Around the time of the announcement of Michael Flynn’s indictment and guilty plea for lying to the FBI, the US television network ABC carried a sensational story that it had been told by an insider that Flynn had disclosed to Special Counsel Mueller’s inquiry that he had received instructions from Presidential candidate Donald Trump to establish contact with Russia.
The story caused a furore and a brief crash on the US Stock Market. However within hours ABC had ‘clarified‘ it.
ABC now says that the insider is no longer saying that Michael Flynn told Special Counsel Mueller’s inquiry that he had received instructions from Presidential candidate Donald Trump to establish contact with Russia during the election.
What Flynn has actually told Special Counsel Mueller’s inquiry is that he received instructions from Presidential elect Donald Trump to establish contact with Russia after the election during the transition period.
In other words – assuming that the story is true, which it almost certainly is – Trump’s instructions to Flynn were given after the election and not before or during it.
This is absolutely crucial since the whole Russiagate case rests on the claim that there was illegal collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the election. By definition instructions to open contacts with Russia after the election can have no bearing on it.
The fact that ABC ran with this story for several hours is very revealing, and shows the way the true believers in the Russiagate conspiracy theory – unable to find any evidence of illegal collusion during the election – are now conflating the election period with the entirely different transition period.
ABC is far from being alone in this. Here for example is how the Guardian – one of the most fervid supporters of the Russiagate conspiracy theory, whose former Russia correspondent Luke Harding has just published a lurid book about it – reports the story
Those conversations [between Kislyak and Flynn – AM] not only give the lie to repeated statements by the president that his team had no contact with the Russians, but they also raise the possibility of serious criminal exposure among members of Trump’s inner circle for breaking laws banning communications with foreign entities that undercut US policy…..
But if Trump and his family’s past denials of campaign contacts with Russians fell short of the truth – or if similar denials by Sessions fell short of the truth – Flynn could be in a position to highlight that. He might also be able to describe when the Trump campaign first became aware that Russians had what they called “dirt” on Hillary Clinton – and what the campaign did or did not do with that knowledge.
(bold italics added)
To my knowledge what Donald Trump has denied is that there was collusion between his campaign and Russia during the election. He has not denied that his transition team had contacts with Russia after the election, and realistically it would make no sense for him to do so given that news of Flynn’s telephone conversations with Kislyak became public knowledge in January.
The Guardian is however conflating the election period and the transition period in order to say that Trump has lied about contacts with the Russians when he has not. Moreover the rest of the article shows that the Guardian is fully aware of the difference between the Trump campaign and the Trump transition team, which casts a further strange light on its assertion that Trump lied when he quite plainly did not.
As it happens contact between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the election would not have been inappropriate or wrong, and it did take place though on a very small scale.
What would have been wrong would have been the Trump campaign engaging in a conspiracy with the Russians to swing the election to Donald Trump by engaging in wrong or illegal activity to discredit Hillary Clinton eg. by getting the Russians to steal and publish the DNC’s and John Podesta’s emails.
That is the allegation which has been made in the Russiagate case, of which no evidence in support has so far been found.
The ABC story is interesting because it actually confirms that Flynn is not providing Mueller’s team with that evidence. Instead what Flynn is saying is that he received instructions from Trump to open communications with the Russians only after the election had taken place.
In other words Flynn’s information to Mueller’s team not only does not support the Russiagate collusion allegations; it actually refutes them.
This of course is consistent with Flynn’s statement released yesterday (discussed by me here) in which Flynn specifically denies the accusations of “treason” and “outrageous behaviour” which have been made against him.
Needless to say – since Flynn’s information to Mueller’s inquiry has failed to substantiate the collusion allegations – there are already attempts to claim instead that Trump’s instructions to Flynn and Flynn’s and Kushner’s dealings with the Russians were somehow inappropriate and illegal because they allegedly violate the Logan Act.
This is desperate.
There is as I understand it some uncertainty about whether the Logan Act – which has resulted in no convictions and only two prosecutions in the two hundred years of its existence – is even any longer applicable law.
However putting that aside, the overwhelming problem with prosecutions under the Logan Act is that the moment the American people elected Donald Trump their President he became the President elect, entitled to full secret service protection, and therefore ceased to be a private citizen.
His team at that point also ceased to be a group of private persons forming the team of a Presidential candidate but became instead the Trump administration – ie. the government of the United States – in waiting.
To suppose that members of the President elect’s transition team are therefore somehow prohibited from having contacts or engaging in discussions with the envoys of foreign powers during the transition period is therefore ridiculous, and is wholly contrary to the historical practice of previous transition teams during previous transition periods ever since the US became a world power at the end of the Second World War.
What of the argument that Trump, Kushner and Flynn were somehow undermining existing US policy through their contacts with Kislyak?
This argument seems to me frankly also ridiculous, and even rather sinister.
Donald Trump from almost the first moment that he declared himself a candidate made known that if elected he would seek a rapprochement with Russia. When the American people elected him constitutionally their President they did so on the basis of that policy.
I would add that there is no doubt that most American voters by the time of the election were fully aware that it was Donald Trump’s policy to seek a rapprochement with Russia because Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, the US media, and the US intelligence community never missed an opportunity to remind them of it.
To say therefore that the President elect was acting illegally or wrongly because following his election he gave his most senior foreign policy advisers instructions to put into effect the policy he was elected to carry out is not merely absurd; it is frankly undemocratic.
Here it is worth setting out ABC’s ‘clarification’ of its story in full
A clarification tonight on something one of Flynn’s confidants told us and we reported earlier today. He said the President had asked Flynn to contact Russia during the campaign. He’s now clarifying that, saying according to Flynn, candidate Trump asked him during the campaign to find ways to repair relations with Russia and other hot spots, and then after the election, the President-elect asked him, told him to contact Russia on issues, including working together to fight ISIS
(bold italics added)
The proposal that the US and Russia fight ISIS together is one which has been made repeatedly and which Donald Trump is known to have been attracted to.
The Obama administration itself made a very similar proposal to the Russians in July last year, floating the possibility of the US and Russia fighting Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria together, though it came to nothing because the Obama administration demanded that the Russians agree to regime change in Syria in return (see my discussions of this proposal here and here).
Why was it therefore wrong for President elect Trump to instruct Michael Flynn, his soon-to-be National Security Adviser, to explore with the Russians the possibility of re-floating this proposal?
As it happens the ABC story reveals something else.
One of the puzzles about Russiagate is that the US intelligence agencies’ surveillance of members of the Trump campaign, which to be clear began during the election, appears to have actually escalated after it.
The reason for this is now clear: instead of helping the President elect to prepare himself and his team to carry out his policies – which is what the transition period between administrations is supposed to be about – the outgoing Obama administration and the US’s national security bureaucracy actively sabotaged them, stepping up surveillance of the members of the new incoming administration and orchestrating a media campaign against them in order to sabotage the President elect’s policies.
That almost certainly explains the secrecy with which Trump, Flynn and Kushner went about their actions.
Whereas what the situation actually called for was a trip by Flynn to Moscow to hold talks with the Russian leaders, he and Kushner instead felt obliged to communicate with the Russians in a hole-in-the-corner way, with Kushner even feeling obliged to ask that communications between Flynn and the Russian military about Syria should take place through a Russian channel.
It was doubtless this oppressive feeling of being watched, and the culture of secrecy which came with it, which caused Flynn to lie about what he had been doing to the FBI.
The depressing reality revealed by the Flynn affair is of a well-meaning but bungled attempt to re-establish a civil relationship with Russia, which was actively sabotaged by the outgoing Obama administration and by elements of the US national security bureaucracy in alliance with the media and the Democratic Party.
In the process the policy upon which the US President was constitutionally elected by the American people has been set aside.
It turns out that not only does the US most definitely have a Deep State, but that it is willing to use its power to sabotage the policy of the President who the people have elected.
Truly democracy in America is in peril and the great American Republic is going through dark times.