And, for former Trump Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland, what was it like being thrust into the “Russia collusion delusion” as she calls it, and watching Michael Flynn’s now infamous call with the Russian ambassador become a centerpiece of the allegations against the Trump campaign?
In this episode, we sit down with K.T. McFarland, author of “Revolution: Trump, Washington and ‘We The People’”
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: K.T. McFarland, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
K.T. McFarland: Well, it’s delightful to be with you. Different environment, different time, different issues, but I really enjoyed the last time we talked, Jan, so I’m very honored that you’ve asked me back.
Mr. Jekielek: We really have so many things to talk about. I’ve been following the China issue for a very, very long time, and indeed, in your book you describe that the reason you decided to support Trump and ultimately join the Trump White House in the role of Deputy National Security Adviser is because of his positions on China.
Before we dig into that, we’ve been looking at all of these violent protests that are happening in the streets as a result of the killing of Mr. [George] Floyd. There has been some talk I’ve seen, and we’re trying to verify a lot of this, that there may be some sort of external influence on this. We have Susan Rice basically saying, “Well, this has Russian fingerprints on it.” Those are my words. Of course, there might be a lot of people that aren’t ready to believe her about Russian interference at this point. At the same time, we see the Chinese diplomats and Chinese mouthpieces basically stoking the flames of all of this at the same time. So there’s a lot going on here from the outside. What are you seeing?
Mrs. McFarland: Let’s unpack it for a little while. Now, when you talk about China and other countries, I write about this in my book, when the United States appears to be weak, particularly when we’re divided politically, other nations rush in to take advantage of us. They’ve done it throughout our history, and today is no exception. … Most people look at America in the last 10 years or so, and we’ve been really divided. We’ve been at each other’s throats. The last couple of weeks and months have shown us that we’re even more divided, and we’re even more at each other’s throats. Every issue. You can’t even talk about the weather or face masks without having people take a political stand on it.
Countries like China [and] Russia certainly know that for a democracy to work, we have to compromise, we have to work with each other, and we have to believe each other. We have to honor each other’s differences. Even though we might not agree with them, we have to honor them for having the right to say that. So they [those nations] are stoking everything. Now, with regard to the Russians and Susan Rice, I wrote this memorandum to the transition team, for the Trump transition team, and said to the other senior leaders, “Look, with Russian interference in the American elections, you know, that’s bad. Got to stop, got to put a halt to it.”
But they had been interfering in our politics for decades, going back to the Cuban Missile Crisis, going back to the anti-war demonstrations. They don’t really have a political position on it. They just know that democracy dies when there is chaos, when the body politic can’t find a way to compromise and agree on anything. So their whole goal, whether it was … the Russians interfering in the American elections in 2016 or in ’18 or ’20, their goal was not necessarily to support this leader or that. It’s to sow chaos.
The chaos today, I don’t think it’s caused by the Russians. I’m sure that they’ve got their hands in there somewhere. But there are a lot of other groups that seem to be in the middle of this: political groups, Antifa—President Trump’s going to categorize them as a domestic terrorist group. There are a lot of people who have decided to take advantage of what is a very real problem in America, which is race relations, especially with regard to law enforcement, and they’re seizing on it to do what they want: create chaos, break into stores, steal stuff, cause demonstrations on the street, foment this.
Is it the Russians, is it the Chinese? Sure. I’m sure they’ve got a hand in it. Is it other groups? You bet it’s other groups. Is it domestic groups? You bet it’s domestic groups. And so, I don’t know, I don’t believe in scapegoating anybody, one or the other. I think we just have to figure out how we get back to pre-coronavirus, pre-looting, how we get back to normal. That may be harder to do than we think.
Mr. Jekielek: … We did a little kind of survey of China-related accounts on Twitter, and there’s everything from the spokesperson for the CCP saying, “You know, all lives matter. We firmly stand with our African friends,” talking against racism, again, kind of fascinating. We have basically people talking about how to attack police, methods that will make them less effective, and we have people basically saying the intelligence community is saying that there’s a very large kind of cyber activity on the China side and some on the Russia side as well. It’s just kind of like a mixed bag.
Mrs. McFarland: Yeah, … are we surprised? No. The Chinese have made it really clear, and I think they’ve had the plan for decades, but they’ve made it very clear in the last five, seven, ten years that they intend to replace the United States as the dominant world power and then to rewrite the rules of order, international rules of order to suit themselves. They call it “with Chinese characteristics.”
I think they had planned to get there by the mid century. … And the ways they would do it? They’re creating a maritime trade route [and] a land-based trade route that goes from Europe through the Middle East to Asia that they’re going to dominate. They’re creating a communications route, the infrastructure of a World Wide Web that they plan to build and therefore they would control. As we’ve seen, they have the coronavirus.
But I think what’s happened is that their plans have been accelerated. [With] the coronavirus—which wherever it started, who cares where it started—what they’ve done though, is weaponized it. They’ve made it into a bioweapon. … Before, they knew that they had a problem… , because they locked down travel within China, but they didn’t lock it down internationally. … People from Wuhan couldn’t go to Beijing, but people from Wuhan could go to Rome, to Paris, [and] to New York. And so they weaponized it in that regard, so they sent the pandemic onto the world.
Now the next thing they did was … during that period while they sent the virus abroad, they used that time to corner the market on testing equipment, on PPE, on all the medical supplies and devices so that it would be China who would decide who got the tests, who got the PPE, and at what prices. Then the next thing they did was, as they took control of the international organizations, they had a PR campaign saying it wasn’t China. China’s the country behaving so responsibly. It’s the Americans who don’t know what they’re doing.
Then finally, what they’ve done is they’ve used this period of time to borrow money from the Asian Development Bank, from the World Bank, and they are buying up Western companies, Japanese [and] South Korean, but particularly British and American companies at fire sale prices. They have every intention to re-emerge from this as the dominant power, dominant in a number of ways: economically, because the longer America stays locked down, the better it is for China, [and] militarily, they’re making their moves in the South China Sea as we speak. In the communications network, they’re pushing out the 5G Huawei network to all countries in the world.
Psychologically or politically or diplomatically, whatever you want to call it, they’re also making this big, massive PR campaign. So I think that what you’re seeing now is the Chinese saying to the world, “See, we told you so.” The Chinese have told the world for the last decade that democracy is dead, that free-market capitalism no longer works, that that’s the past, they are the future. They want to be the dominant power of the 21st century.
They’re pointing to all of these things, whether it was the economic crisis in 2008, whether it’s the pandemic, whether it is the American demonstrations and looting on the streets, whether it is the impeachment trial, … it’s all of these things together, and they’re saying, “See, we don’t have these problems in China. Democracies have these problems. Free market systems have these problems. Therefore, not only are we eventually going to be the dominant power in the world, economically and militarily by sheer virtue of our size, but we deserve to be, because … we are the ones who are handling all of these global crises far better than our American friends … and the Europeans.” And the Chinese… they’re getting a lot of adherence to this and the more divisive America looks and the more pictures [there are] of American looting on the streets, the impeachment, all of these things, it just feeds into that Chinese narrative.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, so I have a second vantage point, … and this is something I actually just discussed with another guest recently. … Like with the Hong Kong situation, it’s almost like the Chinese Communist Party is asking everyone to pick a side right now. Earlier, you were kind of suggesting it’s almost like this whole coronavirus situation is suggesting they want a referendum on which system is better. … It should be that our system is the one that the world should adopt to deal with these kinds of issues. I don’t know if Hong Kong is the same way, but basically, it seems like they’re demanding people pick sides. And that’s fascinating to me.
Mrs. McFarland: Well, let me just go back and [discuss] … how the world viewed China for the last 20 years. … Really, at the end of World War II, the United States had enemies and friends, allies, adversaries, and we were very generous in helping … even our former enemies, Japan [and] Germany, recover. And we gave preferential terms and trade agreements. We also gave preferential terms in our mutual security agreements. We would provide 75% of the resources to our common defense. With regard to our trade agreements, we would let their goods enter our markets with maybe a 2% tariff, and our goods would enter their markets at a 25% tariff. So we tried, at the expense of the United States, we tried to build those countries up, and we succeeded brilliantly. They became our allies.
So the European countries, Korea, Japan, they’re loyal allies, they’re trading partners, we all play it by the same rules of order in world trade, commerce, and in the way we conduct ourselves. We assumed China would do the same thing. So in 2000, we really encouraged China to join the World Trade Organization. We gave them preferential trade agreements with the United States. Again, our tariffs … on their goods were very low and their tariffs on our goods were very high. So it encouraged the Chinese economies to grow. We assumed that China would emerge from this, as they became more prosperous, they would become a more open society and a more realistically open trading partner, that we would all trade equally like it had happened with these other countries.
But that’s not what happened with China. China broke the mold. China has instead clamped down more on their security, on their own domestic security. I mean, they’re the world’s first total surveillance state on their own people. Look what they’re doing to Hong Kong right now. They’re making sure that Hong Kong doesn’t have any independence. In addition to that, they’ve gone back on… the sort of implied promise of the World Trade Organization. They’re breaking the rules, or they’re so twisting the rules to their advantage that we’re not having a level playing field.
… If you go back and look at what the original plan was for China entering the world, it hasn’t worked out. Now the Chinese, they’ve decided that they’ve taken full advantage of all of those things and what is their goal now? Well, to rewrite those rules so that the Chinese really do become the dominant power. And I think that your assumption is absolutely right.
Mr. Jekielek: So, K.T., recently, there’s been a lot of, let’s say, changes or updates with respect to the administration in terms of how they are going to approach Hong Kong, how they’re approaching China. President Trump had this presser where he explained how the U.S. is going to approach Hong Kong and actually a suite of other issues. I’m wondering if you could kind of unpackage that for us.
Mrs. McFarland: Well, as you know, I was a Deputy National Security Adviser. I no longer am. I don’t speak through the administration, but I remain very close to the people who are formulating American foreign policy, the President [and] the National Security Adviser, and I’ve talked to them about this recently, and their attitude towards China has really changed … really, since the pandemic. They thought that what we could have with the Chinese, at the beginning of the administration and when we had the Phase 1 trade deal between the United States and China, would [be] a way that we would both be able to work together, play by the same set of rules. We wouldn’t try to contain them, but they shouldn’t try to exploit us.
What happened is that after the pandemic and as it spread around the world and as the Chinese, as I’ve just explained, really exploited the situation to their own advantage, I think … it was a wake-up call for the administration. And they are now approaching things differently, that when the Chinese came to the White House, basically, and said, “You know, if you start criticizing us, we’re going to make sure you don’t get penicillin next year, because we produce the world’s penicillin, we produce the world’s acetaminophen, we are going to make sure that you don’t have those products.” In other words, … we would consider them playing dirty.
As a result of that, the President has taken a very different direction. … They’ll probably do three things, and they’ve started doing it. First, bring the supply chain home. Anything that is an essential element, not only of America’s health and well-being, but national security well-being. So the component parts for anything that could be used for technology, cyber technology, military technology, bring those supply chains home, or bring them to allies where we can rely on them trading with us even if tensions get difficult.
Number two, work with our allies. There are plenty of countries that like things the way they have been, the countries that are democratic countries, the countries that have played fair with free trade, the European countries, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Canada. Start building those as a coalition, an alliance of countries that want to trade with the same rule of law.
The first step I think they want to take is with the United States and Great Britain. Great Britain has left … the European Union and there are active negotiations right now on a US-UK trade deal, and then build out from there. Other countries which are like-minded, have them be our trading partners, have the supply chains come to those countries.
And then the next part of it will be to really focus on high technology. One of the things that the Chinese understand is that whoever controls the dominant technologies of the future controls the future. So they have something called the Made in China 2025 plan where they plan to either buy, or steal, or in some way acquire the technologies, the 10 technologies that they feel will be critical in the future. Micro processing, robotics, [and] artificial intelligence, particularly. And even though the Chinese have historically not been very good at inventing these things, or innovating, they’re very good at buying these things.
The Americans are very good at innovating and the Europeans are very good at innovating. So what the Chinese plan to do is to dominate those technologies. Once they dominate those technologies, then they really do control the future. So that, I think, is the understanding by the Trump administration that we have to continue to dominate those technologies, and then keep our discoveries and inventions safe. Don’t let them be stolen. Don’t let them be purchased. Keep them home. So bring the supply chain home, work with our allies to create a like-minded coalition of trading partners and security partners, and then finally, make sure that we continue to maintain the commanding heights. That will be a lot of investment in a lot of the technology areas where we’ve been quite lax in the last decade or so. Those three things are the new approach that the administration has, and I think it’s very broadly supported by the American people.
Mr. Jekielek: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just on Sunday had some very, very strong words, at least in my view. I just wanted to read those out. “This is a Chinese Communist Party that has come to view itself as intent upon the destruction of Western ideas, Western democracies, Western values.” That’s about as intense as you can get, I think.
Mrs. McFarland: Yeah, and I think that reflects the realization that what’s happened now in the last two or three months shouldn’t just be a wake up call. It should be a five alarm fire. The Chinese have not played fair with the world. … That’s a recognition by the Secretary of State who’s very involved with President Trump and the National Security Adviser in changing the direction of American foreign policy.
And how have the Chinese responded? Well, they’ve responded by criticizing the United States. Some are saying, “Look, we want to play by the rules of order.”[but] they’re becoming firmer, aggressive. They’ve done some military moves in the South China Sea in the last 10 days that show that they really intend to keep that as an internal Chinese lake, that they’ll decide who gets to transit the area, they’ll decide which trading vessels go, and that happens to be the world’s largest maritime trade route. So they’re playing by very different rules.
… I think, ultimately, Jan, it’s just two completely different conceptions of what government should be. The Chinese look at 5000 years of history, and they think the world is a better place when China runs the world, and the other countries are vassals and pay tribute to the Chinese and take direction from the Chinese. [In] the United States and the West, we think very differently. We think that the individual has rights and responsibilities and is capable of self-governance. We don’t feel that any one country, however large it is, should be in charge of dictating the conditions to the rest of the world.
… It really is the United States versus China. If you want to be philosophical about it, it’s probably Rome versus China, if you want to go back thousands of years. But it’s two very different looks at how the world should be governed.
And so how does this end? Well, maybe the United States and China can find a way to peacefully coexist and to trade and to find some kind of an agreement on how we can both thrive and survive. That’s the direction I think both China and the United States were going in two or three years ago, but not anymore. Now, the second option is that we go to war, and I don’t think anybody wants to go have a shooting war over this. I mean, we might have cyber incidents, and we might have other economic competitions, but nobody wants to go to war. So what are the other outcomes? Well, one might be that the United States and China have a cold war. A cold war to the extent that it doesn’t play out militarily, but it plays out economically. And I think that, given the way the Chinese have responded to everything in the last several months, a cold war might be preferable to a hot war. If the Chinese won’t allow the option of a peaceful coexistence between our two systems, well, then I think a cold war is one that we should prepare ourselves for.
Mr. Jekielek: A number of people I’ve spoken with have told me that this action on Hong Kong, the passing of this draft national security law indicates that the Chinese Communist Party might be considering hot war actually. [Maybe] it’s going to be [over] Hong Kong, maybe it’s going to be Taiwan, maybe it’s something in that region.
Mrs. McFarland: Well, obviously, nobody wants it to go there. Even the Chinese don’t want it to go there. The Chinese have always, historically, they’ve never wanted to go to war. They’ve never wanted to acquire territory. They just wanted to dominate and control it. But there are flashpoints in the world right now.
They promised the people of Hong Kong that there would be two systems and one China. They basically made the same promise to Taiwan, but they’re going back on those promises. And however the Hong Kong situation plays out, one suggestion is that if the Chinese want to do that to Hong Kong, if they want to really suppress Hong Kong Chinese and the other people who live in Hong Kong so that they’re taking orders from Beijing on all things, then some western countries, the Brits, the United States, and others may say, “Well, the political prisoners, not political prisoners, but the people who want to live differently, maybe they should be allowed to come to the United States.”
And the one country that’s looking at everything that happens in Hong Kong is Taiwan. Could China go to war and beat Taiwan and suppress them and bring them into China? Yes, but to what end? And the same way with Hong Kong. To what end? Hong Kong has been an economic … boon to China. All the technology and the finance and investment goes into Mainland China through Hong Kong. Now, if China shuts that down, they will pay a very high price economically. So, how much of this is a threat? How much of it is reality? How much of it will be threats carried out? We don’t know.
We’re just living in a very difficult time that would have been a difficult time anyway between the United States and China but is exacerbated by the pandemic, by a worldwide recession which we’re now going to have, and unrest in the United States, and it’ll probably spread through other countries in the world as well. But the one thing that gets me is when the Chinese take a side. [With] the demonstrations that are happening and the violence in America, they’re saying every life matters. Really? What are you doing to the Uyghurs? What are you doing to the Chinese Muslims? What have you done to the Tibetans? What are you doing to Hong Kong? So I say practice what you preach.
Mr. Jekielek: Right. Well, so this is one of the questions. I was looking at I think the governor of Minnesota was saying, and again, I don’t know if these things are grounded. This is just all preliminary information that international forces are manipulating the protests and so forth. Ultimately, we’ve seen a bit of this as I described earlier, but how could a power like China take advantage of this current situation to forward its own ends like you described?
Mrs. McFarland: Alright, so let’s see what could be done. To me, as I look at the pictures of the looting and the violence in the cities, … some of it might be spontaneous where the demonstrators start, but then it suddenly breaks into violence and the looting appears to be pretty organized. So who’s organizing it? I believe the governor of Minnesota [and] a number of other mayors have said, “Look, these people are not our local people. They’re being bused in or they’re coming from outside of our area, and they’re the ones organizing and doing the looting.” Well, that costs money, and it takes a certain amount of organization. And so is some of this being organized by groups that just want to foment violence? Where are they getting their funding?
Another thing is … just look at the way the Chinese have used the propaganda arm. … Part of it is that they’re getting involved in our elections. They got involved in the 2018 elections. They run ads. They criticize President Trump for hurting the farmers. They’re mucking around in our domestic politics. Now we’ve mucked around in their domestic politics, maybe not the Chinese, but we have in other parts of the world, too. We call it democracy promotion.
But … in addition [there are] the things that they’ve done with the pandemic, where they’ve gone to European countries, for example. If you’ll recall, it seems like 10 years ago, but it was really just a month or so ago, when the European countries were starting to criticize China and the World Health Organization, the Chinese went to those countries. And they said, “You have a shortage of masks. You have a shortage of tests. You criticize us, and you’re not going to get those masks or those tests.” And so all of a sudden the criticism stopped. The Chinese then sold—not gave—sold this equipment to European countries at very high prices, and then a lot of them didn’t work.
Or look at what happened in Australia. … The agricultural industry in Australia is dependent on exports of grains and beef to China. So the Australians joined with a hundred other countries in asking that the World Health Organization come clean, become transparent. Why did the problem happen? The Chinese were so angry at Australia that they immediately shut down or put an 85% tariff on barley exports that went from Australia to China, effectively destroying that market in Australia and threatened to do the same thing with beef exports. So the Chinese are playing tough, hard, and dirty with countries where they know that they’re dependent.
Another thing the Chinese have done, though, in creating this Silk Road, the New Silk Road, that is called One Belt, One Road throughout the region and also the [seas], is the Chinese will go to countries, and they’ll say, “Let us help you build a port. We’ll build this port. We’ll pay for it. You can take a mortgage out and you can pay us back a little bit, a little bit, a little bit.” And yet, when the countries, for a lot of reasons, can’t pay it back, the Chinese seize the asset. So the port becomes a Chinese port. The one in Pakistan becomes a Chinese port. The one on the east coast of Africa becomes a Chinese port. They’re being hard-headed, and they’re seizing the assets. They’re doing what’s legal to do, but it’s done in such a way that it really is exploiting their economic power to hurt other countries.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and of course, as part of this presser, the president announced that he’s going to ultimately actually defund the WHO.
Mrs. McFarland: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Ostensibly because it has been politicized by the Chinese Communist Party … acting on its behalf, so to speak, as opposed to performing its role, at least that’s how I understood it. Is this the U.S. giving up on the WHO as an organization or is this attempt at reform?
Mrs. McFarland: Well, I think their initial reaction, the initial request was to have transparency and reform. The World Health Organization, at least so far, has said no. And so why should the United States continue to support an organization that is harmful to the United States? Far better to take that money and work directly with other countries or … work with other international organizations that don’t discriminate against the United States.
Mr. Jekielek: What people have argued, in fact on this show, is simply that other countries will step in to take control of that system further.
Mrs. McFarland: Yeah, and I think you’re seeing that with the Chinese right now. The Chinese have said, “Well, if the United States pulls its funding, we’ll replace their funding, or we’ll give them more funding, and we’ll take it over.” But if the World Health Organization isn’t doing its fundamental job, which is to help the world with pandemics, the World Health Organization has a lot to answer for. [There is] the fact that they did not alert the world to what they knew was a problem. They didn’t let the world use those couple of months of valuable time … [to] get ahead of this and contain it. We could have worked on cures and vaccines. To me, the World Health Organization made the situation far worse.
So I don’t understand why the United States should feel obligated or people should think the United States should continue to support something that’s hurting us. … [That’s] not to say that we don’t need a World Health Organization; we just need one that doesn’t hurt us. So far, the World Health Organization has continued to be non-transparent, as has the Chinese government.
Mr. Jekielek: One final question related to China: one of the Chinese Communist Party talking points, I saw … essentially suggests that, actually, it’s the Hong Kong protesters that are inciting the protesters here in America. … To me, it seems like some kind of attempt to justify what the police in Hong Kong are doing because … of the difficult realities in America.
Mrs. McFarland: Well, the Chinese historically, when there’s ever any criticism of the regime, they don’t say [that] these are protesters, these are peaceful protesters, these people have a legitimate right to express their own political opinion. …Well, they have a lot of names for them, but they call them people who are treasonous, or they call them people who are subversive or people who are crazy. So they can’t allow any protests, any question, even peaceful protest.
I was in Beijing right before the virus really came on the world stage, and the Hong Kong demonstrations had already started and were well along. The people in China that I talked to, and not just government officials, but the average people looked at the Hong Kong Chinese, and they said, “Well, these are renegades. These are criminals. These are people who should be jailed.” The attitude that the Chinese government is proposing … [for] how to deal with Hong Kong, I think has broad support within China. I’m sorry to say that, but I think they do.
Mr. Jekielek: Hong Kong is in a difficult enough situation right now. … I hate to see any sort of fuel being added … for the Chinese Communist Party to justify what it’s doing over there. That’s just what I’m thinking here. I could talk to you for ages about China. This is your major, major policy area, and I hope we get to do that more.
But there’s another area, interestingly, that you’ve been deeply involved in. … When you came into the White House, you actually came in as part of General Flynn’s staff. In your book, you actually talk about the exact time when this now very infamous phone call that General Flynn had with the Russian Ambassador [Sergey] Kislyak transpired. I wanted to give you a chance to talk about that, since this is very, very current right now. It just got declassified after so long. A lot of people have been waiting for this. You describe it a bit in the book. You have a couple of chapters; “Flynn’s Death Watch” is one of the chapters. Can you tell us about that time?
Mrs. McFarland: Okay, and I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about it in more than just a thirty second soundbite. President Trump won the election. Nobody expected him to win. And all of a sudden, between November and January 20, President Trump was supposed to have set up a government. He tapped General Flynn to be the National Security Adviser very quickly, and he tapped me to be General Flynn’s Deputy. We were in the process of hiring people, figuring out our security policies going forward, when three weeks before the inauguration, the Obama administration imposed sanctions and expulsions on the Russian government for election interference.
I happened to be the Senior National Security Adviser to President Trump with him in Mar-a-Lago. It was the week between Christmas and New Year’s. General Flynn was on vacation in the Dominican Republic. When the Obama sanctions came out, when the Obama decision came out, we had no foreknowledge of that. We, the Trump people, we just heard about it like everybody else in the press. And General Flynn, who had already made contact with the Russian ambassador over other issues, knowing that we would work with the Russians and the Chinese and the Ukrainians and the Brits and everybody going into the new administration, he had a phone call with the Russian ambassador that night.
I talked to General Flynn. He called me right before the phone call with the Russian ambassador. I said, “Okay, Mike, I know you’re not getting very good communications. You’re on vacation in the Dominican Republic. The phones aren’t working very well, but here’s what’s happened.” I explained that the package of the Obama administration was that they would expel some diplomats, and they would put financial and economic sanctions on Russia for election interference.
Then I gave him the background. My background is in foreign policy, national security, going back, as you pointed out, 45 or 50 years. So I said, “Well, you know, during the Reagan administration, we had the same kind of situation where the United States expelled from the United States some so-called Russian diplomats because they were spies. Usually, these incidents happen every couple of years. The … Soviet Union did something we didn’t like, so we expel diplomats. Then they do their response to it, and usually that’s the way it is.
As I talked to President Trump and others, I even used my hands, although it didn’t work with General Flynn because he was on the phone. I said, “Normally, it’s a tit for tat. They do something, we do something or we do something, they do something equivalently, and then it’s over. Sometimes, we do something and they de-escalate the situation by responding and retaliating, but really [it’s] almost a pro forma thing, not because they really want a problem. Then sometimes, they escalate, and then we get into a whole other round of punishments to each other, and then you’re really into a crisis. That’s what happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example. We did something, they did something, back and forth. All of a sudden before you know it, you’re escalating into a crisis.
So I said to General Flynn, “What the Russians do and how the Russians respond—they’ll probably respond. They almost have to for their national pride, but the way they respond will be an indication of how they want to go forward with the Trump administration in three weeks.” General Flynn talks to the Russian ambassador about a lot of other topics, but also conveys the message, “Look, we don’t want a crisis out of this.” He didn’t specifically talk about sanctions. He didn’t specifically talk about any of these issues. He certainly didn’t horse-trade, and he certainly didn’t promise anything.
He just said, “Look, let’s not let this be a crisis between us.” He called me back and he said, “I think it’s okay. I’ve talked to the Russian ambassador. I think everything’s on track.” And that, we thought, was the end of it. Who knew that that was going to become the single most important thing in the whole Russia collusion delusion! But it now has been declassified. The document has been declassified. There’s nothing there.
General Flynn told me exactly what he told the Russian ambassador. He told me what he said. It was pretty clear that General Flynn had done nothing wrong in this phone call, that there was no secret wink wink promise from the Trump administration to the Russians. It was merely, “Let’s not have a crisis. We’re going to come into office in three weeks time. Let’s deal with all these things then.” Yet somehow, that was the thing that the Obama administration, leaving government, leaving office [and] the senior officials of the intelligence community and their ready allies in the media [used]. [They] “whooped” the country up for three years into a Russia collusion hoax and to our great disadvantage, and the country. … We ripped ourselves apart over it. It weakened us internationally, and yet there was never anything there, as these documents show.
Mr. Jekielek: So you’ve known what’s in this phone call all along. It’s kind of fascinating to me. There’s this incredible culture of leaking in DC. I think you might even talk about it a bit in the book. But … with the details of this particular phone call, the transcript or whatnot, we never really knew ultimately what was there until a few days ago.
Mrs. McFarland: Including me, by the way, Jan. I never saw a transcript of it. All I had was what General Flynn had told me, and what he told me turns out to be what was in the transcript. But that was not what was in the media at the time. The transcript, or the alleged version of the transcript, was leaked to reporters, as you just pointed out. They spun a whole different narrative around it.
So … I think, if there’s any collusion, it was between the senior officials of the Obama administration, the senior officials of the intelligence community–FBI, CIA, Director of National Intelligence–and the media to spin this whole [story]. They created the whole thing out of whole cloth. There was never collusion between Trump and the Russians, and yet they perpetuated that. They had breathless stories of how people were just about to be indicted. Trump was going to be impeached over it. You know what? They made it all up.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the things, actually, I had discussed with another guest recently was how … we know from extensive documentation now, starting with the Mueller Report, that there wasn’t Russia collusion. It’s official, so to speak … whatever various media might be saying. But there’s this kind of consistent kind of conflation of the idea that there was Russian interference in the election, which I don’t think anyone disputes—as you mentioned, it’s sort of par for the course—and actual Russia collusion. It’s sort of like these things are often kind of used interchangeably as a sign of guilt or something like this. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Mrs. McFarland: Even something like sanctions, what does the word sanctions mean? Well, historically, the word sanctions means … actions you’re taking in an economic sense. So you’re sanctioning a bank. The bank can’t do business in the United States. That word sanctions has been sort of expanded to cover everything … that the Trump administration did with the Russians on a phone call, including expulsions. Well, expulsions aren’t sanctions. That’s a different sort of thing, and yet has been conflated.
And even … the excuses that have been given about the Russians and Trump colluding, they keep coming back to the same argument that, “Well, there must have been collusion. We just haven’t found it yet.” It’s almost like those weapons of mass destruction somewhere in Iraq. But one of the things that they’ll now [claim], and I think you’ll hear this in the coming weeks, is that, “Well, the reason General Flynn was spied on and the reason that Trump administration [was suspected is justified]”
There were abuses of power against the Trump administration during the transition and even into the Trump administration. They’ll claim, “Well, it was justified. It was for sure justified, because after all, once President Obama imposed sanctions on the Russians, they should have retaliated, and when they didn’t, we knew that the Trump administration must have cut a deal.” And that was how the FBI and the Mueller investigation [now] clears me. They were sure that I was the middleman between President Trump and General Flynn and the Russians, that somehow I had passed a secret message. Somehow there was some promise to the Russians of what we would do… There was never anything like that.
They knew there was never anything like that, because they had the transcripts. The thing they peddle now [will be] “Oh, there must have been something there.” The reality is that they’d been smart and had understood how Putin thinks. They would have realized Putin wasn’t going to retaliate against President Obama for those sanctions and expulsions. He had everything to lose by it. Why punish? Why go back at a lame-duck president when three weeks in the future, he would have an opportunity to craft a new relationship with a new president? So I don’t think President Putin had any intention of responding and reciprocating, but he wanted to play it along to make everybody excited and to stir up our domestic politics. In the end, I think Putin played everybody.
Mr. Jekielek: K.T., with every new development, we seem to be in this constant state of political strife, if you can call it that. Some of these things seem to have no basis in reality. The whole Russia collusion thing. Others, it’s like we’ve been thrust into them, like coronavirus, CCP virus, this whole situation. What’s your take on why all this keeps happening?
Mrs. McFarland: When I wrote this book, and I had my experience in Washington, in the Trump administration and then with the Mueller investigation, I left the country afterwards, because I was just devastated. I mean, I couldn’t figure out, what’s going on in my country? Why is everybody fighting with everybody all the time? And so what I concluded was that, well, America’s in the middle of a revolution, a political revolution, and that we’re meant to have a political revolution. That’s how America regenerates itself.
Unlike every other country in the world–most countries rise, they shine and then they decline–America rises, shines, and we’re in the sun for a while and then we decline, and then we rise again. Why? Because we have political revolutions where the people of America, we the people, throw out the guys in Washington, because we don’t think the government is representing [us], [or] our official government is really suiting our needs, because we’re a very dynamic society, the most dynamic society in the world. And I think that’s what we’re going through now.
It’s bigger than President Trump, although President Trump, you know, he is President Trump. He thinks it’s all about him. But I think it’s about him as a symbol of what is really happening in the country. Now who gets to rule America? Is it Washington? Is it the bureaucracy? Is it the permanent professional politicians? Is it the press corps, because their attitude is, “Ah, presidents come, presidents go. We’re here forever.” And yet, we the people elected a very different kind of president to go drain that swamp. And so what I think you’re seeing is Donald Trump trying to drain the swamp and the swamp fighting back.
We’ve had this sort of conflict between the ruling class and the class that’s being ruled from the very beginning. That was what the American Revolution was all about, right? It was to overthrow the ruling class, which was the British aristocracy and the king. Then in the 1820s, we had another revolution. That revolution was to have the American people, through Andrew Jackson and Jacksonian democracy, change the status quo. Then we had a civil war, and then we had the Industrial Revolution with Teddy Roosevelt, and then Franklin Roosevelt with the Great Depression, and then Ronald Reagan, and now Donald Trump.
What do these revolutions all have in common? They’re political. A couple of them were violent: the American Revolution and the Civil War. But they are all a way that the American people rise up in a grassroots movement across the country and say, “Washington, you’re not working for me anymore. We want to get rid of you, and we want new people, and we want to take the country in a new direction.” … It’s always a miserable transition when we go through it, but we always get through it. We always re-emerge on the other end, sort of more unified, stronger, and often with a whole new economy. I think that’s what we’re going through now. So for me, this is a big revolution, because it is who gets to govern America: the voters or the guys in Washington.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating and frankly a very, very positive perspective in these extremely difficult times, both in terms of the foreign reality and the domestic reality. There are some really, really huge challenges ahead. Any final words before we finish up?
Mrs. McFarland: No, I just thank you for what you’re doing, because all too often, the media in this day and age is quick soundbites and people on one side and the other side, and they just scream against each other across a long divide. What you’re doing, and particularly your in-depth interviews, I think are really what the American people need and want right now. We don’t want to yell at each other. We just want a deep understanding of what is happening in the country and what the arguments are on both sides, and then we’ll make up our own minds. So I just really want to take my final moments to thank you for what you’re doing, because you’re kind of a lone guy out there doing a very different kind of journalism, and I appreciate it.
Mr. Jekielek: K.T. McFarland, such a pleasure to have you.
Mrs. McFarland: Thank you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.