Former National Security Advisor Ret. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn is a patriot. I am writing that at the outset because everything you find in the transcripts of his phone calls with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on Dec. 23, 2016, Dec. 29, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2016 confirms the fact that Flynn was serving his country and properly engaging with a foreign diplomat to prevent a dangerous escalation during the transition from the outgoing Obama administration to the incoming Trump administration after President Donald Trump won the election in 2016.
Little did Flynn or Trump know that both were already under active counterintelligence investigations by the Justice Department with Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants involved, and also U.S. and Western intelligence agencies under false allegations they were Russian agents, although both would find out rapidly as they entered into power. Within weeks, Flynn would lose his job because of the conversations with Kislyak, former Attorney Jeff Sessions would be recused from his job and former FBI Director James Comey would be fired, all leading to the appointment Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Adding to the mess, the investigation into whether Flynn was a Russian agent had already been closed on Jan. 3, 2017, only to be rapidly reopened based on the normal preparatory conversations between Flynn and Kislyak by former FBI agent Peter Strzok who was also leading the investigations into Russian election interference and the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory.
Specifically, Flynn was aiming to prevent escalation in the breakdown of U.S.-Russian relations that began at the height of the 2016 election cycle when Russia was accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails and putting them on Wikileaks.
Toward the end of 2016, the Obama administration was in the process of instituting sanctions against Russia as well as expelling several Russian diplomats from the U.S.
Flynn was telling Kislyak on Dec. 29, 2016 that “we need cool heads to prevail” and was advising that Moscow only respond in a “reciprocal” fashion so that the issues could be settled quickly once President Trump had been sworn into office, which was only a matter of a few weeks away. By Dec. 31, 2016, Kislyak had reported that Moscow had received Flynn’s message and would only respond in reciprocal fashion.
In short, Flynn was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing, which was protecting U.S. national security by ensuring a smooth transition on U.S.-Russian relations headed into 2017.
So how did all this spin out of control so badly?
The thing to keep in mind is that Flynn was already under investigation when the conversations happened. Flynn also appeared in the DNC-paid for Christopher Steele dossier because of his speaking engagement, an interview with Russian reporter, Sophie Shevardnadze, in a public forum, at the Russia Today 10-year anniversary in Moscow in Dec. 2015. Steele wrote in Aug. 2016: “Kremlin engaging with several high profile U.S. players, including… former DIA Director Michael Flynn… and funding their recent visits to Moscow.”
Flynn briefed the Defense Department both before and after the event and had his security clearance reupped in April 2016 after the fact.
The topic that Flynn spoke of at the Russia Today event, which was the potential for U.S.-Russian cooperation to defeat Islamic State, focusing on “mutual interests” and restoring “strategic stability” to the Middle East. Flynn was there to sell the idea that the U.S. and Russia had a common enemy in Islamic State and more broadly radical Islam, a proposal candidate Trump would adopt in 2016.
Flynn stated, “This back and forth, and I do appreciate it… and I respect it, because we have to have this debate, we absolutely have to have this debate, and we have to have it now. And we can’t — the United States — and I’m speaking as a really a private citizen — the United States can’t sit there and go, Russia, you’re bad, and Russia can’t sit there and say, the U.S., you’re bad. What we have to do, like we have done in the past, and I could go into a couple of historical examples where Europe would not be the Europe that it is today, thriving, had it not been for Russia and the United States working together 75 years ago, and in other places [is] where we have worked together. So, this idea of us not being able to work together is a misnomer, and I think we have to step back and we have to say, okay, what are the common interests, and then, what are the common goals that we want to achieve, and those goals I believe the number one goal is to… eliminate the cancerous idea that exists inside of the Islamic religion, we must do that.”
Flynn called on Arab leaders to work with the U.S. and Russia toward that end, and added, “the second common goal is to then, to keep some level of stability in the Middle East that creates a new set of economic conditions, to deal with these… frankly, theses 15-to-35-year-old young men that exist…”
In Flynn’s analysis, the destabilizing proxy wars in the Middle East have fostered the very conditions that are favorable to groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State. Instead, he wanted to shift the paradigm in the region via cooperation with other major actors in the region including Russia, a policy Trump would adopt on the campaign trail in 2016.
But first, relations needed to improve between the U.S. and Russia: “Stop being like two bullies in a playground. Quit acting immature… with each other and know that I have… a disagreement with you, you have a disagreement with me. You know, this is a funny marriage between Russia and the United States, but it’s a marriage… whether we like it or not. And, that marriage is very, very rocky right now, and what we don’t need is we don’t need that marriage to break up. We’ve had our break ups in the past, but we need to… look at this, I mean, I’m deadly serious about this, because I know this enemy… and I think there’s some in this country that know this enemy from having dealt with it in Chechnya and Dagestan and other places. This is a very, very deadly enemy.”
Flynn added, “My wish and my hope is that we figure out a way strategically to work together, I think that that’s the way ahead. Whether or not we work together 20 years from now, I don’t know, but I know if we don’t work together right now, the potential for going to a larger conflict against each other or the potential for this enemy to do far more damage than they already have is very, very real.”
This is the vital context that should be understood in assessing the calls with Kislyak. Flynn in the 2015 interview with the Russian journalist was publicly saying he wanted to avoid a wider war that would be in nobody’s interests. And what Flynn said at the Russia Today event was no different from what he told Kisylak a year later in Dec. 2016.
In fact it matched it. The other major part of the Flynn-Kislyak conversations was Flynn circling back to his proposed joint approach to taking on radical Islamists in the Middle East.
As for Russia, Kislyak’s major concern with Flynn’s proposal for a joint approach on terrorism was that the sanctions on FSB and GRU could prevent the U.S. and Russia from cooperating on fighting the terrorists because “that’s the people who are exactly, uh, fighting the terrorists.”
This raises an important question: Were the sanctions designed to avert the Trump-proposed détente with Russia to fight radical Islamist terrorists in the Middle East? At that time, the U.S. was still coordinating with Syrian rebels who were fighting with the Russia-allied Assad regime.
Taking it a step further, this gives the appearance that the targeting of both Trump and Flynn was possibly to protect radical elements in the Middle East that the Obama administration was working with to overthrow Assad in Syria. This stands out as a prominent potential motive for using Russia as a wedge on those issues to prop up those factions in Syria and also Ukraine that we were presently working with at the time. Flynn’s policies were going to take away those factions’ power because, under his proposal, the fighters in Syria might have to be sacrificed for wider regional peace and stability. So too might hardline elements in Ukraine be sidelined in pursuit of broader issues.
This should be examined by U.S. Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham to see how U.S. foreign policy and possibly foreign factions were intervening in the 2016 election against Trump and these proposed policies to see how deep the sabotage runs.
Clearly, though, Flynn’s appearance in Moscow is probably what landed him in hot water in the first place and ensnared Trump in the FBI’s false conspiracy theory he was a Russian agent. Clearly, the U.S. national security apparatus was freaking out, this fed back into our intel services, who used it to make policy against Trump and Flynn as a preemptive measure, possibly to defeat Trump and Flynn’s policies.
Another stand out in the transcripts was Flynn viewing sanctions and the expulsion of Russian diplomats as separate items. Kislyak mentioned the sanctions and asked if it would preclude working with the U.S. on terrorism, and Flynn was giving him “yeah,” “yeah” and “yep” to answer the question, with Flynn then circling back to the expulsions and said just focus on the tit for tat in terms of removing diplomatic personnel.
That’s important because the guilty plea from Flynn was supposedly lying about whether sanctions were discussed on the phone call. It looks like Flynn skipped the question of sanctions and was focused on the expulsions, implying sanctions would be dealt with later, circumstances permitting.
Which surely they would have been. Instead, the peaceful transition of power from Obama to Trump was completely undermined, the new president was kept under investigation at the behest of the outgoing president who did nothing to halt the investigation, and all attempts by Trump to cool U.S.-Russian relations were met with Congressional and internal administration resistance and even interference.
Agree or disagree with Trump and Flynn’s approach on Russia, it was a policy disagreement with which President Trump had full discretion to act on. He ran on it. It wasn’t a secret.
Since these episodes occurred, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia has been terminated and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty reinstatement in 2021 could be in doubt, as nuclear proliferation and escalation have begun anew by the U.S. and Russia. We’re in a new cold war.
Would that have happened if the Obama administration had not sabotaged the incoming Trump administration with an ill-considered national security investigation that threatened to overturn the 2016 election on false charges that Trump was a Manchurian Candidate?
This is why we have one president at a time, and also why America really needed Michael Flynn to be in the White House in 2017. After his case is formally dismissed, or he is pardoned, the sooner the better, Flynn should be promptly reinstated to help get the Trump foreign policy back on track and to remove any elements sequestered in the national security apparatus that had a hand in this failed coup.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.