Newly confirmed Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe on Friday declassified and released summaries of the December 2016 phone conversations between then-incoming National Security Advisor (NSA) Michael Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador to Washington Sergey Kislyak. The conversations formed the basis for the federal criminal charge of lying to the FBI, to which Flynn later pleaded guilty. According to attorneys and national security experts who have read the documents, however, the content of the calls appear to confirm that Flynn did, indeed, lie to federal authorities when he said he did not discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
The news comes well after Flynn moved to withdraw his guilty plea and after Department of Justice controversially moved to dismiss the prosecution. That controversy is still unfolding.
The call summaries show Flynn telling Kislyak “not to allow [the Obama] administration to box us in right now,” and asking that Russia only take “reciprocal” actions in response to sanctions for election interference.
The most damning excerpt came during a December 29, 2016 call where the two spoke about sanctions in detail.
“[T]he idea is, be — if you — if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of an even basis,” Flynn said later in the call. “Then that, then that is a good message and we’ll understand that message. And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we — where because if we put out — if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a — let’s, let’s keep this at a level that uh is, is even-keeled, okay?”
The release sparked immediate reactions from legal and national security experts.
National security attorney Bradley P. Moss said the transcripts only further illustrate that Flynn violated federal law by lying to the FBI.
“These track exactly with Flynn’s plea deal. He lied to the FBI about his sanctions discussions with Kislyak, and he lied about the discussion on the UN vote,” Moss wrote. “He lied. Repeatedly. These documents are not exculpatory for Flynn. They reiterate his guilt for violating 18 USC 1001.”
These track exactly with Flynn's plea deal. He lied to the FBI about his sanctions discussions with Kislyak, and he lied about the discussion on the UN vote.
He lied. Repeatedly. These documents are not exculpatory for Flynn.
They reiterate his guilt for violating 18 USC 1001. https://t.co/KffhZ6uHKA
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) May 29, 2020
Georgetown University law professor Marty Lederman said this shows why President Donald Trump was “infuriated” when the press learned about the Flynn-Kislyak conversations.
As I explain there, it was both procedurally and substantively outrageous–so much so that Flynn thought he had to lie to Mike Pence and Sean Spicer about it–and even to the FBI, knowing that they knew he was lying! This call was just *hours* after the U.S. issued sanctions.
— Marty Lederman (@marty_lederman) May 29, 2020
Attorney, former FBI special agent and CNN legal analyst Asha Rangappa said the transcript was a perfect illustration of “collusion.”
“Uh…THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT COLLUSION LOOKS LIKE. Flynn is telling Kislyak — in secret — not to take the predictable retaliatory step because then they will be ‘boxed in’ and unable to *publicly* do what they *privately* want to,” she wrote.
Uh…THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT COLLUSION LOOKS LIKE. Flynn is telling Kislyak — in secret — not to take the predictable retaliatory step because then they will be "boxed in" and unable to *publicly* do what they *privately* want to. 1/ https://t.co/TfZ12GjZGd
— Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa_) May 29, 2020
Former NSC attorney Susan Hennessey said that the conversations justified federal authorities’ decision to investigate Flynn further.
“The idea that this call was perfectly reasonable and not a basis for immediate investigative action in defense of national security is frankly absurd,” she said. “The transcript is far worse and more explicit than even the Mueller report let on.”
The idea that this call was perfectly reasonable and not a basis for immediate investigative action in defense of national security is frankly absurd. The transcript is far worse and more explicit than even the Mueller report let on. https://t.co/pHnK1FvtTy
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) May 29, 2020
“The transcripts leave no doubt Flynn lied to the FBI & catered to the country that had just attacked our democracy. The redactions are also striking, with one transcript entirely withheld. Hard not to be skeptical — esp bc the concern clearly wasn’t re collection sensitivities,” said former CIA officer and national security and intelligence analyst at NBC Ned Price.
The transcripts leave no doubt Flynn lied to the FBI & catered to the country that had just attacked our democracy. The redactions are also striking, with one transcript entirely withheld. Hard not to be skeptical — esp bc the concern clearly wasn't re collection sensitivities. pic.twitter.com/oODpPFqPnR
— Ned Price (@nedprice) May 29, 2020
Anti-Trump lawyer George Conway piled on as well, noting once again that Flynn twice admitted in court that he lied.
And here’s what Flynn said to the FBI. It’s clear beyond any reasonable doubt that he lied, even apart from the fact that he admitted twice in court that he lied. https://t.co/SOJGReP5aR pic.twitter.com/XSuag5x0dQ
— George Conway (@gtconway3d) May 29, 2020
Responses like these were numerous.
“Do not, do not uh, allow this (Obama) administration to box us in, right now, okay?” -Flynn to the Russian ambassador https://t.co/uUhjesGsjO
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) May 29, 2020
To this day, I have never understood shy Flynn couldnt have just waited for 2 weeks to take Kislyak's call. He should have used that transition time to build his NSC team, start policy reviews & learn more about issues on which he was not expert. https://t.co/l04t8jwqHW
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) May 29, 2020
READ THE TRANSCRIPT!
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) May 29, 2020
It really is so difficult to understand how so many different government officials concluded that @GenFlynn was lying about the substance of his conversations with a foreign power…
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) May 29, 2020
[image via SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images]
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