Trump Refuses to Answer Why He Ordered Mike Flynn to Placate the Russians on Sanctions

As I have repeatedly argued, a key detail of the Russian investigation that has never been adequately explained is the firing of Mike Flynn. Contrary to what Trump’s propaganda in early January 2017 suggested, it was no secret within the White House that Flynn had discussed delaying any response to Obama’s sanctions with Sergei Kislyak. Indeed, it is virtually certain Flynn did so on the Trump’s orders, conveyed via KT McFarland, and many of the people involved in creating Trump’s public explanations knew that.

Which is why it’s so interesting that Trump has refused to answer questions about the transition (in addition to questions about after inauguration).

But after months of negotiations with Mueller’s team, Trump’s lawyers have refused to answer any questions about his time as president-elect or president, arguing that the special counsel is not legally entitled to details about executive decision-making.

If, as I’ve posited, sanctions relief was one of the payoffs in a quid pro quo for election assistance, then by refusing to answer questions about the transition, Trump would effectively be refusing to go on the record about why he chose to undermine Obama’s policy (on this, and on assistance to Israel, probably among other things).

Now consider how this fits with regards to timing.

The WaPo reports that Trump was going to return his open book test to Mueller last Thursday, but balked, claiming they had questions about the legitimacy of the investigation.

Trump’s lawyers originally planned to submit the answers to Mueller last Thursday, but put on the brakes.

Giuliani said there were “more questions raised about the legitimacy of the investigation that we had to discuss and look into,” declining to elaborate.

That makes it more likely that the 10-day delay in a status report on Paul Manafort’s cooperation — from last Friday to next Monday — reflects Mueller’s effort to delay releasing that report until after he had received Trump’s responses (which, remember, he once said he’d return a day or so after returning from Paris).

It’s also possible that Trump got his first report on the status of the investigation from Whitaker last Thursday, one day after OLC released its memo deeming Whitaker’s appointment legal. Today, Chuck Schumer sent DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz a letter asking for an investigation into Whitaker’s communications with the White House, but I read it to relate exclusively to activity prior to his appointment as Acting Attorney General.

Or, less controversially, he may have gotten assurances from Whitaker that he, as Acting AG slash hatchetman, would deem transition period activities as protected by Executive Privilege.

And since we’re reading tea leaves, consider the additional motion Mueller submitted in the Mystery Appellant case.

Particularly given the motion Mueller submitted yesterday — which argued that any subpoena the Special Counsel issued before Whitaker’s appointment remains valid — I wonder whether the recent activity reflects Whitaker’s tampering as well, perhaps reflecting notice, after the OLC memo, that Whitaker does not agree with the subpoena. Today’s sealed motion is around 25% longer than yesterday’s brief, so it may be notice of that argument.

(I think the new motion raises the chances, slightly, that the Mystery Appellant is Trump, but if it were someone — like John Kelly — making an Executive Privilege claim, Whitaker’s intervention may rely on the same justification Trump might have made last week about withholding transition materials.)

In other words, not only is Trump trying to avoid providing sworn testimony about one key event in this investigation — his order to placate the Russians on sanctions — but there are other hints that Whitaker has started his work to undermine the Mueller investigation.

Still, it may be too little too late. Mike Flynn’s sentencing continues as scheduled, with his probation officer submitting his presentencing report today. The government will have to submit a report on his cooperation on December 4, in advance of his December 18 sentencing. So Mueller must feel confident he knows all the circumstances of those conversations with Kislyak regardless of Trump’s willingness to talk about it.

66 replies
  1. Alan says:

    Looks to me like Trump delayed turning in his homework until Whitaker was installed because he knew Whitaker would overrule any efforts to get Trump to answer the questions. That would make it less likely IMO that Trump is the mystery appellant.

  2. orionATL says:

    does it really have to be written down that whittaker may not, under any understanding of western/anglo-american law and of customs of accountability under that law specifically including the accountability of a president for suspected misconduct, communicate information to the president on any aspect of the investigation of the president by mueller?

    and don’t quote me none of this authoritarian-supporting article II horseshit republicans has been floating about unchallenged since the heady days days of g.w. and the devil’s disciple promoting the unconstitutional fantasies of congressman sensenbrenner and general keith alexander.

  3. Terry says:

    Is anyone getting nervous? I have a sinking bad feeling with the news avalanche this week. It’s only Tuesday.

    • BobCon says:

      Friday after Thanksgiving is a traditional news dump day….

      Somebody may try to convince him to think about the Mississippi Senate vote, but who knows.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As has been repeated at length, Trump has no executive privilege before he took the oath of office.  Hence, the president’s claim regarding transition period communications being subject to executive privilege are political theater for the base, to make him look learned and a victim; beyond that, they are non-starters. 

    Trump’s noisome non-disclosure agreements have no value in this context.

    And Attorney-client privilege would be subject to qualifications.  Among them is the crime-fraud exception, which would nullify it.  Trump would also have to meet the normal requirements for every assertion of it.  These include that such communications were for the purpose of obtaining legal advice – not political or business advice – and that the client treated the advice confidentiality.  Disclosing it to those outside the A-C privilege group, for example, waives the privilege.  Trump is not known to adhere to rules that limit his impulses.

    Any claims of privilege would require thorough vetting.  It would be imprudent, professional misconduct even, for a prosecutor to take Rudy G or the Don’s word for it.  As Ilsa said to Major Strasser, after he promised German good conduct for Victor, “We know what such assurances have been worth in the past.”

    • Valley girl says:

      I hope you will entertain an OT question.

      (Aside: Rightly or not, my thought is that your moniker refers to a certain RH.  I chose my moniker b/c way back then, women in the internet space were treated as being at the very least stupid, and thus open to all kinds of attack.  Think Digby.  So being a bit of a contrarian, I made my very first blog comments, on Bradblog, as “Valley Girl”, just to see what would happen.  Partly homage to Zappa, and also truth- I grew up in, and survived, the SFV)

      So, my somewhat stupid question is this:  What chance of Trump, as the “Trump Foundation” being brought down by SNDY before Mueller drops the hammer?

      • Kai-Lee says:

        The potential activities of the SDNY against Trump et al, although it’s regarded as a notoriously “independent” office, are certainly concerning now that Whitaker has been installed. He’s got purview over them, too, doesn’t he?

        And then there are the pardons. Trump will pardon his family, and Pence will pardon Trump. I can’t see Trump spending a day in jail despite the unearthing of probably dozens of crimes. How the MAGAts defend him being above the law they’d be kicked in the ass by is beyond me. Aspirational, or just delusional?

        • Mitch Neher says:

          The MAGA cult is a phallic cult centered on Trump as the Phallic Symbol-in-Chief and driven by a morbid castration anxiety centered on HRC as The Great Emasculator.

          A MAGA cultist can justify anything and everything when The Family Jewels are laid in wager upon the game table.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            Trump is beginning to look and talk more and more like Slim Pickens on the way to his doom, but he thinks he’s about to get a medal and have a pretty good weekend in Vegas, what with all that stuff.

            • Mitch Neher says:

              Without an electro-magnetic pulse, the auto-destruct mechanism may still be functioning.

              If so, then Major Kong need not ride the bull.

              And Group Captain Mueller makes his station to station call to The POTUS without answering to the Coca-Cola Company.

  5. Trip says:

    We know Mueller doesn’t leak, so why would Rudy do so? It only makes Trump look guiltier since it’s clear he doesn’t have a good answer for the question(s). It’s more avoidance.

    And it comes on the heels of reports about McGahn stopping Trump from ordering prosecution of Comey and Clinton by the DOJ. I’m thinking McGahn is passing this on (as some way of covering his own ass?). It’s such a tangled web since McGahn’s own lawyer was curating what could be released about Kavanaugh, and Kavanaugh was selected by Leo (who selected Whitaker). Further, his lawyer is the lawyer of several people, including Bannon (connected to Farage and Banks), so I have to wonder how much Priebus, McGahn and Burke knew about the simultaneous Brexit plot. And of course, Burke and McGahn were coordinating the fake “privilege” with Bannon during testimony. I wonder how much influence McGahn had via the Flood pipeline to counsel Trump not to answer those questions about Flynn. McGahn has exposure there (at the least) via warning by Yates.

    • Trip says:

      After today’s malignantly evil defense of MbS’s assassination of Khashoggi, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Trump wanted to put a hit on Comey, at some point. He is that fucking toxic. And I am not being hyperbolic.

      • NorskieFlamethrower says:

        Nothing is hyperbolic when it comes to speculation about the corrupt, evil and criminal Trumpty Dumpster.  But he would hafta contract with the Kremlin for the hit which of course would be another IOU held by Putin and another piece of evidence for Mueller.

    • Peterr says:

      Rudy leaks because (a)  it proves he is on the inside and thus an Important Person, and (b) it’s what Trump likes. Trump wants to be not just in the news, but to BE the news, proving that he is The Most Importantest Person In the Universe.

      That this might make Trump look guiltier does not cross either of their minds.

  6. Trip says:

    Is anyone else sick of the mantra that we HAVE TO work with the Saudis toward “peace” in the ME? This sounds like a bunch of bullshit, too. There is no peace in the ME.

      • Eureka says:

        PSA:  that link is full of Facebook trackers.  Don’t click that link, click this one:

        Trump should stop talking like a Middle Eastern despot – The Washington Post

        FYI- just delete the part of the link that starts with a ‘?’ and all that follows:  that usually removes the trackers that can compromise the poster’s and/or clicker’s privacies (and others’ down and up the clicking line…).


          • Eureka says:

            And thanks for the story link- it also had a tweet* quoting the most acutely craven summary (via Pompeo statement) of the whole matter.

            “We are hopeful that each of those commitments that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia made to the United States to purchase equipment will be completed in a timely fashion,”

            *It’s just a statement from his presser, but WaPo cited a CBS tweet transcription; video of Q&A context at that tweet as well.

      • Trip says:

        @JD12, It’s not just Trump. It’s every talking head on TV. Granted, I am no where near an expert in this arena. But when every single person, from both sides of the aisle, enforces this position as the US MUST work with Saudis as “critical” to peace, when there are several ongoing simultaneous wars, (including the slow kill of oppression, starvation, diseases, etc.) it would seem that everyone might need to recalculate. When it is put that way, it only paints the Saudis as in control of the entire region. And if that’s the case, why are we reinforcing their power with weaponry? And publicly repeating this mantra ad nauseam, WhyTF would the Sauds feel that they need to change anything at all? They have the US over a barrel, because we MUST work with them, no matter what.

    • Trip says:

      The US is funding surveillance against dissidents and human rights advocates :

      @Marcy retweeted, longer thread/article than my excerpt:

      Thomas Brewster‏Verified account @iblametom

      …So what you have here is an American-funded, Israeli-made surveillance company’s tools aimed at Saudi dissidents, at least two of whom were in regular contact with Khashoggi. This in the week that Trump says he stands with Saudi Arabia despite everything

      Article: Saudi Dissidents Hit With Stealth iPhone Spyware Before Khashoggi’s Murder

      The tool is able to silently hoover up private information on a target iPhone, from WhatsApp chats to emails, and can spy on people via their smartphone’s camera and microphone. It’s the creation of a highly-secretive, $1 billion-valued Israeli surveillance dealer called NSO Group….Almasarir would be the second confirmed Saudi target of Pegasus in the U.K., alongside political activist Yahya Assiri. Both are telling Forbes their stories of assaults on their digital lives for the first time. As previously reported, Pegasus has spread its wings further to attack opponents of the Saudi regime. Other attacks hit an employee working on Saudi-related issues for Amnesty International, a human rights NGO founded in London.

      • Trip says:

        And there it is: The US is actively attacking human rights advocates and making them vulnerable to their oppressive regimes.

        Let that soak in, ol’ beacon on the hill of moral high grand.

      • harpie says:

        This is an excerpt of [what I think is] Khashoggi’s first column for the Washington Post, on 9/18/17:

        Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive. Now it’s unbearable.

        […] But all I see now is the recent wave of arrests. Last week, about 30 people were reportedly rounded up by authorities, ahead of the crown prince’s ascension to the throne. Some of the arrested are good friends of mine, and the effort represents the public shaming of intellectuals and religious leaders who dare to express opinions contrary to those of my country’s leadership. […] The arrested are accused of being recipients of Qatari money and part of a grand Qatari-backed conspiracy. Several others, myself included, are in self-exile and could face arrest upon returning home. // It anguishes me to speak with other Saudi friends in Istanbul and London who are also in self-exile. There are at least seven of us — are we going to be the core of a Saudi diaspora? We spend endless hours on the phone trying to understand this wave of arrests that have included my friend, businessman and thoughtful Twitter personality Essam Al-Zamil. […] 

        • Trip says:

          I’m pretty sure it was highly repressive before, and toward women, the most. That’s why Trump and his buddy Pecker from the National Enquirer embarked on the high-end glossy PR mag-rag about him, which sat in Walmarts, followed by his celebrity blitz tour across the US.

          Here is some info on human rights abuses prior to MbS:

          That is not to say that MbS isn’t a murderous tyrant.

  7. pseudonymous in nc says:

    The executive privilege argument w/r/t the transition is bunk, but given its relation to the case, it looks like something they’d want to litigate all the way to SCOTUS. And I wonder if the Fourth Amendment question around access to the GSA transition email server — dormant for nearly a year — might re-emerge.

  8. Eureka says:

    Michelle Wolf: “I bet you’d be on my side if I had killed a journalist. #BeBest… ”

    Donald J. Trump: “So-called comedian Michelle Wolf bombed so badly last year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner that this year, for the first time in decades, they will have an author instead of a comedian. Good first step in comeback of a dying evening and tradition! Maybe I will go?”

    • Trip says:

      She is so cutting and on point. His lame and rambling retort proves that he’s lost the battle of wits.
      And he knows it. She killed 2 birds with one stone.

      • Eureka says:

        Yes, two birds- but in the hindsight of daylight I will give her another half-point for low-hanging BeBest fruit.  Because why not?

  9. talis says:

    I think it’s foolhardy for anyone to believe that Trump, the right-wing Senate or the christofascists judges on the federal bench and the Supreme Court plan to hold Trump accountable.
    They have made that abundantly clear in word and action.
    When people show and tell me who they are, I believe them.

  10. SomeGuyInMaine says:


    Why would Trump respond in writing at all unless the was a meaningful external deadline?

    Seems to me there was some sort of a deadline hanging over his head. The only meaningful external deadline to Trump would come from a court. Otherwise despite public pronouncements he would just change his mind at the last minute and blow off all answers.

    Sounds like that’s close to what he did, providing some fig leaf pre-election answers to show he has been responsive and claiming privilege over transition and in office periods of time, however thin the arguments.

    If there was no external deadline, why huddle with your attorneys and work on responses and get so grumpy it leaks out to all the press?

    A few short hours after the Trump’s written answers to questions are submitted (with many not answered), Mueller file extensive motion in mystery litigant case.

    This all seems to add up to Trump as the mystery litigant.

    Am I missing something?

    • emptywheel says:

      It’s possible he came to an agreement with Mueller about when he’d hand them over (which might have been tied to Manafort’s status report). But Trump also wants to get this done so Whitaker can claim the investigation is over.

      • Bay State Librul says:

        The verdict on Seth will be in shortly.

        I don’t think he is an idiot. Let’s say this, he has a different perspective

        on life.

        • Thomas says:


          From my perspective, you have to read more than one thread to understand the type of game he’s playing.

          What’s usually done is to take a basis in (likely) fact, from some piece of reporting or another, and then throw a whole load of conjecture, supposition, wild misinterpretation of statute, and nearly-baseless speculation on top of it – all expressed as fact.

          Doing this over and over again, with each rambling thread on Twitter expressed as more crucial than the last, has created this vast, unwieldy, hugely self-contradictory conspiracy “theory of the case” where tiny details or suppositions in reporting are treated like iron-clad truths. No attempt is made to come up with an internally consistent theory of the case for collusion that makes a minimal number of assumptions. Very little doubt or uncertainty is expressed about any of the wild assumptions.

          By comparison, Marcy’s series of timelines – based on the leaked Mueller/Sekulow questions – is vastly more coherent as a theory of the case for collusion.

          Just my two cents from having read much of what both have written on Trump Russia

  11. Trip says:

    As U.S. attorney, Whitaker imposed longer-than-usual drug sentences

    Whitaker spent nearly five years as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. His office was more likely than all but one other district in the United States to use its authority to impose the harshest sentences on drug offenders, according to a finding by a different Iowa federal judge, Mark W. Bennett, who it called a “deeply troubling disparity.”…The Bush administration had encouraged tough sentences on repeat offenders, and Whitaker used a powerful tool that gave him discretion to impose longer jail times than other parts of the country…The rate at which Whitaker’s office and another one in Iowa imposed the harshest possible sentence was a “jaw-dropping and deeply troubling disparity compared to the vast majority of federal courts in the nation,” Bennett said in a statement to The Washington Post. Whitaker never appeared before him, and he declined to comment about Whitaker’s term as U.S. attorney.

    ^This is for everyone who reminisces about the Bush administration, and how different, how much better and more humane it was from Trump’s. He brought us here, where we are today, with Whitaker.

  12. Jenny says:

    Criminals don’t care what the law is.  Marco Rubio

    Ha! Speaks volumes about the occupant in the White House and his administration.

  13. SomeGuyInMaine says:

    Replying To @emptywheel

    “It’s possible he came to an agreement with Mueller about when he’d hand them over (which might have been tied to Manafort’s status report). But Trump also wants to get this done so Whitaker can claim the investigation is over.“

    I find it hard to believe Trump would stick to any past agreement without the threat of a consequence to himself.

    I don’t think he cares a whit about Manafort any more, after Manafort flipped.

    Trump could have easily answered nothing and still called it all a waste of time and a witch hunt. This is basically what he did, except that he DID provide some answers. Why would he do that?

    The only answer that’s been making sense to me is there is pending damaging ruling from the court if he doesn’t or something very similar.

    I’m sure there are other possibilities, but none I’ve found that tick as many boxes.

    Something is in the wind that’s bad for Trump it seems. Something is causing his team to focus and him to actually put answers in writing. The clock is ticking. We shall see.

    (Reply function not working on my iPhone 🤷🏼‍♂️)

  14. Ollie says:

    Pardon me for a side post: Papa seems to be  at risk of losing bail because of his twitters.  Mueller just filed a new doc:

    “”Following the defendant’s sentencing he made a variety of public statements that appear to be inconsistent with his stated acceptance of responsibility at sentencing” 5218  Peter W. Singer

    HAHAHA  He just never seems to stop, lol.

    • Frank Probst says:

      At what point is he considered to be in violation of his plea agreement?  The guy seems like he’s totally off his rocker at this point.  His motion is obviously a Hail Mary, but he may be thinking that Trump might commute his sentence if he’s paying attention to this.  He’s supposed to show up for his prison sentence on Monday.  What happens if he no-shows?

      • bmaz says:

        Oh, he and his motion are batshit, but don’t think it is a violation of his plea agreement. If he no shows, he will be rolled up.

        • Frank Probst says:

          I guess as a layperson my question is:  How long can you go running around saying things like you were entrapped and that you would have never taken a plea deal if you’d have known about (heretofore unshared with the rest of us) exculpatory evidence?  I’m guessing that you can plead guilty in court and then scream from the hilltops that you were really innocent for as long as you as you want to, as long as you’re not saying so under oath or in some way obstructing justice on some other front.  I doesn’t seem wise, but it’s probably legal.  I guess the simple distillation of what I’m asking is:  How far does he have to go before he loses his deal?

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        What is a guy looking at a whole two weeks of incarceration playing at with this bullshit?  What peanut gallery is he playing to?  He took a plea, which means he cooperated with Mueller.  Is he trying to play both sides of the net without a racket?  If wingnut welfare is not paying his legal bills, he’s as arrogant and ignorant as Trump, but with a whole lot less money.

  15. Jonb says:

    to those with legal minds…Could these sealed filings prior to Whitakers appointment be subpoenas which the acting AG cannot dismiss? Or mueller challenging any attempt to quash them?

    • emptywheel says:

      That entire docket IS a subpoena (sealed bc it’s from a grand jury), or something similar. And we don’t know what Mueller has argued in that docket, but in the other subpoena challenge he’s facing, he did argue that any subpoenas from before Whitaker remain in force.

  16. Hart says:

    The Mueller investigation is over. Whitaker will shut it down. The House investigation will be fruitful because Trump’s tax returns and FINCEN reports won’t be subject to executive privilege, and will be enough to seal his fate.

  17. Mark Ospeck says:

    Quite a fascinating discussion, and agree with most all of the comments. However, yours is mainly a back and forth between lawyers. So, ok, granted, that is the game we now find ourselves in. Meanwhile, my friends and I (non lawyers) are trying to figure out why Trump has not been checkmated already. Letting an opponent hang around is just not a good strategy. Is it because lawyers like the game too much? From a physics point of view what we’re in is a superheated state. So why does the water not boil, already? Looks like large legal negative feedbacks are preventing the pot from coming to a boil.

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