The lesson from Watergate is that “it is not the crime, it is the coverup” that will bring you down.
National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who previously worked as a commentator on Russia Today (RT), Vladimir Putin’s propaganda network, lied about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition. How Flynn ever got a security clearance is beyond me. Robin Townley, the senior Africa director on the NSC, a Top Flynn aide was rejected for a key security clearance on Friday.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday, National security adviser Flynn discussed sanctions with Russian ambassador, despite denials, officials say:
National security adviser Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials, current and former U.S. officials said.
Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election.
Flynn on Wednesday denied that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak. Asked in an interview whether he had ever done so, he twice said, “No.”
On Thursday, Flynn, through his spokesman, backed away from the denial. The spokesman said Flynn “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.” [The Ollie North defense: “I don’t recall” (wink, wink).]
Officials said this week that the FBI is continuing to examine Flynn’s communications with Kislyak. 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.
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 talks were part of a series of contacts between Flynn and Kislyak that began before the Nov. 8 election and continued during the transition, officials said. In a recent interview, Kislyak confirmed that he had communicated with Flynn by text message, by phone and in person, but declined to say whether they had discussed sanctions.
The emerging details contradict public statements by incoming senior administration officials including Mike Pence, then the vice president-elect. They acknowledged only a handful of text messages and calls exchanged between Flynn and Kislyak late last year and denied that either ever raised the subject of sanctions.
“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence said in an interview with CBS News last month, noting that he had spoken with Flynn about the matter. Pence also made a more sweeping assertion, saying there had been no contact between members of Trump’s team and Russia during the campaign. To suggest otherwise, he said, “is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”
Neither of those assertions is consistent with the fuller account of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak provided by officials who had access to reports from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that routinely monitor the communications of Russian diplomats. Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
All of those officials said Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president.
“Kislyak was left with the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time,” said a former official.
A third official put it more bluntly, saying that either Flynn had misled Pence or that Pence misspoke. An administration official stressed that Pence made his comments based on his conversation with Flynn.
The nature of Flynn’s pre-inauguration message to Kislyak triggered debate among officials in the Obama administration and intelligence agencies over whether Flynn had violated a law against unauthorized citizens interfering in U.S. disputes with foreign governments, according to officials familiar with that debate. Those officials were already alarmed by what they saw as a Russian assault on the U.S. election.
U.S. officials said that seeking to build such a case against Flynn would be daunting. The law against U.S. citizens interfering in foreign diplomacy, known as the Logan Act, stems from a 1799 statute that has never been prosecuted. As a result, there is no case history to help guide authorities on when to proceed or how to secure a conviction.
The Post’s national security columnist David Ignatius explains, When it comes to his contacts with Russia, Michael Flynn has bigger problems than the Logan Act:
Michael Flynn’s real problem isn’t the Logan Act, an obscure and probably unenforceable 1799 statute that bars private meddling in foreign policy disputes. It’s whether President Trump’s national security adviser sought to hide from his colleagues and the nation a pre-inauguration discussion with the Russian government about sanctions that the Obama administration was imposing.
“It’s far less significant if he violated the Logan Act and far more significant if he willfully misled this country,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, in a telephone interview late Friday. “Why would he conceal the nature of the call unless he was conscious of wrongdoing?”
Schiff said the FBI and congressional intelligence committees should investigate whether Flynn discussed with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December the imminent imposition of sanctions, and whether he encrypted any of those communications in what might have been an effort to avoid monitoring. Schiff said that if some conversations were recorded by U.S. intelligence agencies, “we should be able to rapidly tell if Gen. Flynn was being truthful” when he told Vice President Pence and other colleagues that sanctions weren’t discussed.
Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak were first disclosed in my Jan. 12 Post column, so I have a window on the events surrounding that disclosure. I reported that, according to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn had phoned Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the Kremlin’s hacking attack during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions?” the column asked. We still don’t know the answers to those questions — but new reporting has made them more pertinent than ever. Flynn needs to clarify what happened, or risk losing his credibility with National Security Council colleagues and the public.
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Why did the Trump team give slow, initially conflicting and apparently incomplete accounts of the conversation? A Trump campaign spokesman forwarded my request for comment to Flynn’s team on Jan. 12, about seven hours before the column appeared. But there was no response until the next morning, when a colleague of Flynn’s said the retired lieutenant general had talked with Kislyak sometime between Dec. 27 and Dec. 29.
About an hour later, Trump press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed the Flynn-Kislyak contacts in a public briefing, but said they had come in texts on Dec. 25 and in a phone conversation Dec. 28, when it was widely reported sanctions were imminent. Sources continued to tell the Associated Press that day that there had been a call on Dec. 29.
The crucial question is what Flynn and Kislyak discussed. The Flynn associate told me initially that the two explored timing of a future conversation between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. A Trump campaign spokesman told me several hours later that Kislyak had also told Flynn that a Trump representative should attend a peace conference on Syria that would take place after the inauguration in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Various Trump team members said Flynn hadn’t talked to Kislyak about the sanctions that were being announced near-simultaneously with the communications, whichever date you choose. That’s apparently what Flynn told Pence, too. But this denial became inoperative Thursday, when a spokesman said Flynn “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
A national security adviser’s success depends on maintaining trust, especially with his White House colleagues. After Flynn’s changing statements about a sensitive issue, he has a trust deficit that can only be filled with a full accounting of what happened — one that is consistent with any record that was compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies of his calls with Kislyak.
CNN reported on Friday that US investigators corroborate some aspects of the Russia dossier:
For the first time, US investigators say they have corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent, [Christopher Steele], multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials tell CNN. As CNN first reported, then-President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the existence of the dossier prior to Trump’s inauguration.
None of the newly learned information relates to the salacious allegations in the dossier. Rather it relates to conversations between foreign nationals. The dossier details about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals. Sources would not confirm which specific conversations were intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of US intelligence collection programs.
But the intercepts do confirm that some of the conversations described in the dossier took place between the same individuals on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier, according to the officials. CNN has not confirmed whether any content relates to then-candidate Trump.
The corroboration, based on intercepted communications, has given US intelligence and law enforcement “greater confidence” in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier as they continue to actively investigate its contents, these sources say.
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US intelligence officials emphasize the conversations were solely between foreign nationals, including those in or tied to the Russian government, intercepted during routine intelligence gathering.
Some of the individuals involved in the intercepted communications were known to the US intelligence community as “heavily involved” in collecting information damaging to Hillary Clinton and helpful to Donald Trump, two of the officials tell CNN.
Until now, US intelligence and law enforcement officials have said they could not verify any parts of the dossier.
Officials who spoke to CNN cautioned they still have not reached any judgment on whether the Russian government has any compromising information about the President.
Officials did not comment on or confirm any alleged conversations or meetings between Russian officials and US citizens, including associates of then-candidate Trump.
One of the officials stressed to CNN they have not corroborated “the more salacious things” alleged in the dossier.
CNN has not reported any of the salacious allegations.
And how did the Trump White House respond to this CNN report? You guessed it: Reached for comment this afternoon, White House Press Secretary “Baghdad Sean” Spicer said, “We continue to be disgusted by CNN’s fake news reporting. Spicer later called back and said, “This is more fake news.”
The under-reported story here is that the intelligence agencies are leaking like a sieve to the media, as are people within the Trump Whitehouse. No White House Leaks Like This … Until Now.