The transcripts of calls between Michael Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were released Friday after they were declassified by the Trump administration.
The content of four phone calls and one voicemail between Flynn and Kislyak were released, documenting conversations during the Trump presidential transition, including about sanctions.
In one conversation, Flynn implores Kislyak not to escalate a sanction war with the outgoing Obama administration.
Flynn said to the ambassador: “I know you have to have some sort of action, to only make it reciprocal; don’t go any further than you have to because I don’t want us to get into something that have to escalate to tit-for-tat. Do you follow me?”
In one conversation, Flynn talks about the incoming administration’s views on the Middle East.
“[Y]ou know that the strategic goal is stability in the Middle East,” Flynn said. “That’s the strategic goal. And, and, you know, between you and I, and you know this, and we know this, you know between Moscow and Washington. We will not achieve stability in the Middle East without working with each other against this radical Islamist crowd. Period.”
Trump Intelligence director John Ratcliffe sent the documents to Congress on Friday after they were declassified this week by his predecessor, acting director Ric Grenell.
The release follows the Justice Department’s decision this month to drop its case against Flynn, finding FBI agents including Peter Stzok had no valid basis to interview Flynn days into President Trump’s administration in January 2017.
Flynn, who briefly served as Trump’s White House national security adviser, was fired in February 2017 and then prosecuted for allegedly lying about two December 2016 Kislyak calls.
Defenders of the retired Army general, including White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, point out that the FBI had the transcripts when they interviewed Flynn. He pled guilty in late 2017 to lying to the FBI, but he sought to withdraw his plea this year, saying he did not intentionally lie.
Recently released documents revealed that the FBI nearly closed an investigation into Flynn on Jan. 4, 2017, after finding no evidence that he was a Russian agent. But Strzok and his mistress, former FBI attorney Lisa Page, with whom he traded anti-Trump text messages, intervened to keep the case open citing the never-used Logan Act of 1799, which bans ordinary citizens from conducting foreign diplomacy. The law is widely considered unconstitutional.
Then-President Barack Obama learned of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak before then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who ran day-to-day operations at the Justice Department. Yates, who was fired by Trump for refusing to defend a travel ban on a group of predominately Muslim countries, was stunned to learn about the Flynn-Kislyak calls directly from Obama at a Jan, 5, 2017, meeting, rather than her subordinates, according to recently released documents.
The FBI’s interview of Flynn occurred outside of standard protocol. Former FBI Director James Comey publicly acknowledged he sent agents including Strzok to interview Flynn days into Trump’s administration without informing the White House counsel’s office. Senior Justice Department leaders also were cut out of the decision, which Yates said frustrated her.
A handwritten note released this month from former FBI counterintelligence director Bill Priestap — following a meeting with Comey and then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe — said regarding Flynn: “What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”
Flynn was fired by Trump in February 2017 for allegedly lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the calls with Kislyak, which were made with the knowledge of other Trump transition officials. Pence recently said he’s inclined to believe that Flynn did not intentionally lie.
In pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, Flynn avoided charges for working as an unregistered agent of Turkey and agreed to cooperate with investigators in the Russia probe. A subsequent investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.
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