Transcripts show Trump’s national security advisor lied about call with Russians

Phone transcripts taken by U.S. intelligence officials monitoring the calls of foreign diplomats show President Trump’s national security advisor Michael Flynn did in fact discuss lifting sanctions with Russian diplomat during a December phone call, despite previous assertions he hadn’t, The Washington Post reported late Thursday. In doing so, Flynn may have broken the law by negotiating with a foreign government as a private citizen.

Previously, Flynn had flat out denied that the topic of sanctions came up during the phone call — answering “no” twice when directly asked about the matter — but presented with Thursday’s Post report, a spokesperson changed his tune. “While he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up,” the spokesperson said, which is odd, considering we’re talking about a conversation that happened a month and a half ago.

The call in question occurred the day before the Obama administration expelled 35 suspected Russian spies and closed Russian-owned compounds in Maryland and New York after U.S. intelligence communities concluded that Moscow had acted to interfere in the presidential election and aid in Trump’s victory. The day after the announcement, Putin said Moscow would not retaliate. The mild response from Russia surprised White House officials, and U.S. intelligence agencies began to look for clues that Moscow may have been reassured by someone from the incoming administration.

As calls to foreign diplomats are regularly monitored, it didn’t take them long to discover the call between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

When news of the conversation first broke, Flynn said they only discussed setting up a time for then President-elect Trump to talk with Putin once he was inaugurated. Mike Pence repeated that assertion. Nevertheless, Flynn became the subject of a joint investigation by the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies that was still ongoing after he was confirmed as national security advisor. Nine separate federal officials who spoke to the Post were surprised by his answer, because recordings of the call reportedly show sanctions were in fact explicitly discussed.

A description of the conversation, via The New York Times:

[Flynn] 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.

Making such a statement to a foreign government while acting as a private citizen is a violation of the Logan Act, which prohibits exactly that. Officials said, however, that it may be hard to prosecute. 1) It could be argued Flynn’s statement was not an outright promise, and 2) nobody has actually ever been charged with violating the Logan Act in the more than 200 years it’s been on the books.

Nevertheless, it’s fairly bonkers that both Flynn and Pence would outright deny sanctions were discussed when they had to have known that the call was monitored. That kind of brazen statement suggests either Flynn didn’t care that he would eventually be caught in a lie — and it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened — or he was actually too incompetent to realize the call was being monitored, which is not a good look for the person who has been tasked with advising the president on matters of national security.

[Washington Post | Photo: Getty]