Trump transition team mishandled classified information, led to fears of leaking to Russia


A bombshell report from the Associated Press reveals Obama officials were worried about Donald Trump's transition team's mishandling of classified information, and withheld details of new sanctions against Russia for days — out of fear they might give Moscow advance warning.

Ahead of upcoming Senate testimony from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the Associated Press has released a stunning report on concerns raised by the Obama administration about Donald Trump's transition team, led by Mike Pence.

One of the recurring themes in the report is that Obama administration officials were highly concerned, even then, about disgraced ex-National Security Director Mike Flynn's contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

While it’s not inappropriate for someone in Flynn’s position to have contact with a diplomat, Obama officials said the frequency of his discussions raised enough red flags that aides discussed the possibility Trump was trying to establish a one-to-one line of communication — a so-called back channel — with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama aides say they never determined why Flynn was in close contact with the ambassador.

Another massive revelation, in the penultimate paragraph of the AP story, is how reckless the transition team was with classified information:

The outgoing White House also became concerned about the Trump team’s handling of classified information. After learning that highly sensitive documents from a secure room at the transition’s Washington headquarters were being copied and removed from the facility, Obama’s national security team decided to only allow the transition officials to view some information at the White House, including documents on the government’s contingency plans for crises.

Ultimately, the White House was so suspicious of the Trump transition team's behavior that they withheld information about new sanctions against Russia, planned in response to Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, until hours before they were announced to the public.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow highlighted the significance of this delay:

MADDOW: The Obama folks delayed telling the Trump transition what they were going to do in response to that election hack, reportedly because the Obama administration was concerned enough about what they were seeing — about the transition's contacts with Russian officials — that they believed it was possible that someone in the Trump transition might tip off the Russian government about what was about to happen, that they might give the Russians enough time, enough lead time, to clear information out of the two Russian compounds that the U.S. was closing down in retaliation for the Russians attacking our election.

Now, NBC can add a little bit to that tonight. NBC further reports tonight that, in terms of that advance warning that the Obama administration gave to the Trump transition, about these Russian sanctions, NBC News reports tonight that that advanced warning was a matter of hours, not days. Even though they knew they were going to shut down these Russian compounds for days, they didn't tell the Trump folks until hours before they announced it, so the Trump folks wouldn't have too much opportunity to give the Russians a heads-up to clean out those compounds, just in case the Trump transition folks were so inclined to do that.

Pence was in charge of the Trump transition and of vetting Trump officials. It was his job to transmit the memorandum of understanding that cleared members of the Trump transition to work with the White House and federal agencies. Under Pence, ethics paperwork and other required clearance documents were submitted late. What he knew or did not know about the recklessness and possible malfeasance under his nose deserves far greater scrutiny.

Every day, we are learning more about the extent of Russian attacks on our democratic process, and of how much the Trump team and the Kremlin benefitted from each other's actions. The American people deserve immediate accountability.