Flynn may have misled FBI by denying that he talked sanctions with Russian ambassador — but likely won’t be charged
Hard to believe he’d lie. Remember, Flynn is a man with enough experience in government intelligence to have once led the DIA. He knows how things work. He knows that foreign diplomats’ calls are monitored by the feds, and he knows that that’s especially true when it comes to diplomats from Russia. He also knew via the media that the FBI and other intelligence organizations had been sniffing around Team Trump for months during the campaign looking for contacts between Trump advisors and Russian agents. Thus, when he sat down with the FBI for an interview in January, he had every reason to believe that they already had a recording and transcript of his phone conversation with Kislyak and that they’d be looking to catch him in a lie, hoping that he might be willing to roll over on other members of Team Trump if they could pressure him with a perjury charge.
And so, knowing all of that, he … misled them anyway? Deliberately? C’mon.
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn denied to FBI agents in an interview last month that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States before President Trump took office, contradicting the contents of intercepted communications collected by intelligence agencies, current and former U.S. officials said.
The Jan. 24 interview potentially puts Flynn in legal jeopardy, as lying to the FBI is a felony, but any decision to prosecute would ultimately lie with the Justice Department. Some officials said bringing a case could prove difficult in part because Flynn may attempt to parse the definition of sanctions…
Senior Justice and intelligence officials who have reviewed the phone call thought Flynn’s statements to Kislyak were inappropriate, if not illegal, because he suggested that the Kremlin could expect a reprieve from the sanctions.
The Times also reported two days ago “that investigators had come away believing that he was not entirely forthcoming” in his FBI interview. Here’s the statute, which makes it a crime to “knowingly and willingly” conceal a material fact or make any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement when talking to the feds. That’s one way Flynn could fight a charge — insisting, as he seemingly has all along, that he didn’t mislead anyone “knowingly and willingly.” According to one report, Flynn and Pence spoke twice earlier this week before Flynn’s resignation but at no point did Flynn admit that he willingly misled the VP: “[A]dministration officials said that rather than fully apologize and accept responsibility, the national security adviser blamed his faulty memory — which irked the typically slow-to-anger Mr. Pence.” Flynn could claim that he honestly didn’t remember the details of one particular conversation with Kislyak, especially since they spoke “several times” on December 29th. Every account I’ve read of the call alleges that Flynn was vague in answering Kislyak’s lobbying about sanctions, merely saying something about how Trump would revisit the Obama administration’s policies on Russia after the inauguration. Did Flynn genuinely not remember that exchange with Kislyak? Did they spend 20 seconds on it during their chat or, say, 10 minutes? It’d be nice to have a transcript of the call.
The other potential defense here, as noted in the excerpt, is that Flynn was technically telling the truth when he told the FBI that he never discussed “sanctions” with Kislyak. If Kislyak was the only party to the call who used that word, with Flynn resorting to hazy promises about reviewing Obama’s stance towards Russia, that might be enough to get him off. Or Flynn might make the same point he made to the Daily Caller in his last interview before resigning:
Flynn said there was a brief discussion of the 35 Russian diplomats who were being expelled by Obama in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 campaign.
“It wasn’t about sanctions. It was about the 35 guys who were thrown out,” Flynn said. “So that’s what it turned out to be. It was basically, ‘Look, I know this happened. We’ll review everything.’ I never said anything such as, ‘We’re going to review sanctions,’ or anything like that.”
Assume that’s true, that they only talked about the Russian “diplomats” who’d been expelled from the U.S. That was one of several punitive measures taken by Obama on December 29th; the rest included financial sanctions on Russia’s two intelligence services, the FSB and GRU, as well as other sanctions on certain individuals and Russian companies. Question: Does the entire package of punitive measures, including the expulsion of the diplomats, count as “sanctions” or is it only the financial penalties that count, in which case Flynn could argue that he was technically telling the truth when he said that his conversation with Kislyak about the diplomats wasn’t a conversation about sanctions?
Either way, according to CNN, it sounds like the feds are going to let him slide:
The FBI is not expected to pursue any charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn regarding a phone call with Russia’s ambassador, barring new information that changes what they know, law enforcement officials told CNN Thursday…
Flynn initially told investigators sanctions were not discussed. But FBI agents challenged him, asking if he was certain that was his answer. He said he didn’t remember.
The FBI interviewers believed Flynn was cooperative and provided truthful answers. Although Flynn didn’t remember all of what he talked about, they don’t believe he was intentionally misleading them, the officials say.
It’s much easier to believe that Flynn honestly didn’t remember what he’d said to Kislyak than that he’d deliberately deceive the feds knowing full well that they had a transcript of the call. And if CNN is right that they’re going to let Flynn slide, it tells you something circumstantial about how weak the feds’ case against Team Trump must be vis-a-vis conspiring with Russian intelligence during the election. If the FBI was onto something there, you’d expect them to be far less forgiving of Flynn’s memory lapse than they appear to be. They’d slap him with a perjury charge and then see if he’d panic and try to give them something incriminating about the rest of the Trump campaign in exchange for immunity. Letting him walk scot free points to the fact, as has been reported over and over, that while an investigation into “contacts” between the campaign and Russians continues, nothing has been discovered that suggests collusion. If Flynn’s going to spill anything, it may be up to the Senate Intelligence Committee to subpoena him and drag it out of him during testimony.