National Security Adviser Michael Flynn spoke with the Russian ambassador about sanctions against Russia shortly before Trump took office, contrary to past denials, The Washington Post is reporting.
The New York Times ran a similar report, saying Flynn spoke with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions and cooperation between the two countries in the month before Trump was inaugurated and while Barack Obama was still in the White House. The newspaper quoted unnamed officials as saying the conversations were “inappropriate” and indicated there were transcripts because the government engages in eavesdropping.
However, The Wall Street Journal presents a different account:
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. The conversation occurred the day before sanctions were announced, reported the Times, which said some believe Flynn could have violated a rule barring private citizens from engaging in diplomacy called the Logan Act.
His embassy bio describes Kislyak as a top figure in Russian foreign service for decades, dating back to the days of the Soviet Union and Cold War. In January, CBS News and others reported that the Obama administration had evidence of contact between Flynn and Kislyak, but the Post account was the first to claim it has verified the conversation included talk of sanctions.
Previously, top administration officials, including VP Mike Pence, had downplayed the conversations as being about Christmas and logistics. However, after the Post report, came this:
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.
Twitter lit up with news of the report. Flynn’s purported links to Russia have caused controversy before, as have Donald Trump’s comments on Russia.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. According to the Post, Flynn Twice Denied Speaking With Kislyak About Sanctions but Then Backed Off That
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.
Elijah Cummings, a Democratic U.S. Representative who sits on the House Oversight Committee, released a statement saying, “If this new report is accurate, it raises grave questions about whether General Flynn was dishonest with the American people, whether he misled his own White House colleagues, or whether White House officials knew about his secret dealings with Russia and misled the public themselves.”
Cummings added, “To this day, General Flynn refuses to disclose how much he was paid when he had dinner with Vladimir Putin in apparent violation of the Constitution’s ban on foreign emoluments. Last week, we asked Chairman Chaffetz to obtain General Flynn’s security clearance application and any updates, and now there is more urgency for the Oversight Committee to make this request. If this new report is true, we need to ask not only whether General Flynn should be leading our national security efforts, but whether he should even hold a security clearance.”
Twitter was ablaze with criticism of Flynn. Some Twitter users predicted Flynn would resign.
Others tossed around incendiary words like “treason.”
2. Mike Pence Said Previously That Flynn Had Texted the Russian Ambassador & Spicer Said They Talked of Christmas
It was previously reported that Flynn had contact with the Russian ambassador “on the day the United States government announced sanctions for Russian interference with the election,” CBS News reported. What was talked about? Previous administration statements contradict the new Post account.
VP Mike Pence told CBS News previously: “I talked to General Flynn about that conversation and actually was initiated on Christmas Day he had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash that took place.”
As for the timing, Pence added, according to CBS, “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
The reporter asked, “So did they ever have a conversation about sanctions ever on those days or any other day?”
Pence responded to CBS, “They did not have a discussion contemporaneous with U.S. actions on–” Pressed, Pence said, “I don’t believe there were more conversations” about sanctions.
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.
3. Kislyak Has Decades of Foreign Service for Russia, Dating to the 1970s
According to his embassy biography, Kislyak was born in 1950 and “graduated from Moscow Engineering Physics Institute in 1973, as well as from USSR Academy of Foreign Trade in 1977.” He’s been an employee of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation since 1977.
In the 1980s, he served the USSR’s mission to the United Nations in New York, and was a First Secretary, Counselor of the Embassy of the USSR to the U.S.
He later served as Deputy Director of the Department of International Organizations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR; Deputy Director and Director of the Department of International Scientific and Technical Cooperation of the Foreign Ministry of the USSR/Russia; and Director of the Department of Security Affairs and Disarmament of the Foreign Ministry of Russia.
He was Russia’s ambassador to Belgium and the permanent representative of Russia to NATO in Belgium, according to the embassy bio. After that, he was Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. The bio says he “holds a diplomatic rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary,” speaks English and French, and is married with an adult daughter.
4. Flynn Has Appeared on Russian Television & Has Had Positive Words for Putin
Flynn has appeared on the Kremlin’s RT television network and once appeared at a gala where he sat near Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In 2015, Flynn attended a gala for the network’s 10th anniversary, sitting a few seats from Putin. In appearances on RT, Flynn argued for more U.S. and Russian collaboration against ISIS.
He’s also once praised the Russian leader as “smart and savvy.” He also called Putin a thug and dictator in the same Politico interview, though.
You can read more about Flynn’s ties to Russia here:
5. Kislyak Accepted an Invite to go to Trump’s Inauguration
That account comes from Russian media, which reported, “Russia’s ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak received and accepted invitation to the inauguration of the US President-elect Donald Trump.”
Sputnik News reported this was not uncommon, though, saying, “According to the practice and protocol rules, foreign ambassadors are invited to the US president’s inauguration.”