Amid Sanctions, Flynn Tried to Salvage Anti-Terror Cooperation With Russia, Transcripts Show

Amid Sanctions, Flynn Tried to Salvage Anti-Terror Cooperation With Russia, Transcripts Show
Then national security adviser General Michael Flynn at a daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Feb. 1, 2017. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)
Petr Svab

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn urged for “cool heads to prevail” in a phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016, it has been revealed. The highly anticipated transcripts of the calls he made show he emphasized both countries needed to cooperate on counter-terrorism efforts and it was thus important for Russia to not further escalate the situation sparked by the Obama administration’s expulsion of Russian intelligence officers.

Flynn, who was the point man for foreign contacts on president-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, was worried that the Obama administration could thwart Trump’s plan of working with Russia on issues in the Middle East, one of the transcripts indicates.

“Do not uh, allow this administration to box us in, right now, okay?” he said during a Dec. 29, 2016, call.

After Kislyak’s affirmation that the message was conveyed by Russia “very specifically and transparently, openly,” the transcript continues:

FLYNN: So, you know, depending on, depending on what uh, actions they take over this current issue of the cyber stuff, you know, where they’re looking like they’re gonna, they’re gonna dismiss some number of Russians out of the country, I understand all that and I understand that that, you know, the information that they have and all that, but what I would ask Russia to do is to not - is - is - if anything - because I know you have to have some sort of action - to, to only make it reciprocal. Make it reciprocal. Don’t - don’t make it- don’t go any further than you have to. Because I don’t want us to get into something that has to escalate, on a, you know, on a tit for tat. You follow me, Ambassador?

KISLYAK: I understand what you’re saying, but you know, you might appreciate the sentiments that are raging now in Moscow.

FLYNN: I know, I - believe me, I do appreciate it, I very much appreciate it. But I really don’t want us to get into a situation where we’re going, you know~ where we do this and then you do something bigger, and then you know, everybody’s got to go back and forth and everybody’s got to be the tough guy here, you know? We don’t need to, we don’t need that right now, we need to- we need cool heads to prevail, and uh, and we need to be very steady about what we’re going to do because we have absolutely a common uh, threat in the Middle East right now.

The transcripts were released by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on May 29 shortly after then-Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell declassified them.

Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration and former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to one count of lying during an FBI interview about his calls with Kislyak.

In January, Flynn disavowed his plea, saying he didn’t recall talking to the ambassador about sanctions and didn’t intentionally lie.

Indeed, Flynn didn’t mention sanctions per se in the calls, though he spoke about the expulsions, which President Barack Obama announced together with the sanctions on Dec. 29, 2016.

At one point, Kislyak brought up the sanctions imposed on Russian intelligence agencies, the FSB, and GRU:

FLYNN: We have to eliminate this common threat [in the Middle East].

KISLYAK: We agree. One of the problems among the measures that have been announced today is that now FSB and GRU are sanctions, are sanctioned, and I ask myself, uh, does it mean that the United States isn’t willing to work on terrorist threats?

FLYNN: Yeah, yeah.

KISLYAK: Because that’s the people who are exactly, uh, fighting the terrorists.

FLYNN: Yeah, yeah, yep.

KISLYAK: So that’s something that we have to deal with. But I’ve heard what you say, and I certainly will try -

FLYNN: Yeah.

KISLYAK: - to get the people in Moscow to understand it.

FLYNN: Yeah.

Flynn then reiterated his request for a “reciprocal” response, warning that any escalation could lead to ultimately both countries shutting each others’ embassies—a move that would make cooperation more complicated.

“Please make sure that its uh - the idea is, be - if you, if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of an even basis. Then that, then that is a good message and we'll understand that message. And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we, where because if we put out- if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a - let’s, let’s keep this at a level that uh is, is even-keeled, okay? ls even-keeled. And then what we can do is, when we come in, we can then have a better conversation about where, where we’re gonna go, uh, regarding uh, regarding our relationship. And also, basically we have to take these, these enemies on that we have. And we definitely have a common enemy. You have a problem with it, we have a problem with it in this country, and we definitely have a problem with it in the Middle East,” he said.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) moved to drop Flynn’s case on May 7, saying the FBI interview wasn’t based on a properly predicated investigation and thus the department couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that what he said was “material” to a legitimate investigation.
District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who presides over Flynn’s case, has so far refused to affirm the dismissal and has instead laid out a schedule that would prolong the case for possibly months. He recently appointed former federal Judge John Gleeson as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) “to present arguments in opposition to the government’s Motion to Dismiss,” as well as to “address” whether the court should make the defense explain why “Flynn should not be held in criminal contempt for perjury.”

He’s also signaled he may allow more amici to join the case.

Flynn’s lawyers, led by former federal prosecutor Sidney Powell, on May 19 filed a petition for a writ of mandamus—a request to the District of Columbia appeals court to order Sullivan to accept the case dismissal, cancel the Gleeson appointment, and assign the case to another judge.

In a rare move, the appeals court ordered Sullivan on May 21 to respond to Flynn’s petition within 10 days.

“Lt. General Flynn, his legal team, the judge and the American people can now see with their own eyes—for the first time—that all of the innuendo about Lt. General Flynn this whole time was totally bunk,“ Grassley commented in a May 29 release. ”There was nothing improper about his call, and the FBI knew it.”

Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
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