Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Out Like Flynn

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty via Paste.

A couple of things about old General Flynn that may perhaps not be getting said because a responsible journalist can't say them (late addition: Erin Branco/Daily Beast is going there, in fact):


We irresponsibles can say pretty much precisely what he was doing on 29 December 2016—after the Obama administration announced a set of diplomatic measures to punish Russia for its interference in the presidential election (expulsion of Russian personnel, and sanctions on individuals and agencies suspected of involvement in hacking) and foreign minister Lavrov announced that Russia would retaliate—
—when he engaged in a series of phone calls from his vacation spot in the Dominican Republic with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak that were intercepted by the FBI in its normal surveillance of Kislyak's phone and with an official from the presidential transition team (PTT).

Namely, when he advised Kislyak that the Russian government should not retaliate against these new sanctions and spoke about the possibility of lifting US sanctions after Trump's inauguration, he was working to tamp down a conflict that would interfere with the lifting of sanctions, which was an essential element of the Trump campaign's arrangement with the Russians.

We know this because it worked, in the first place: Putin immediately pulled back from the threatened retaliation with a public announcement that he would "not resort to irresponsible 'kitchen' diplomacy but will plan our further steps to restore Russian-US relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration", to the extreme surprise of the Obama administration, where nobody had ever seen Putin do that before (obviously they didn't yet know about Flynn's intervention). And the following day Kislyak called Flynn back to say explicitly that the pullback was in response to Flynn.

Charging document of 30 November 2017.

We know it in the second place because the Trump team did start working in secret to remove sanctions on Russia, which we now know had been a theme throughout the interactions between Russian agents and Carter PageGeorge Papadopoulos, Erik PrinceDonald Trump Jr., and Cohen, Sater, and Artemenko in their "Ukraine Peace Plan" at least, as soon as they got into their offices in late January, as Michael Isikoff was reporting by June:
President Donald Trump’s administration moved quickly to try and lift economic sanctions on Russia and other punishments former President Barack Obama had put in place as soon as it took office in January, according to multiple sources who have spoken with Yahoo News.
“There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions,” according to Dan Fried, who retired in February as Coordinator for Sanctions Policy at the State Department.
Fried told veteran investigative journalist Michael Isikoff, a former national investigative correspondent for NBC News and Newsweek alumnus, that in the early weeks of the administration he got several “panicky” calls from U.S. officials. They asked: “Please, my God, can’t you stop this?”
The sanctions in question included those imposed by Obama for Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and others inflicted late last year to punish Moscow for its suspected efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. The plans Trump’s administration considered early on included returning diplomatic compounds seized from Russia in late 2016—recent reports say Trump is currently working to put this plan into action.
And steadfastly resisted Congressional pressure to implement sanctions on Russia passed by Congress (aka taking care that the laws be faithfully executed) for well over a year thereafter, for which he was called out by Sen. Corker (R-TN) in October, and refusing to install sanctions in a bill he signed (with visible reluctance) in August, casually blowing off the new sanctions in January 2018, explaining that there was no need to implement the law because the existence of the law was "a deterrent" (Congress meant it as a punishment, not as a deterrent), and finally, in May 2018, provoking Democratic Senators to demand an explanation from the State Department's inspector general since it clearly wasn't working as a "deterrent" either:
“Several mandatory provisions of the law have not been implemented by the administration, despite strong evidence that actions taken by or on behalf of the Russian government are in violation of the CAATSA sanctions law and applicable executive orders codified by CAATSA,” the senators wrote.
The Democrats pointed to an example last month in which the federal government released a joint statement with British authorities accusing Kremlin-linked hackers of carrying out cyberattacks in countries like the U.S., an act that "should trigger sanctions," they argued.
And we know it because that's what Flynn made false representations to the FBI about:

Also, just don't forget that the FBI knew he was lying because they had the tape of the conversations with Kislyak; yes, Strzok noted that Flynn didn't look like a liar, but
McCabe confirmed the interviewing agent’s initial impression and stated that the “conundrum that we faced on their return from the interview is that although [the agents] didn’t detect deception in the statements that he made in the interview … the statements were inconsistent with our understanding of the conversation that he had actually had with the ambassador.”
(via Emptywheel) Not really that much of a conundrum, or one that was easily resolved, which is why Flynn ultimately decided to take that plea.

Marcy gives the tightest possible explanation, and the one most founded in the evidence,. for Flynn's lying:
Flynn lied to hide Trump’s involvement in all this (and, to an extent, the degree to which it involved specifically ignoring a heads up from Obama).
Flynn lied to hide Trump’s personal involvement in telling the Russians to hold off on responding to Obama’s sanctions. And when the FBI investigated those lies, Trump fired the FBI Director to try to end that investigation.


It also seems abundantly clear that Vice President Mike Pence and possibly also Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus were lying about what they knew when they denied that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed sanctions—as opposed to innocently repeating lies from Flynn—after David Ignatius revealed the Flynn-Kislyak conversations to the public on 12 January 2017, a week before the inauguration:
According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions?
Yes, it did, but Pence in particular insisted it hadn't:
the incoming national security adviser and Kislyak “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.... what I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.” (15 January)
And Spicer got really pretty fanciful from
The conversation between Flynn and Kislyak had “centered on the logistics” of a post-inauguration call between Trump and Putin. “That was it, plain and simple,” Spicer says. (13 January)
There was just “one call,” Spicer says, adding that it covered four subjects: a plane crash that claimed the lives of a Russian military choir; Christmas greetings; Russian-led talks over the Syrian civil war; and the logistics of setting up a call between Putin and Trump. Spicer insists that was the extent of the conversation. (23 January)
The FBI interview with Flynn took place the day after that, and the following day Acting Attorney General Sally Yates went to the White House to tell Don McGahn that Flynn had indeed talked about the removal of sanctions with Kislyak, and Trump was "immediately informed" (according to Spicer, speaking on 14 February).

But as we know the only thing that arose from this was that Yates got fired on the 30th (unless she was fired for correctly telling the White House that Trump's Muslim ban was unconstitutional, which seems to be the better-sourced story). Meanwhile, on the 29th, Trump had the FBI director, James Comey, over for dinner, when he asked him three times to declare his personal loyalty to the president.

Which is where things stood until 9 February, when Washington Post reported that sanctions had indeed been discussed in those phone calls. The next day Trump
suggests it is news to him: “I don’t know about that. I haven’t seen it. What report is that? I haven’t seen that. I’ll look into that.”
But on the 13th, the Post went on to clarify that the whole White House had known about it for weeks, and Flynn finally resigned. And it was the day after that, Valentine's Day, that Trump asked FBI Director Comey (according to notes Comey took immediately after the conversation) to stop investigating Flynn because he was "a good guy who hadn't done anything wrong," though he had "misled the vice president", which was the ostensible reason for getting rid of him.

What stands out is that every dribble of information on this subject that escapes the otherwise crazily leaky Trump campaign and Trump White House respectively is driven by newspaper coverage, particularly from WaPo, what they reveal is often false, and it seems designed mostly to hide something about Trump, Flynn, and what they did or didn't coordinate. That plus the discrepancy between the stories of Pence and Spicer indicates that they can't both be transmitting a falsehood produced by somebody else, and Pence clearly knew a lot more than Spicer about what he was supposed to be saying/concealing.

And since Pence was the one who had stuck out his neck in the first place, on the Sunday shows (CBS Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday), to present an official account, he was the one trotted out as an excuse for firing Flynn; but it's pretty obvious that if Flynn had really been lying to Pence, and it was a firing offense, Pence would have known this by 26 January. Yet instead of firing Flynn, Trump invited Comey to dinner, tried to find out whether he was under investigation himself, and attempted to get him to make a loyalty pledge.

And it was only three weeks later, when the rest of the world began learning that the official story was false, thanks to the Post, that the "Flynn lied to Pence" story emerged. The conclusion is inescapable that that's when they made that story up. Pence, Trump, and Flynn had worked together in the confabulation of the (false) message before the FBI had discovered the recordings of the calls, and worked together to enforce silence on the matter between 26 January, when they found out what the FBI knew, and 9 February, when the rest of the world started finding out, and of course Trump was still hoping to keep Flynn away from the FBI after the firing.

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