- The special counsel Robert Mueller has disclosed new details about Michael Flynn’s contacts with Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador.
- Flynn, the former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the FBI about those conversations.
- There could be ramifications for other senior Trump campaign and transition team officials, including Jared Kushner.
The office of the special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday disclosed new details about the former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s calls last December with the Russian ambassador at the time, Sergey Kislyak.
Earlier on Friday, Flynn had pleaded guilty to making false statements about those calls in an interview with the FBI earlier this year.
The statement of offence lays out the most precise timeline yet of Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, which federal prosecutors say were encouraged by top members of Trump’s transition team.
Some reports have already pointed to Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, as the person who directed Flynn to contact the Russians about a UN Security Council vote.
“Obviously, this is likely big trouble for several members of the Trump administration,” said William Yeomans, a former deputy assistant attorney general who spent 26 years at the Justice Department.
“Clearly, others knew about – and may have helped coordinate – the communication with the Russian ambassador, but Trump officials have uniformly denied such contacts and knowledge of them,” Yeomans said in an email.
He continued: “This development thoroughly undermines Trump’s unrealistic predictions that the investigation will end soon … It appears likely that many more shoes will drop before Mueller is done. And it is particularly ominous for others that Flynn appears to have gotten a generous deal and appears still to be cooperating.”
On January 24, the FBI interviewed Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak. In that interview, prosecutors say, Flynn “falsely stated” that he did not discuss the issue of US sanctions with Kislyak and that he did not recall Kislyak following up to tell him that Russia would moderate its response as a result of Flynn’s request.
On December 28, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that imposed new sanctions on Russia and expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the US in response to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election. That day, Kislyak contacted Flynn, the statement of offence says.
The next day, Flynn called a senior member of Trump’s transition team “who was with other senior members of the Presidential Transition Team at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, to discuss what, if anything, to communicate” to Kislyak “about the US Sanctions,” the document says.
Trump was at Mar-a-Lago on December 29. A press-pool report from that day indicates that transition officials at Mar-a-Lago included Stephen Miller, K.T. McFarland, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, and Reince Priebus.
Fox reported on Friday – citing a “very, very knowledgeable source” – that it was McFarland who spoke with Flynn about Kislyak on December 29.
Kushner was a senior member of the transition team and had met with both Flynn and Kislyak earlier that month at Trump Tower. He is a focus of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election and whether any Trump associates played a part.
But it’s unclear whether Kushner was at Mar-a-Lago on December 29. He and his wife, Ivanka Trump, flew to Hawaii for a vacation on December 22.
Flynn and the senior transition official “discussed the US Sanctions, including the potential impact of those sanctions on the incoming administration’s foreign policy goals” during their call on December 29, the document says. It adds that they also discussed that members of the transition team “at Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation.”
“Immediately” after that call, the document says, Flynn called Kislyak “and requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the US Sanctions in a reciprocal manner.” Flynn then reported back to the Trump transition official about his call with Kislyak.
December 30 and beyond
On December 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement saying Russia would not retaliate against the US for the sanctions and the expulsion of diplomats.
“We will not create problems for US diplomats,” Putin said. “We will not expel anybody.”
Hours later, Trump tweeted: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”
On December 31, Kislyak called Flynn “and informed him that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to Flynn’s request,” the statement of offence says. Flynn again reported back to “senior members” of the transition team about the call.
On January 26 – two days after the FBI interviewed Flynn – the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, warned the White House counsel, Don McGahn, that Flynn had not been forthcoming about his conversations with Kislyak.
The Justice Department was particularly concerned about an interview Vice President Mike Pence had given to CBS in which he said Flynn had not discussed the issue of sanctions with Kislyak in their phone calls.
“The first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself,” Yates said in testimony to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee earlier this year. “We told him we felt like the vice president and others were entitled to know that the information that they were conveying to the American people wasn’t true.”
She added: “We told him … we were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and, additionally, that we weren’t the only ones that knew all of this.”
Yates said McGahn then asked her why the DOJ would be concerned “if one White House official is lying to another.” He also wanted to know whether the department was pursuing a criminal case against Flynn and expressed concern that taking action against Flynn could “interfere with the FBI investigation,” she said.
A New York Times reporter described a source close to McGahn as saying on Friday that Yates did not explicitly tell him that Flynn had committed a federal crime by lying to the FBI about his calls with Kislyak.
Flynn started talking to Kislyak as early as December 1
Obama’s sanctions were not the catalyst for Flynn’s contact with Kislyak – they were in touch as early as December 1, when they met at Trump Tower, along with Kushner.
Kushner reportedly asked Kislyak during that meeting whether the transition team could set up a back-channel line of communication with Moscow, which would evade detection by the US intelligence community, to discuss issues related to terrorism and the Syrian civil war.
About three weeks later, on December 22, “a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team directed Flynn to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to learn where each government stood” on a resolution proposed by Egypt to the UN Security Council that would condemn Israel’s practice of building settlements on disputed lands, the statement of offence says.
That senior transition official was Kushner, according to Bloomberg View.
That day, Flynn called Kislyak to tell him about the Trump administration’s opposition to the proposed resolution “and requested that Russia vote against or delay” it, the document says. Kislyak told Flynn on December 23 that Russia “would not vote against the resolution” if it came to a vote at the UN, it says.
Kushner also lobbied foreign governments – particularly the UK – to help scuttle the resolution, according to Foreign Policy. But he was rebuffed and the resolution passed.