Highly sought-after summaries and transcripts of intercepted phone calls between former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak contradict key claims made by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his criminal case against Flynn. The transcripts were provided to Congress on Friday and obtained by The Federalist. You can read the full documents here and here.
The intercept transcripts and summaries released on Friday afternoon cover calls between Flynn and Russian ambassador Kislyak or his representatives on December 22, 2016; December 23, 2016; December 29, 2016; December 31, 2016; January 12, 2017; and January 19, 2017. The substance of the December 22 conversation remains entirely classified, while the remaining transcripts and conversations are only lightly redacted.
The transcripts, which were declassified by former acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Ric Grenell and current DNI John Ratcliffe, were provided to Congress by Ratcliffe, who began working in the position earlier this week following full Senate confirmation of his nomination. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairmen of the Homeland Security and Finance committees, respectively, had repeatedly called for the transcripts to be declassified and provided to Congress.
Flynn was charged by Mueller in 2017 with making false statements to federal officials about conversations he had with Kislyak on December 22 and December 29, 2016. According to the charging documents from Mueller, Flynn allegedly falsely claimed to Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agents that he did not ask Kislyak to “refrain from escalating” in response to U.S. expulsion of Russian diplomats and falsely claimed that he did not ask Kislyak to help defeat an anti-Israel resolution pending before the United Nations at the time. Mueller also claimed that Flynn lied when he said he didn’t remember Kislyak telling him that Russia would “moderate its response” to the expulsions.
The transcript of the December 29 conversation, which was cited by Mueller, does not include a request from Flynn that Russia “refrain from escalating” in response to U.S. expulsions of Russian diplomats. According to the transcript, Flynn asked Kislyak for Russia’s response to be “reciprocal” so that the U.S.–not Russia–would not be forced to escalate beyond the expulsions. The transcript makes clear that Flynn fully expected Russia to respond to the situation by expelling U.S. diplomats in response to the Obama administration’s move to expel nearly three dozen Russian diplomats from the U.S., and that his primary concern was preventing a situation where the U.S. would have to escalate tensions in response to Russia.
“Make it reciprocal,” Flynn reportedly said. “[D]on’t go any further than you have to. Because I don’t want us to get into something that has to escalate, on a, you know, on a tit for tat.”
“I really don’t want us to get into a situation where we’re going, you know, where we do this and then you do something bigger, and then you know, everybody’s got to go back and forth and everybody’s got to be the tough guy here, you know?” Flynn continued. “We need cool heads to prevail, and uh, we need to be very steady about what we’re going to do because we have absolutely a common uh, threat in the Middle East right now.”
“We agree,” Kislyak responded.
Later in the conversation, Flynn again used the word “escalate” in reference not to a potential Russian response, but to what he hoped the United States would not have to do in response to Russian actions.
“If you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis,” Flynn said. “And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing[.]”
Mueller’s operation also conflated discussions of financial sanctions levied against Russian entities and individuals via executive order on December 28, 2016 with the expulsion of Russian diplomats, which were two separate and distinct issues. In fact, the specific executive order cited by Mueller in his charging documents against Flynn pertained only to Treasury-enforced financial sanctions against nine Russian intelligence individuals and institutions, not to the separate expulsions of Russian diplomats, which were enforced by the U.S. State Department. In his remarks announcing the various maneuvers by his administration against Russia, President Obama even noted that sanctions and expulsions were entirely separate issues handled by different agencies and requiring different legal authorities.
“I have issued an executive order that provides additional authority for responding to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine our election processes and institutions, or those of our allies or partners,” Obama said at the time. “Using this new authority, I have sanctioned nine entities and individuals: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.”
“The State Department is also shutting down two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York, used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes, and is declaring ‘persona non grata’ 35 Russian intelligence operatives.”
The executive order signed by Obama and referenced by Mueller had nothing to do with expulsions of Russian diplomats, which was the topic of Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak.
The transcripts show that while Kislyak obliquely raised the issue of financial sanctions against certain Russian intelligence officials, Flynn himself never discussed the financial sanctions against Russian individuals and entities levied by the Obama administration. Instead, Flynn focused on preventing U.S. “tit-for-tat” escalation following the Obama administration’s expulsion of Russian diplomats. Although Obama officials claimed via leaks to the press that Flynn, a decorated combat veteran and retired three-star Army general, was illegally operating as a secret Russian agent, the transcripts show that Flynn’s primary focus throughout his conversations with Kislyak was ensuring that Russia and the U.S. could work together to defeat Islamist terrorist and the growing influence of ISIS throughout the Middle East. Obama officials never explained how working with international partners to defeat ISIS constituted a federal crime.
While Flynn initially pleaded guilty to the charges after Mueller’s office threatened to persecute his son, he moved to withdraw his plea in federal court following the emergence of evidence that the FBI’s ambush interview of him without counsel present was an unlawful setup with no legal investigative predicate and that Mueller’s office improperly withheld exculpatory information from him. The Department of Justice (DOJ) found and released explosive handwritten documents from a top FBI official that showed the inquisition against Flynn was concocted to “get him fired.” DOJ also found and released an internal FBI document clearing Flynn of any charges of criminal wrongdoing and formally closing his case weeks before FBI agents ambushed him in the White House under false pretenses.
Following the release of the evidence that Mueller’s team had illegally withheld from Flynn and his defense team, the Department of Justice moved to dismiss the charges against Flynn. That motion is awaiting judgment in federal trial court.