The now-declassified transcripts of four phone calls between Michael Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reveal much about why the FBI suspected the former general and soon to be national security advisor of being, possibly, a Russian asset. Simply put, those conversations show that any suspicions about Flynn must have been based upon one of three things: an unfettered imagination, a jaw-dropping degree of incompetence, or a politically-motivated desire to see a sinister conspiracy where none existed.
The conversations in question took place on Dec 23, Dec 29, and Dec 31 of 2016 and Jan 12 of 2017. Also, there is a transcript of one recorded message left for Flynn by Kislyak on Jan 19. That message, in particular, shines a light on the ridiculousness of the notion that Flynn – or anyone else in the Trump election campaign or transition team – was working with the Russians.
The Logan Act Hail Mary
In his position as the man who would be the incoming president’s most trusted advisor on matters of national security, Flynn would have been a fool not to have immediately gone to work establishing communications with foreign powers. This is standard practice during the period of transition from one administration to the next – between the presidential election in early November and the official hand-over in mid-January. Usually, the outgoing administration works with its successor to ensure a smooth transfer of power. All the evidence suggests that the Obama administration chose to do the opposite.
Since, according to the United States Constitution, the president sets foreign policy, Flynn was conversing with Kislyak at a time when Barack Obama’s foreign policy agenda had less than one month of relevance. The FBI, at the time, was determined to compromise Flynn, even though its investigations, thus far, had drawn a blank. The Hail Mary was to pin upon the general a Logan Act violation.
Flynn, however, could not possibly have violated this law – under which no-one in American history has been convicted. He could not have been undermining a foreign policy agenda that was already in “lame duck” status and would be irrelevant within weeks.
The substance of what Kislyak and Flynn discussed was innocuous. Indeed, it is an exaggeration to describe it as substantive at all. The Obama administration had sanctioned the Russians, and the expulsion from the U.S. of several Russian diplomats was imminent. Flynn merely attempted to persuade the Russian Ambassador that any retaliation by Russia should be proportionate, rather than an upping of the ante, leading to a tit-for-tat escalation of punitive measures between the two countries.
Also, the two men discussed a mutual desire to work toward a greater level of stability in the Middle East. Beyond those two matters, the Russian response to U.S. sanctions and the situation in the Middle East, no other foreign policy matters were discussed. Indeed, no agreements of any kind were made. The transcripts suggest that the two men were perhaps sizing each other up – but little else.
The Feeling is Not Mutual
The final transcript, though, is perhaps the most telling. In an earlier call, Kislyak had expressed the Kremlin’s desire to set up a secure video conversation between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The ambassador seemed to be suggesting that this could be a regular connection, beginning shortly after Trump’s inauguration. Flynn was non-committal but said he would raise the issue. Clearly, it was something the Russians strongly desired, as is evident from the transcript of Kislyak’s recorded message, left for Flynn on Jan 19:
“Good morning, general. This [sic] Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador. I, uh, apologize that I disturb you but I wanted to check whether you have, um, uh, answer to the idea of our two presidents speaking, uh, re-… uh, after the inauguration. You remember our conversation and we certainly would appreciate any indication as to when it is going to be possible. Uh, I would appreciate your calling back and telling me where we are. Thank you so much. All the best.”
It is a message that does not appear to be left by one conspirator for a co-conspirator. This one message alone leaves little doubt that Flynn and Kislyak were not exactly on the same page. It suggests, to any reasonable person – let alone a professional investigator – that the Russian ambassador was attempting to establish a connection to which the incoming American president’s national security advisor had not committed. Neither this transcript nor the four that preceded it betray any indication that Michael Flynn’s relationship with the Russians was anything other than what was proper.
If these conversations were indeed the basis for FBI suspicions about Flynn, then former FBI Director James Comey and a few of his erstwhile senior subordinates have some explaining to do.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.