Earlier this week, NBC News reported that President Donald Trump in an interview last Friday tried to turn some of the controversy around his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, on the administration of President Barack Obama, saying the retired general was previously vetted. Trump Tries to Deflect Flynn Vetting Questions on Obama Administration:
“When they say we didn’t vet, well, Obama I guess didn’t vet, because he was approved at the highest level of security by the Obama administration,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum.
“So when he came into our administration for a short period of time, he came in, he was already approved by the Obama administration and he had years left on that approval,” Trump said.
The implication is that the Trump transition team did not have to vet Flynn. But they did:
While Flynn served in the Obama administration — Flynn was fired by President Obama from his postion at DIA for clashing with other high-ranking officials and “Flynn facts” — the Trump transition team and White House had an additional responsibility to do a separate background check, which is always done for people at that level.
The Trump team did do a background check and learned about Flynn’s business ties with Turkey, but Flynn was appointed anyway, people close to the investigation have told NBC News.
The Pentagon is investigating whether Flynn broke the law for the payments, Democratic lawmakers said Thursday.
A Defense Intelligence Agency letter released by Rep. Elijah Cummings which was sent in 2014 when Flynn retired specifically says Flynn cannot accept fees and gifts from foreign governments “unless congressional consent is first obtained.”
A second letter released by Cummings shows the Inspector General of the Department of Defense is investigating whether Flynn received proper permission to take the funds. A Defense Department spokesman confirmed the Flynn probe opened April 4.
The Washington Post reports Flynn was warned by Trump transition officials about contacts with Russian ambassador:
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was warned by senior members of President Trump’s transition team about the risks of his contacts with the Russian ambassador weeks before the December call that led to Flynn’s forced resignation, current and former U.S. officials said.
Flynn was told during a late November meeting that Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s conversations were almost certainly being monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said, a caution that came a month before Flynn was recorded discussing U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak, suggesting that the Trump administration would reevaluate the issue.
Officials were so concerned that Flynn did not fully understand the motives of the Russian ambassador that the head of Trump’s national security council transition team asked Obama administration officials for a classified CIA profile of Kislyak, officials said. The document was delivered within days, officials said, but it is not clear that Flynn ever read it.
The previously undisclosed sequence reveals the extent to which even some Trump insiders were troubled by the still-forming administration’s entanglements with Russia and its enthusiasm for a friendly relationship with the Kremlin.
The failed efforts to intervene with Flynn also cast harsh new light on a national security adviser who lasted just 24 days on the job before revelations about his discussions with Kislyak — and misleading accounts of them — forced him to resign.
Providing the Kislyak bio was seen by Obama officials as part of an effort “to make sure the new team had a full appreciation of the extent of the threat from Russia,” a former U.S. official said.
The perceived need to impress this point upon Flynn added to the growing concerns among senior members of the Obama administration, who at the time were still coming to grips with the scale of Russian interference in the 2016 election and were worried that any punitive measures they imposed might be rescinded when Trump was sworn in.
The request for the Kislyak document came from Marshall Billingslea, a former senior Pentagon official in the George W. Bush administration who led Trump’s national security transition team from November until shortly before Trump’s inauguration.
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Billingslea warned Flynn that Kislyak was likely a target of U.S. surveillance and that his communications — whether with U.S. persons or superiors in Moscow — were undoubtedly being monitored by the FBI and National Security Agency, according to officials familiar with the exchange. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who led the Defense Intelligence Agency, would presumably have been aware of such surveillance.
Billingslea then said that he would obtain a copy of the profile of Kislyak, officials said, a document that Billingslea urged Flynn to read if he were going to communicate with the Russian envoy. Flynn’s reaction was noncommittal, officials said, neither objecting to the feedback nor signaling agreement.
Shortly thereafter, during the week of Nov. 28, Billingslea and other transition officials met with lower-level Obama administration officials in the Situation Room at the White House.
At the end of the meeting, which covered a range of subjects, Billingslea asked for the CIA profile. “Can we get material on Kislyak?” one recalled Billingslea asking.
Days later, Flynn took part in a meeting with Kislyak at Trump Tower. White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks has confirmed that both Flynn and Jared Kushner, Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, took part in that session, which was not publicly disclosed at the time.
It’s not clear whether the Kislyak profile was shared before that meeting. Flynn continued to communicate with Kislyak, however, exchanging text messages and cellphone calls, culminating in a conversation intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies just as the Obama administration was announcing election-related sanctions on Russia.
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During Flynn’s fleeting tenure as national security adviser, he had several follow-on conversations with Kislyak, and at one point Flynn proposed a lunch, officials said. The Russian Embassy called repeatedly to collect on that offer, officials said, until Flynn was fired and the calls stopped.
The Associated Press adds, Curious Trump team query now seen as Russia warning sign:
In late November, a member of Donald Trump’s transition team approached national security officials in the Obama White House with a curious request: Could the incoming team get a copy of the classified CIA profile on Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States?
Marshall Billingslea, a former Pentagon and NATO official, wanted the information for his boss, Michael Flynn, who had been tapped by Trump to serve as White House national security adviser. Billingslea knew Flynn would be speaking to Kislyak, according to two former Obama administration officials, and seemed concerned Flynn did not fully understand he was dealing with a man rumored to have ties to Russian intelligence agencies.
To the Obama White House, Billingslea’s concerns were startling: a member of Trump’s own team suggesting the incoming Trump administration might be in over its head in dealing with an adversary.
The request now stands out as a warning signal for Obama officials who would soon see Flynn’s contacts with the Russian spiral into a controversy that would cost him his job and lead to a series of shocking accusations hurled by Trump against his predecessor’s administration.
In the following weeks, the Obama White House would grow deeply distrustful of Trump’s dealing with the Kremlin and anxious about his team’s ties. The concern — compounded by surge of new intelligence, including evidence of multiple calls, texts and at least one in-person meeting between Flynn and Kislyak — would eventually grow so great Obama advisers delayed telling Trump’s team about plans to punish Russia for its election meddling. Obama officials worried the incoming administration might tip off Moscow, according to one Obama adviser.
This account of the closing days of the Obama administration is based on interviews with 11 current and former U.S. officials, including seven with key roles in the Obama administration. The officials reveal an administration gripped by mounting anxiety over Russia’s election meddling and racing to grasp the Trump team’s possible involvement before exiting the White House. Most of the officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive national security information.
The Obama White House’s role in the Russia controversy will come under fresh scrutiny Monday. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former deputy Attorney General Sally Yates are slated to testify before lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of three committees investigating Trump’s associates links to Moscow.
Yates, an Obama administration official who carried over into the Trump administration, is expected to tell lawmakers that she expressed alarm to the Trump White House about Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador. Trump fired Yates days later, after she told the Justice Department to not enforce the new president’s travel and immigration ban. Flynn was forced to resign three weeks later for misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about the content of his discussions with Kislyak.
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In late December, as the White House prepared to levy sanctions and oust Russians living in the in the U.S. in retaliation for the hacks, Obama officials did not brief the Trump team on the decision until shortly before it was announced publicly. The timing was chosen in part because they feared the transition team might give Moscow lead time to clear information out of two compounds the U.S. was shuttering, one official said.
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.
Even with the suspicion, the officials said they did not withhold 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. [This is new information.]
Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates is prepared to testify before a Senate panel next week that she gave a forceful warning to the White House regarding then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn nearly three weeks before he was fired, contradicting the administration’s version of events, sources familiar with her account tell CNN. Sources: Former Acting AG Yates to contradict administration about Flynn at hearing:
In a private meeting January 26, Yates told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn was lying when he denied in public and private that he had discussed US sanctions on Russia in conversations with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak. Flynn’s misleading comments, Yates said, made him potentially vulnerable to being compromised by Russia, according to sources familiar with her version of events. She expressed “serious concerns” to McGahn, making it clear — without making a recommendation — that Flynn could be fired.
Yates’ testimony May 8 will be the first time the former acting attorney general will publicly speak about the White House meeting. A source familiar with the situation says that Yates will be limited on what she can tell the Senate judiciary subcommittee because many of the details involving Flynn are classified, meaning there may only be a few new revelations.
In addition, the Senate Intelligence Committee has asked a number of high-profile Trump campaign associates to hand over emails and other records of dealings with Russians as part of its investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election and is prepared to subpoena those who refuse to cooperate, officials said.Senate Asks Trump Associates for Records of Communication With Russians:
The requests for the materials were made in letters sent by the committee in the past 10 days … Among those who said they had received the requests were Roger J. Stone Jr., an informal adviser to President Trump, and Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, and Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, were also sent letters, the officials with knowledge of the investigation said. Representatives for those two men declined to comment.
Any decision to issue subpoenas would require a majority vote by members of the intelligence committee.
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Mr. Page, Mr. Stone and Mr. Manafort are all under scrutiny in an F.B.I. investigation into Russian election meddling and allegations of collusion by Trump associates. There are two other separate congressional investigations — one by the Senate panel and the other by the House intelligence committee.
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The letters from the Senate committee were jointly signed by Senator Richard M. Burr, the North Carolina Republican, and Senator Mark Warner, the Virginia Democrat, who are the committee’s two senior members. The letters instruct recipients to list all the meetings they had with Russian officials or Russian businesspeople from June 16, 2015, through Jan. 20, 2017. It set a May 9 deadline for a response.
The committee also requested that, by May 19, the recipients hand over records of all communications — including emails, text messages and phone logs — with Russian officials or businesspeople from the same period. It also asks them for information on any of their financial or real estate holdings related to Russia and to list any meetings they know of between other Trump campaign associates and Russians.
Vice President Mike Pence was in charge of the Trump transition team. Gen. Flynn was allegedly fired for lying to Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russian ambassador some three weeks after acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the Trump administration that Gen. Flynn was lying — and only after the Washington Post published its report about Flynn’s contacts. It is now clear that the Trump transition team was concerned about Gen. Flynn as early as November and tried to warn him about his foreign contacts.
Vice President Pence either was not actually in charge of the transition team and was kept out of the loop of information about Gen. Flynn — the only way that the administration’s explanation for Gen. Flynn’s firing can hold up — or Pence was fully apprised of the concerns about Gen. Flynn and the Trump team hired him anyway to be National Security Adviser, hoping that no one would ever find out about his foreign contacts, and putting U.S. national security at risk. There is your scandal.
It seems that Vice President Pence has some splainin’ to do under oath before the intelligence committees.