The Flynn Conspiracy Call Is Coming from Inside the [White] House

Maggie and Mike have another of their “scoops” where they repeat what Trump’s lawyers tell them uncritically. In addition to mis-reporting the import of an alleged Mueller comment that he would release a report describing Trump’s obstruction within 2 months of mid-terms, the piece describes some letters Trump’s lawyers sent DOJ in an attempt to exonerate Trump. Among the topics addressed in the letters was whether it was obstruction for Trump to fire Comey because he wouldn’t stop the investigation into Mike Flynn.

The lawyers did not say whether Mr. Trump had asked for an end to the Flynn investigation. But their letters cited statements by the White House that denied Mr. Comey’s account.

The lawyers also argued that Mr. Trump could not have impeded the investigation because there was no inquiry to obstruct. The letter said that the F.B.I. had concluded that Mr. Flynn had not committed a crime when he told agents in January 2017 that he did not discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the transition, an assertion later found to be false.

The lawyers said that law enforcement officials had told the White House that the bureau did not believe Mr. Flynn had lied. “For all intents, purposes and appearances, the F.B.I. had accepted Flynn’s account; concluded that he was confused but truthful; decided not to investigate him further; and let him retain his clearance,” the letters said.

It is not clear what basis his lawyers have for those assertions. Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty in December to lying to investigators and is cooperating with the special counsel inquiry.

The letters also said that Mr. Comey had told Congress in a closed-door briefing in March 2017 that Mr. Flynn had not lied to the F.B.I. in the interview and was merely confused. Mr. Comey said last month on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that that assertion was not accurate.

On top of revealing that Trump’s lawyers apparently do not deny that Trump asked Comey to back off the Flynn investigation (even if they contest Comey’s take more generally), these letters make it clear that a conspiracy the frothy right has adopted lately — that Flynn should never have been investigated — is coming from inside the White House.

That scoop is useful, then, for making it clear where dumb propaganda (and Congressional pushback)  is originating.

But Maggie and Mike barely mention how obviously problematic the Trump story is. Trump’s lawyers apparently argued to DOJ that the Trump couldn’t have obstructed any investigation by firing Comey because, “there was no inquiry to obstruct.” They support that claim by stating, “Mr. Comey had told Congress in a closed-door briefing in March 2017 that Mr. Flynn had not lied to the F.B.I. in the interview and was merely confused.”

Never mind that this claim ignores that there was already a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn when he was incidentally collected assuring Sergey Kislyak that the Trump Administration would work with Russia on sanctions. That investigation was premised on events that included a meeting with Kislyak in the Ambassador’s private residence in 2015, in advance of his trip to the big RT shindig, that Flynn’s spawn considered “very productive.”

But per the HPSCI Russia report, it’s a misstatement of what Comey actually told Congress in March 2017. That report says,

Director Comey testified to the Committee that “the agents … discerned no physical indications of deception. They didn’t see any change in posture, in tone, in inflection, in eye contact. They saw nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them.”

Indeed, the White House version doesn’t even cohere with the story spun by Chuck Grassley in a recent effort to grill an FBI agent involved.

According to that agent’s contemporaneous notes, Director Comey specifically told us during that briefing that the FBI agents who interviewed Lt. General Michael Flynn, “saw nothing that led them to believe [he was] lying.” Our own Committee staff’s notes indicate that Mr. Comey said the “agents saw no change in his demeanor or tone that would say he was being untruthful.”

In both versions offered by very partisan Republicans, the FBI agents talked about physical signs of deceit. The HPSCI report goes on to make clear that the same agents also recognized Flynn’s statements in the interview were “inconsistent” with the call intercept.

Yet somehow Trump’s lawyers decided to claim to DOJ that FBI concluded Flynn was just confused, a claim that apparently conflicts with evidence from at least 5 current or former DOJ employees currently unaffiliated with the Mueller probe, including Sally Yates, from whom the White House first obtained information about the Flynn interview.

There’s a lot more that’s crazy about Trump’s lawyers’ efforts to invent a story inconsistent with all known records. First, relying on a still classified HPSCI report makes it crystal clear (as if it wasn’t already) that HPSCI is sharing classified information with the White House. The logic of this claim is that Comey’s contemporaneous spoken statements to numerous DOJ officials should be dismissed but his spoken statements to Congress are credible. Leaking this story makes it clear that the White House is behind the worst conspiracies floating among the far right.

But, if the NYT portrayal of the letter is accurate, it also shows that in an attempt to explain away Trump’s actions, the White House is inventing facts. Inventing easily checked facts seems like a really curious strategy to proclaim someone’s innocence.

43 replies
    • Rugger9 says:

      Palli is right, because the GOP was involved all the way up to Pence.  That’s why they are trying so hard to stop the probe now: because the evidence trails linking McTurtle, Pence and Ryan are waiting to be published.

      I haven’t heard any news about the outcome of the FBI/DOJ/Palace summit today, anyone have anything?

  1. SteveB says:

    Just to help clarify the timeline of the letters

    June 2017, two within 4 days by Marc Kasowitz

    29 Jan 2018 one letter co-authored by Dowd and Sekulow.

    The NYT piece does not distiguish between the letters, so one cannot track evolutions of the narrative within them.

    I don’t believe that this in anyway detracts from your post EW, but it was easier for me to follow your argument by seeing the dates of the letters such as they are as revealed in the article

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Director Comey testified to the Committee that “the agents … discerned no physical indications of deception. They didn’t see any change in posture, in tone, in inflection, in eye contact. They saw nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them.”

    (Emph. added.)  Comey knew he was talking about Flynn, a special forces operative with decades of experience in combat, in handling covert sources, and in lying successfully, even when subjected to enhanced interrogation.  A chat with a couple of FBI agents, who followed rules, would have been a walk in the park.  Not so later, of course, but that’s presumably not the engagement Comey is describing here.


      • SteveB says:

        However when Trump called Nunes “A courageous …courageous man” at the swearing in ceremony for the new Dir. CIA, she stared at her shoes and then smirked: a deliberate spooks tell to her troops perhaps.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Exactly my thought.

      Question: Are the leakers leaking directly to Rudy?

      My guess is yes.

    • john says:

      It’s ludicrous that “physical indications of deception” are being used or referenced at all.  From the wikipedia article on Paul Ekman:  “Most credibility-assessment researchers agree that people are unable to visually detect lies.”  Ekman is the researcher fictionally portrayed as a crime fighter in the show “Lie to Me.”

      • Trip says:

        It’s not a science, but clearly there are people who don’t have good poker faces and those that do. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as bluffing.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Inventing easily checked facts

    Is that what Sister Marie Eleffante used to call “lying”.  What mayhem would we have if she were let loose inside the White House with a yardstick.


  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Why would the NYT accept as fact anything that Rudy 911 says about Robert Mueller’s investigation?  Rudy claims to be Donald Trump’s defense counsel, which gives him something of a motive to mislead the press.  Or is the NYT exasperated that Bob Mueller’s office refuses to tip its hand just because Maggie calls and wants a “scoop”?

    Can I tell the NYT that I won the lottery and would that make it so?  What’s Habs number?

  5. TheraP says:

    Perhaps if they just gathered a group of floridly psychotic people, it might save the Trump lawyers time. The delusional folk could gather weekly or as needed. Then, just feed them the “facts” and let them free associate.

    I chuckle just to think of it. Also, why pay lawyers when you can glean it for free?

  6. TheraP says:

    Lost or stuck in moderation, I tried to say:

    Perhaps the Trump lawyers could save time by gathering a group of floridly psychotic people on a weekly basis or as needed. Feed them the “facts” and let them free associate.

    Why pay lawyers for nonsense if you can glean it for free from helpful lunatics? They might even cop to crimes themselves, further confusing the Trump loyalists.

    Truly, since we’re already “round the bend” why use those considered sane for nonsensical explanations?

    We’re in the realm of crazy humor. Is there a word for it? Other than Karma, I mean.

    OH, DRAT!!! What the heck, I’ll let it just stand as a double-post. (Thanks to the NOT-net netruality, everything is like molasses at the moment.)

  7. Bob Conyers says:

    I definitely would say the White House is ampliflying conspiracies. I’m not completely convinced they’re originating all of them, though.

    I think it’s fairly likely that kooks on Hill staffs are trying to pull together whatever helpful bits they can out of testimony to massage and package before sending them on to the White House. The lie about Comey absolving Flynn sounds to me like something originating on the Hill rather than the White House, and the Trump camp is running with what it has been sent.

    I realize this gets nitpicky, but I suspect folks like Jason Foster on Grassley’s staff and Kash Patel on Nunes’s staff generated at least some of the craziness we’re hearing now. I think a more fully staffed and disciplined GOP White House would typically be running the disinformation process with an iron fist, but in this case I suspect the Hill is filling up some vacant space, and a desperate White House is grabbing what it can.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I would say that the lie about Comey absolving Flynn or anyone else seems better sourced to the White House.  It’s one of the Don’s obsessions, because any absolution absolves him, too, or so he “thinks”.

      • Bob Conyers says:

        I think the urge to exonerate Flynn may well come from the White House. It’s the specificity of the cherry picked lie that makes me think the specific case of the FBI not “seeing” evidence of Flynn lying is something that a Hill staffer pulled after a long session of picking through a transcript for anything they could use.

        I could be mistaken, for sure, this is just a hunch based on the fact that the House and Senate GOP have been staffed up for years to generate this kind of bogus talking point based on Congressional testimony, while the White House seems to have a lot less capability. It’s always possible, too, that this is a joint project, and they deserve equal blame.

        • Watson says:

          Speaking of cherry picking, I wonder if Trump-friendly sources who were familiar with the FBI investigation of Flynn tipped Hill staffers to ask Comey about Flynn’s body language tells. They may have been aware that Flynn’s ability to maintain a poker face during interrogation was the only aspect of the inquiry that was not incriminating to Flynn.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Hillary Clinton backs Mario Cuomo for re-election as NY governor.  Cuomo is the epitome of an establishment Dem who likes to piss on his base because he’d rather have Wall Street’s money and be in the GOP.  Or, maybe she’s not a fan of Sex and the City.

    And Mrs. Clinton still wonders why she lost in 2016?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Just another example of national Dems doing this across the country.  Do they want to lose in 2018?

      More likely, Clinton, Hoyer, and others are fighting to preserve pay to play.  It gives them hierarchical power over policies and assignments, and a helluva lot of Wall Street money pouring into their coffers for keeping out the commies in the so-called left wing, that part of the party that has most in common with Main Street Americans.

  9. Rapier says:

    Ever since Trump figured out that kicking Russia is the only possible policy for the great global strategic 21st century  American aim of defeating Eurasian integration I’ve been waiting for the Times to say it’s time to let bygones be bygones on Trump’s little Russian romance. That moment has arrived.

  10. pseudonymous in nc says:

    The very best possible reading of Maggie & the Habernauts running this is that they have a story in the works that rebuts the lawyers’ claims, and wanted to get their work product in print first. (The precedent here being Schmidt’s softball convo in Florida, which was followed a week later by his “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” report on trying to stop Sessions recusing himself.)

    The problem with doing this, of course, is that the Paper of Record (TM) ends up doing stenography for a week, by which time it has been ground into sausage for Fox News and King Idiot.

  11. greengiant says:

    From EW’s twitter feed, Rosenstein and Wray to meet Trump in like 19 minutes. But they already sent the last WH theory over to DOJ IG Horowitz, so what’s next? Loyalty oath that Flynn is not a criminal?

  12. GKJames says:

    “HPSCI is sharing classified information with the White House”. Optics and politics aside, what are the legal implications of this? Does someone like Nunes risk a conspiracy-to-obstruct claim?

  13. SteveB says:

    Statement from the WH re meeting with Wray and Rosenstein

    1 Noting IG investigation of DoJ FBI tactics regarding the campaign

    2 CoS Kelly to set up meeting with FBI DoJ and DNI together with Congressional leaders to review their requests for highly classified and other information they have requested.

    The 2nd part looks ominous

  14. Sabrina says:

    Glad you mentioned the fact that Haberman often seems oddly uncritical in her reporting. She passively accepts whatever the WH tells her and reports it without any skepticism. I suppose that’s better than actually sympathizing with them, which she did after the WHCD when Michelle Wolf tore a strip off of SHS. (However, burning the truth and turning the ash into a smoky eye was altogether funny, truthful, and a quasi-compliment to SHS’s makeup skills). I’d noticed it a few times and wondered why she seemed to be considered the “authoritative voice” on the WH. 

    As for the newest information presented here….I cannot imagine why they would bother lying so blatantly, other than being acutely psychotic (as TheraP alluded to, which would have been amusing!)- which the WH clearly isn’t, since their official statements have been written and vetted before publication. There must be something else to this. No way lies that blatant are told without anyone massively benefiting from them- since it means that out of their options, lying that overtly was somehow the *best* choice. I shudder to think how bad “telling the truth” must really be for them.

  15. orionATL says:

    212 comments at on one post (“the bogus manafort challenge…”) ?

    is that possible ?

    is that accurate ?

    is that a record for a single post at the emptywheel website ? :)

Comments are closed.