nunes, then-chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, recommended for further investigation last July in a letter to the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees.
Nunes wrote that his Committee “discovered matters” related to those individuals that “likely fall within the purview” of the other House committees.
Nunes further wrote that the “matters” were discovered during the course of his committee’s “ongoing investigation of FISA abuse and other matters related to certain actions” taken by officials at the FBI and Justice Department, including “information that may have been received from and/or provided to” officials at the State Department and other agencies.
The principals meetings at which Biden’s national security adviser Kahl participated reportedly started a few weeks after Steele met with the FBI.
The dossier was infamously produced by Fusion GPS, which was paid for those efforts by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign via the Perkins Coie law firm.
Confirming other reporting, Isikoff and Corn write that Rice ordered the video feed in the Situation Room to be turned off during the meetings.
“She did not want others in the national security establishment to know what was underway, fearing leaks from within the bureaucracy,” they write.
Breitbart News reported last week that Biden himself was reportedly one of the few Obama administration officials who participated in the secretive meetings during the early stages of the Obama-era intelligence community’s initial operations regarding suspected Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
That tidbit was contained deep inside a 7,700-plus word Washington Post article published June 23, 2017 in which the newspaper also detailed the highly compartmentalized nature of the original Russia interference investigation and the manner in which other U.S. intelligence agencies were deliberately kept in the dark.
Breitbart News reported Biden was also present at an Oval Office briefing about the Russia probe and possible concerns about sharing intelligence with members of Trump’s incoming administration, a meeting memorialized by Rice in an email to herself penned in the final hours of her time at the White House. That action was characterized as “odd” last year by then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.
Rice documented the confab in the 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.’”
Obama, Biden, Comey, Rice, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and other senior officials participated in the meeting.
Grassley, in a letter to Rice about the email, 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.
“If the timestamp is correct, you sent this email to yourself at 12:15 pm, presumably a very short time before you departed the White House for the last time,” Grassley wrote to Rice in a letter seeking clarification on a number of issues regarding the email and the Oval Office briefing at which Biden was documented as being present.
Also in the email, Rice used the “by the book” phraseology a second time, writing (emphasis added):
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.
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 information fully as it relates to Russia.
The next part of Rice’s email was classified.
After that, Rice discussed the possibility of issues with sharing classified information with the incoming Trump administration — presumably referring to alleged concern that the Trump campaign had been colluding with Russia.
That part of the email reads:
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 he would.
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 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 Adviser during the remaining days of the Administration and transition.”
Barr has been raising questions about the intelligence community’s early handling of the Russia investigation.
In an interview on Fox News, Barr stated:
The thing that’s interesting about this is that this was handled at a very senior level of these departments. It wasn’t handled in the ordinary way that investigations or counterintelligence activities are conducted. It was sort of an ad hoc, small group — and most of these people are no longer with the FBI or the CIA or the other agencies involved. I think there’s a misconception out there that we know a lot about what happened. The fact of the matter is, Bob Mueller did not look at the government’s activities.
During an appearance on CBS last Friday, Barr commented that the secretive initial stages should have instead been handled as a “normal” investigation.
He said: “I think the activities were undertaken by a small group at the top which is one of the … probably one of the mistakes that has been made instead of running this as a normal bureau investigation or counterintelligence investigation. It was done by the executives at the senior level, out of headquarters.”
Asked if his comments were referring to Comey or disgraced former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Barr would not be more specific. “I’m just not going to get into the individual names at this point. But I just view that — I don’t view it as a bureau-wide issue. And I will say the same thing for other intelligence agencies. And they’re being very cooperative in helping us,” he said.
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.