Michael Flynn urged Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak to convince the Kremlin to stay calm in response to sanctions by the outgoing Obama administration over Russian interference in America’s presidential election, newly released transcripts of his secret phone conversations revealed.
Flynn, tapped as Donald Trump’s national security adviser at the time, reached out to Kislyak a number of times before his boss was in the White House. He urged Kislyak to not “go any further than you have to” in responding to the sanctions.
“They’re gonna dismiss some number of Russians out of the country, I understand all that,” Flynn told Kislyak regarding the sanctions, according to the transcripts of a call dated Dec. 29, 2016, released Friday.
“But what I would ask Russia to do is … to only make it reciprocal. Make it reciprocal. 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?”
Flynn said if the Russian response was “even-keeled,” that “is a good message and we’ll understand that message,” according to the call that was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
Flynn had a number of phone conversations with Kislyak beginning in December. He left his post as national security adviser in February 2017 after offering contradictory information about the conversations and later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the calls. Flynn early this year asked to withdraw his guilty plea, and the Department of Justice has moved to drop the case against him.
The president’s supporters claim that the Flynn surveillance was a subterfuge for the FBI to launch an illegitimate probe into the Trump administration. Democrats say that Flynn’s secret talks were sign of possible collusion between the Kremlin and the incoming administration that justified the investigation.
Flynn and Kislyak never discussed the Kremlin orchestrated hack of Democratic Party emails in the transcripts. But Flynn also did not say anything negative to Kislyak about Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election that had been uncovered by the American intelligence community.
Kislyak responded to Flynn in a follow-up call that “our conversation was … taken into account” in Moscow. “Your proposal that we need to act with cold heads … is exactly what is invested in the decision,” Kislyak added. He told Flynn “we will be able to start working in more constructive way” in two weeks, when Trump would be in office.
Trump was delighted with Russia’s moderate response to the sanctions.
Flynn and Kisylak also discussed cooperation in the Middle East, and setting up a “secure video line” between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Flynn’s attorney, Sidney Powell, insisted the transcripts show Flynn did “nothing wrong,” and that he should be “applauded” for reining in tensions between the two countries, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement Friday that the calls clearly reveal Flynn lied to the FBI about them. The calls also underscore that Flynn was trying to mute a response to sanctions imposed because Russian interfered in U.S. elections in a bid to help Trump, he added. His message to the Kremlin was that the Trump administration would now forge a new course more favorable to Russia, Schiff noted.
The transcripts were provided to members of Congress by new Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe after outgoing director Richard Grenell declassified them and revealed a list of Obama administration officials who viewed Flynn’s identity in intelligence reports collected by the National Security Agency. Those who requested the reports were all authorized to receive them, said NSA officials.
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