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Flynn affair: a tale of lying and incompetence; not of conspiracy or collusion

Flynn helped Israel, asked Kislyak for restraint on sanctions, lied about both, and was consulting Kushner

Shortly after the indictment against Michael Flynn and his guilty plea were published, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team published a statement setting out the facts behind the indictment.

This statement shows that the discussions between Kislyak and Flynn on the subject of the sanctions announced by Barack Obama on 28th December 2016 were much more extensive than Flynn had previously admitted to.

It turns out that Kislyak telephoned Flynn shortly after the sanctions were announced to ask what the Trump administration’s policy would be with respect to the sanctions.

Flynn in response called a “senior official of Trump’s transition team” – almost certainly Jared Kushner – to ask what response he should give to Kislyak.

The wording of the statement at this point becomes a little obscure, and reads as follows

The PTT official (ie. Kushner) and FLYNN also discussed that the members of the Presidential Transition Team at Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation.

That suggests that Kushner did not discuss Flynn’s call with other members of the transition team but simply told Flynn what he thought their opinion would be.

Flynn then called Kislyak back and in the statement’s words

….requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the US sanctions in a reciprocal manner.

That shows that Flynn did not tell Kislyak either (1) that the Trump administration would lift the sanctions; or (2) that Russia should not respond to the sanctions.

Instead he asked Kislyak that the Russian counter-sanctions should go no further than a symmetrical response to the sanctions that Obama had announced.

The sequel is that Kislyak informed the Kremlin of Flynn’s request, and Putin as is well known responded by announcing no counter-sanctions at all, which was better than what Flynn and Kushner had expected or asked for.

Kislyak then telephoned Flynn on 31st December 2017 to inform him of this.

The statement then says that Flynn informed “several members of Trump’s transition team” – ie. not just Kushner but others including conceivably Trump himself – about the Russian decision, which Kislyak had told him about.

These interactions show that not only were Flynn’s interactions with Kislyak much more extensive than he admitted to Vice-President Pence or the FBI, but that several people within the Trump transition team including Kushner and conceivably including Donald Trump himself were aware of them.

Though it is now clear that Flynn did indeed lie about his discussions about the sanctions with Kislyak (about which more below) and that one other member of the Trump transition team – almost certainly Kushner – was involved in the discussions, and that other members of the Trump transition team were told about the discussions after they took place – including quite possibly Donald Trump himself – it is important to say again that none of this in any way touches on or proves the allegations of illegal collusion during the Presidential election between the Trump campaign and Russia.

On the contrary all this was standard diplomacy, with the sequence of calls initiated by Kislyak, who was doing his job by trying to find out what the new administration’s intentions were in light of Obama’s sanctions announcement, and with Flynn and Kushner acting entirely appropriately in order to advance Donald Trump’s publicly announced policy of seeking better relations with Russia.

Given that none of this was at all improper – neither the Special Counsel’s statement nor the indictment says it was, and needless to say there is no reference in either the Special Counsel’s statement or the indictment to the Logan Act preposterously conjured up by Acting Attorney General Sally Yates – I am at a total loss to understand why Flynn felt the need to lie about it.

I am also at a total loss to understand why Flynn lied about his lobbying work on behalf of Israel to block Resolution 2334, which I discussed in my previous article.

The statement confirms that it was about Resolution 2334 that Flynn called Kislyak on 22nd December 2016, and that he did so at the prompting of a “very senior official of the Trump transition team”, who again is almost certainly Jared Kushner.

The statement also makes it clear that Flynn also contacted several other foreign governments – not just Russia’s government – in an attempt to get Resolution 2334 blocked.

Leaks moreover now confirm that the effort to get Resolution 2334 blocked was actually initiated by no less a person than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who contacted the Trump transition team and asked them to lobby against Resolution 2334 on Israel’s behalf

Whilst this was unorthodox diplomacy, to put it mildly, it is scarcely conceivable that anyone in Washington would seriously criticise Kushner or Flynn for it given how controversial the Obama administration’s decision to abstain on Resolution 2334 was, and given that Kushner and Flynn were both acting at the request of no less a person than the Prime Minister of Israel in doing what they did.

Given that this is so, it is nothing short of bizarre that Flynn felt the need to lie about it to the FBI also.

Lastly, I express my incredulity that at a time when the Russiagate scandal was already raging Michael Flynn – a highly experienced intelligence officer who had recently headed the Defense Intelligence Agency – appears to have been unaware that Kislyak’s conversations on open telephone lines were being tapped by the FBI and that everything he said to Kislyak was therefore being listened to and recorded.

Had Flynn been straightforward about his dealings with Kislyak and told the FBI and Vice-President Pence the truth then after a brief storm the whole affair would have quickly died down.  Flynn would in that case probably still be Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser now.

The only explanations I can come up with for this strange behaviour are (1) that Flynn – by all accounts a driven and difficult man – found it easier to lie to Pence and the FBI than to tell the truth; and/or (2) that he was protecting or thought he was protecting Kushner; and/or (3) he felt he had to lie about his dealings with Kislyak because given the hostility of much of the bureaucracy that was the only way he could do his job of improving relations with Russia.

If it was the second then Flynn has not protected Kushner by his lying but has instead landed Kushner in trouble, and if it was the third then Flynn was simply wrong.

What I would say about this strange behaviour is that it does at least explain Trump’s decision in February to insist that Flynn resign.

With Kushner and presumably other people within Trump’s team including quite possibly Trump himself knowing the truth about the things Flynn had said to Kislyak, Flynn’s position would have become completely untenable once the extent of his lying to Vice-President Pence and the FBI had become known.

What of the suggestion some are making that Flynn’s lying was intended to hide some other darker secret, specifically the illegal collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the Presidential election earlier that year?

It is difficult to see how this could be so.  Why would Flynn think that lying about perfectly legitimate discussions he had with Kislyak about the sanctions and about his lobbying on behalf of Israel would conceal illegal collusion during the election between the Trump campaign and Russia?  What do any of these things have to do with each other?

As it happens Flynn’s interactions with Kislyak provide further grounds for doubting that any illegal collusion took place, or that the Russians possess leverage over Trump, or that the Trump campaign had any special connection to Russia.

Not only is it clear that no reference to collusion or to any special connection between the Trump campaign and Russia was made during any of the calls, but the outcome of the calls was negative in both directions: the Trump transition team did not promise Kislyak that the incoming Trump administration would lift Obama’s sanctions and Kislyak did not promise that Russia would block Resolution 2334.

As it happens the one positive thing that came out of the calls was Russia’s as it turns out temporary decision not to respond to Obama’s sanctions.  If anybody benefitted from that it was the United States.

There has been some talk that Michael Flynn feels let down by Kushner and Trump.  If so then it is not difficult to see why.

All Flynn’s interactions with Kislyak were undertaken on behalf of the Trump transition team and after consulting with Kushner, whilst his lobbying work against Resolution 2334 was actually carried out on Kushner’s instructions.  The moment his conduct came in for criticism Trump and Kushner should have come to his defence.

Flynn should not have been exposed to questioning by Vice-President Pence and by the FBI, and he should not have been left swinging in the wind when all he did was loyally carry out the President elect’s policies.

That he was is further proof of the amateurism and inexperience of Trump, Kushner and of the people around them, and of their ignorance of the things that need to be done to contain an affair like this.  A more professional and experienced administration like for example Ronald Reagan’s would have had no difficulty containing the fallout from an affair like this.

As it is the Flynn affair has been a source of great embarrassment and confusion upon which the true believers in the Russiagate conspiracy theory have fed.  In my opinion it gave Russiagate a whole extra year of life.

Thankfully, now that the Flynn affair has been largely cleared up, that should end, increasing the likelihood that – as Trump’s lawyer Ty Cobb says – the Russiagate affair is drawing to a close.

What do you think?

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