National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed retaliatory sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition, possibly violating the Logan Act in the process, both The New York Times and the Washington Post reported last night.
The Post story is sourced to “nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls.” According to the NYT, those officials have seen a transcript of the conversation and “were surprised by Mr. Flynn’s comments, since he would have known that American eavesdroppers closely monitor such calls.”
A spokesman for Flynn, who had repeatedly denied discussing those sanctions with Kislyak, walked those assertions back yesterday, saying that “while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
Flynn was apparently being cagey from the start. “Several officials emphasized that while sanctions were discussed, they did not see evidence that Flynn had an intent to convey an explicit promise to take action after the inauguration,” the Post reports.
But the fact that the call occurred in the 24 hours between Obama’s announcement of sanctions, and Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision not to retaliate, speaks volumes about what the Russian ambassador took away from the conversation. The Post:
Flynn’s contacts with the ambassador attracted attention within the Obama administration because of the timing. U.S. intelligence agencies were then concluding that Russia had waged a cyber campaign designed in part to help elect Trump; his senior adviser on national security matters was discussing the potential consequences for Moscow, officials said.
The NYT was even more explicit.
During the Christmas week conversation, he urged Mr. Kislyak to keep the Russian government from retaliating over the coming sanctions — it was an open secret in Washington that they were in the works — by telling him that whatever the Obama administration did could be undone, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing classified material.
Flynn’s denial was repeated by more than one administration spokesperson — and even by the vice president. Speaking on the CBS Sunday show Face the Nation the week of the inauguration, Pence insisted that Flynn and Kislyak “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
While no one has ever been charged under the Logan Act, leaving plenty of doubt whether it can even be enforced in this case, the evidence that Michael Flynn lied — and that the Trump White House repeated those lies — casts an unflattering light on other denials they have made regarding Russian connections and influence.
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