Michael Flynn Resigns: Did Flynn Violate the Logan Act?

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn arrives at the Trump Tower for meetings with US President-elect Donald Trump, in New York on November 17, 2016. / AFP / Eduardo Munoz Alvarez (Photo credit should read EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. (Getty)

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has resigned as the controversy over his communications with the Russian ambassador grows, CNN is reporting.

Major reports by The Washington Post and New York Times about Flynn raise questions about whether Flynn violated a law known as the Logan Act.

It’s a law that no one has ever been found guilty of violating, despite being on the books since 1798, according to The Washington Post, which added, “It seems its main purpose these past 200 years has been as a political weapon for the opposition party to cast doubt on the other party’s foreign policies.”

The key here seems to be the belief that Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about what was in conversations that were recorded. The reports alleged that Flynn spoke about sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office and the day before the Obama Administration announced them. That’s a serious matter. Calls for Flynn’s resignation came immediately after those reports.

How does the Logan Act play into it? It reads as follows, according to Cornell University:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

The New York Times reported that some officials believed Flynn’s conversation with the ambassador was potentially a Logan Act violation. However, the Times reported that it would be very unusual for the law to be prosecuted because it is “murky” during presidential transition periods.

The history of the Logan Act dates back to the founding days of the country. “During the presidency of John Adams, Dr. George Logan, a private citizen, engaged in freelance diplomacy with the government of revolutionary France. The Federalists, then in control of the federal government, were not pleased by what they perceived as Dr. Logan’s interference with the foreign policy of the United States,” according to an article published by Oxford University Press’ blog.

According to Reuters, the Logan Act “is aimed at preventing the undermining of official U.S. government positions.” Some Democrats also accused Donald Trump of violating it at different points during the campaign, and some have argued it’s antiquated and doesn’t work in modern communication times.

People were drawing the connection on Twitter:

There was conflicting information on what exactly Flynn said. A report in the Wall Street Journal was more muted on what Flynn actually said; however, no one has printed the full transcripts, which the president presumably has.

Kellyanne Conway said Flynn had Donald Trump’s confidence. Just a few hours later, though, and Flynn had tendered his resignation.

There was one early bad sign for Flynn from Vice President Pence, who seemed to be implying that Flynn had misled him. In January, CBS News and others reported that the Obama administration had evidence of contact between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but Pence and Sean Spicer initially denied that sanctions were discussed. Now Pence says:

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On Twitter, many people interpreted that comment as Pence throwing Flynn “under the bus.” Previous administration comments had claimed that Flynn and Ambassador Kislyak spoke about Christmas and logistics for a post election phone call. The Times reported that the government eavesdrops on conversations, and says there is a transcript of the call, which, the newspaper claims, shows Flynn and the ambassador spoke of sanctions.

The news reports – first broken in the Post – were based on anonymous sources.

Sergey Kislyak

Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. (Russian embassy)

The New York Times reported that Flynn spoke with Kislyak about sanctions and cooperation between the two countries. The newspaper quoted unnamed officials as saying the conversations were “inappropriate.”

According to the Post, Flynn’s communications with Kislyak “were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions” imposed by Obama after alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Michael Flynn, Michael Flynn Russia, Michael Flynn Trump adviser

Michael Flynn at the RNC. (Getty)

The embassy bio for the Russian ambassador describes Kislyak as a top figure in Russian foreign service for decades, dating back to the days of the Soviet Union and Cold War.

However, the Post – in a story by Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima – also quoted unnamed officials as saying they did not see “evidence” that Flynn intended to convey any promise to Russia.

Flynn’s purported connections to Russia have caused controversy before, as have Donald Trump’s comments on Russia.

The Post reported that Flynn twice denied speaking with Kislyak about sanctions but then his spokesman later “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

According to the Post, Putin’s “muted” response to sanctions raised suspicions.

As for the previous administrative denials, VP Mike Pence told CBS News previously: “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”

A separate CBS News report quoted Press Secretary for Trump, Sean Spicer, as saying Flynn contacted the ambassador to “wish him a Merry Christmas” on December 25 and also called him to set up logistics with a phone call for after the election between Trump and Putin.

Read more about Flynn and the Russian ambassador here: