Like me, Tolman regards the email as basically a CYA exercise--designed to cover Obama and herself. In the process, however, it's apparent that all the targeting of Flynn was a structure built on sand--there never was any "there" there, there never was any valid predication to investigate Flynn at all. Ever.
Now, read Tolman with this sound bite from Devin Nunes in mind, taken from a Fox interview with Liz MacDonald. Speaking of the Rice email Nunes says:
If you can believe anything they say, which is a whole 'nuther story.
Which is to say, you have to take everything that Rice writes with a grain of salt. Here's what I mean.
If this email is a CYA exercise, which it is, then it's necessary to claim that the Flynn investigation had some valid basis. Yet, on the other hand, they had nothing to point to--no actual investigative results to point to. Moreover, as we reviewed once again in James Comey Unmasked, they were even unable to articulate any fact based predicate for the Flynn investigation to begin with. That's totally damning. Comey's admission that they've found NOTHING "thus far" is incredibly weak when combined with the lack of predication.
But the fact that Obama is even having this discussion with Comey--in front of a "shellshocked" Sally Yates--is telling. Reading between the lines of the email, it appears that Obama is looking for reassurance that Comey will keep Obama's knowledge of and involvement in the Flynn investigation mum--even while encouraging Comey to continue the operation against Flynn. However, Rice frames this as if Obama knew no specifics and wanted no factual update. Instead, Obama is portrayed as offering only the most general sort of guidance--Do it "by the books," guys!
What tells very much against Rice's portrayal of Obama's involvement and knowledge is the fact that Comey--i.e., the 7th Floor at FBIHQ--intervened to keep the totally unpredicated and totally unproductive ("NO derogatory information") Flynn investigation open pending the meeting with Obama. Comey could have told Obama, 'Well, you know, our Washington Field Office found no derogatory information on Flynn. None! So we closed that sucker a few days ago.' But it seems Comey knew that's not what Obama really wanted to hear--Obama wanted the Flynn operation to continue, while he subtly distanced himself from the details. If Comey had been smart he would have dropped the Flynn case right then and there. But as Tolman puts it:
This shows Obama and Biden were calling shots against Flynn and Comey was providing the ammunition.
So Comey and Yates got the message, thought they saw career opportunities, and continued down that path. The FBI and DoJ began planning to set Flynn up, somehow, and to do that they needed at a minimum to have the Flynn investigation remain open.
Yates pushed for a more politically oriented operation, trying to drive a wedge between Flynn and Mike Pence. But Comey opted to aggressively seek an interview with Flynn to see if they could get Flynn to make incorrect statements. In the end, the two approaches dovetailed, and Flynn was forced out. Mission accomplished. But then came Team Mueller, and that has turned into serious Mission Overreach. If they hadn't been so arrogant, they could have left Flynn alone. Instead they thought they could pressure Flynn in their effort to "take the kill shot" on Trump himself.
Brett L. Tolman
This is the declassified Rice “Top Secret” email from her official email to presumably her personal email. This is not just a CYA but a CEA “cover everyone’s a**” attempt. This shows Obama and Biden were calling shots against Flynn and Comey was providing the ammunition.
Comey states they have no indication that Flynn has passed classified docs to Kislyak. So no basis to even go after him. He reveals that the only thing unusual is the number of times Flynn and Kislyak spoke. This is DAYS before Trump is in WH and Flynn is acting NSA.
This whole Flynn effort is not just hollow. Pretend. But fabricated out of literally nothing and this bizarre email by Rice, given what we now know, is actually more damning than exonerating of Obama, Biden and Comey. This is probably why Sally Yates was so shell shocked and could not think or listen to anything else during the meeting. From this group, most likely from Comey or his cadre of @realDonaldTrump haters and abusers in the FBI, the contents of the unmasking is leaked to the press (which is a 10 year felony.)
Further, it is in this meeting that it is decided that the Obama Admin is not going to fully brief Flynn and hence the Trump administration on the status or progress of the Russia investigation. But what screams out is why they didn’t want to brief them—not because they were aware of any wrongdoing by @realDonaldTrump or @GenFlynn or anyone else. The real reason is because they did not want to reveal the merit less spying, unmasking and leaking against the incoming administration. Let that soak in ... they didn’t want to get caught. The ones trying to catch someone in the Trump administration didn’t want to get caught illegally spying and investigating. This is why Rice’s “Top Secret” email is so important.
UPDATE: Margot Cleveland makes a couple of very good points:
... why did Rice belatedly document this conversation?
Possibility one: Comey, and in turn Rice and Obama, truly believed Flynn was compromised and might hand classified information to the Russians. But if that was the case, it was inexcusable for Comey not to brief President-elect Trump on that fear. And it was inexcusable for then-President Obama not to direct Comey to provide that briefing.
The second possibility is that no one suspected Flynn of being a Russian agent, but the FBI needed a pretext to continue to investigate Flynn so it could justify withholding details of the broader Crossfire Hurricane investigation from Flynn and thereby Trump. Either possibility is a huge political scandal that runs right through Comey to Obama.