Former national security adviser Susan Rice acknowledged last night that the Obama administration moved transcripts of conversations with foreign leaders onto the same top-secret server where the Trump administration stored his recent phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
.@AmbassadorRice: “Normally there is a full, verbatim transcript” of calls like Trump’s w/ the Ukraine president.
Says he tried to “bury” it on a more secure server, but acknowledges the Obama Admin. sometimes did the same. pic.twitter.com/B6zZNbZsTG
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) September 27, 2019
Appearing at the Texas Tribune Festival, Rice was asked how often this practice was engaged in during the Obama administration, but did not answer that question, saying instead, “We never moved them over unless they were legitimately, in the contents classified.” Rice did not explain what standard the Obama administration used to determine what was legitimately classified. She said it is rare, although not impossible, that a presidential conversation could be classified to that highest level.
The revelation from Rice comes amid media reports and comments from political leaders that have painted the use of this top secret server as proof that Trump was trying to cover up the contents of his conversation with the Ukrainian leader, a full transcript of which the administration has now released to the public.
While Rice admitted that the Obama administration also used this server to protect sensitive presidential phone calls, she left open the question of whether the Trump administration used the server in this particular case to save the president from damaging, perhaps even impeachable, comments he made to Zelensky regarding investigations into political rival Joe Biden.
But reporting from ABC News shows that this practice of securing presidential phone transcripts has been in use in the White House since early 2017, after sensitive conversations with foreign leaders were leaked to the press.
From ABC News: “The two calls in early 2017, with leaders from Australia and from Mexico, leaked early in Trump’s administration, and sources said the procedure to store them quickly changed — many calls between the president and world leaders instead were stored in a secure server to avoid leaks. The sources who talked to ABC News did caution that it’s unclear if the calls being stored were done so for national security or for political concerns.”
One source cited by ABC News described the practice as “basically standard operating procedure.”
So from Rice we now know the decision to store the conversation on the top-secret server was not unprecedented, but a decision that Obama’s administration made multiple times as well, using its own discretion, just as the Trump administration has. And from ABC News’ reporting we know that this has been a long-standing practice in the Trump White House to protect against a high level of leaks.
Both of these revelations undermine the theory that in this specific case, some unique and bizarre method was used to hide the transcript and engage in a cover up. Rather, the Trump administration appears to have been engaging in business as usual.