Michael Flynn and the Trump Administration

Michael Flynn
By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America – Michael Flynn, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Retired US Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama from July 2012 to August 2014. It was reported that Flynn was forced out of the DIA and into retirement based on a chaotic management style, abuse of his staff, clashes with his superiors, and holding a loose relationship with facts, leading his staff to call his common dubious assertions “Flynn facts.” Source

Michael Flynn met Donald Trump for the first time in the Summer of 2015. Source

In June 2015, Michael Flynn traveled to the Middle East to promote the Marshall Plan, a joint US-Russian, Saudi Arabian-financed program to build nuclear reactors in the Arab world. Source (PDF) Flynn was paid at least $25,000 to promote the plan. Source Although he failed to disclose this trip as part of his security clearance renewal applications, Flynn would continue to promote this project throughout his time with the Trump campaign, and as National Security Advisor. Source

In February 2016, Donald Trump asked Michael Flynn to serve as an adviser to the Trump campaign. Source While applying for a renewal of his security clearance using form SF-86, Michael Flynn falsely stated that he had received no income from foreign companies, and had only “insubstantial contact” with foreign nationals. Source

During New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s tenure as the leader of Trump’s transition team, Christie warned Trump not to hire Flynn, considering him to be too risky. Source

On November 10, 2016, in their first meeting after the election, President Obama warned President-elect Trump against hiring Michael Flynn, saying he would have profound concerns about Mr. Flynn becoming a top national security aide. Source Despite this advice, Trump offered Flynn the position of National Security Advisor, and on November 18, 2016, Michael Flynn accepted Trump’s offer. Source

In late November 2016, Flynn scheduled a meeting with Trump’s national security transition team to discuss his upcoming appointments. During the meeting, Flynn revealed that he had scheduled a conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn was told that Kislyak’s conversations were almost certainly being monitored by US intelligence. Because officials in the meeting were worried that Flynn didn’t understand Kislyak’s motives and the extent of the threat from Russia, they requested the Obama administration to provide a classified CIA profile of Kislyak to Flynn. It is not clear that Flynn ever read it. Source

In December 2016, Flynn met with Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPA), at Trump Tower. FPA is a far-right party founded by ex-Nazis in the 1950s, and FPA had just recently entered a cooperation agreement with Putin’s ruling United Russia party. Source

This is relevant to the possibility that Flynn was working to support Russia’s efforts to empower the far-right (e.g., Nazis and the alt-right) across the west, since that would weaken international alliances such as NATO.

In December 2016, before the Obama administration had announced new sanctions against Russia for its election interference, Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower. Source During the meeting they discussed strategy in Syria and other various policy issues. Kislyak was later recorded saying to another Russian official that at this meeting, Flynn and Kushner asked the Russians to set up a direct, encrypted communications channel with Russia, so that Flynn could regularly speak directly with Russian military officials without the knowledge of American intelligence agencies. Source

Flynn Suggests to Russia that President-Elect Trump will Lift Sanctions

On December 28–29, 2016, in response to Russia’s interference in the US presidential election, President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the US as intelligence operatives, seized two Russian compounds, and imposed additional economic sanctions on Russia (on top of the Ukraine sanctions and the Magnitsky Act). Source1 Source2 Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak was summoned to the US State Dept. and briefed on the new sanctions. Kislyak was irate, and threatened a forceful Russian response. Kislyak left and called Michael Flynn, in a call recorded by US intelligence. Flynn urged Kislyak that Russia not respond to the new sanctions, saying relations would improve once Trump was in office and implying that Trump would lift the sanctions. Source Source2 Source3

Trump administration officials repeatedly, falsely characterized Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak as merely being to arrange a phone call between Trump and Putin after Trump’s inauguration, or to exchange Christmas wishes. Vice President-elect Mike Pence said he had personally spoken to Flynn, who assured him that this was all the call was about, and Flynn did not discuss sanctions with Kislyak. Source

In January 2017, the Washington Post incorrectly reported (without question) false claims by “US officials” that the FBI had reviewed intercepted communications between Flynn and Kislyak, and found no evidence of “wrongdoing or illicit ties to the Russian government.” In the same article, the Post incorrectly reported (without question) false claims by “US officials” that Flynn was not the active target of an investigation. Link

Flynn’s Disclosures to Trump’s Transition Team

On January 4, 2017, weeks before Trump’s inauguration, Michael Flynn disclosed to President-elect Trump’s transition team, lead by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey without registering as a foreign agent, as required by law. Source1 Source2

In January 2017, before Trump’s inauguration, Michael Flynn’s attorneys told incoming White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn might need to register as a foreign agent. After Trump’s inauguration, Flynn’s attorneys also told another member of the White House legal team. Source

Trump implausibly says he didn’t know about this when he nominated Flynn.

Flynn’s Official Actions

On January 5, 2017, Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon joined Michael Flynn to host Jordan’s King Abdullah II in New York City. During their meeting they discussed the Marshall Plan, the proposal for a joint US-Russian, Saudi Arabian-financed program to build nuclear reactors in the Arab world. Flynn’s White House disclosure forms had falsely stated that he had stopped working on the deal in December 2016, but in fact, Flynn continued to advocate the deal after Trump’s inauguration. Source

On January 10, 2017, Michael Flynn spoke with Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who explained their plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, in partnership with Syrian Kurdish forces. Because the operation would be carried out during President-Elect Trump’s administration they sought Flynn’s sign-off. Flynn told Rice to hold off any action against Raqqa, delaying the operation for months. It was widely speculated that his decision was influenced by his secret agency with Turkey via his lobbying firm’s client Inovo (Turkey has domestic political problems with the Kurds). Source

The plan would eventually move forward despite Turkey’s continuing strong objections on May 9, 2017. Source

In February 2017, Michael Flynn recommended that Trump support Montenegro to join NATO, extending NATO’s defense guarantee to another Eastern European country. Source

US Suspicion of Flynn

Beginning in January 2017, officials at the FBI, CIA, DOJ, and DNI agreed that Michael Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail, evidently because Russia might threaten to expose Flynn’s public lies about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak. Nevertheless, new CIA director Mike Pompeo continued to give President Trump intelligence briefings nearly every day for three weeks in Flynn’s presence. Source

After a January 24, 2017 FBI interview of Michael Flynn, acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates urgently requested to meet with White House Counsel Don McGahn to inform him that Michael Flynn was “compromised” and possibly open to blackmail by Russia, because Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other US officials about his conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Yates also hinted about a “whole lot more” classified information that was problematic about Flynn. Source1 Source2

Really interested in the “whole lot more” statement.

Flynn’s Downfall

Prior to the beginning of Trump’s presidency, then-national security advisor Susan Rice had been reviewing intelligence reports that included transcripts of the intercepted telephone calls between Michael Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, gathered by way of “routine” surveillance of Kislyak’s communications. According to US law, the names of US citizens whose communications are incidentally captured during such surveillance are “masked.” Based on the content of the transcript, under her authority as NSA, Rice requested that the masked name of the US citizen on that call be “unmasked,” and learned that it was in fact Michael Flynn. Later, in February 2017, the unmasked transcript was leaked to the media. Source

On February 13, 2017, although Trump had ignored Sally Yates’s advice about Michael Flynn, and fired Yates in the meanwhile, Flynn was forced to resign as National Security Advisor only 24 days after Trump’s inauguration after it became publicly known that he had lied about his prior communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Source

On March 7, 2017, Michael Flynn revised disclosure papers previously made, now admitting that he worked as a foreign agent during 2016, representing interests of the Turkish government in a dispute with the United States involving an operation in Syria. The Trump administration claimed it did not know Flynn as acting as a foreign agent when Flynn was appointed National Security Advisor. Source

On March 30, 2017, Michael Flynn offered to testify before House and Senate investigations into Trump collusion with the Russian interference in the US election, in exchange for a grant of immunity from prosecution. Flynn’s offer was refused. Source

Discussion

Kislyak clearly believed Flynn would take Russia’s side and push Trump to remove these sanctions once he took office.

Flynn having lied about his call with Kislyak (at least to VP Mike Pence), by denying that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak, was the ostensible reason he was later fired.

It’s unclear if Pompeo was briefed about others’ warnings about Flynn being vulnerable to blackmail. If so, this is extremely damaging to Pompeo; and if not, it’s damaging on those whose job it was to brief Pompeo. It is possible, likely even, that Flynn was feeding intelligence to Russia.