The Black Holes in the Mike Flynn 302: The Back Channel Discussion May Be Most Sensitive Investigative Detail

In this post, I talked about what we can deduce from the unredacted parts of the Mike Flynn 302 released last night. It shows that Flynn’s lies served to hide that he consulted very closely with Mar-a-Lago — almost certainly with Trump — and even denied parts of the transcript that showed him quoting directly from KT McFarland’s related instructions.

While we’re waiting on Flynn’s sentence, I’d like to look at the substantive redactions, as a way of assessing what Mueller thinks must remain secret. I’ll just be looking at the actual report, not the bureaucratic redactions (which hide things like the case number and classification levels for the individual paragraphs).

The first redaction comes in a paragraph recording what Flynn claimed were his past communications with Sergei Kislyak, in which he explains that he called Kislyak in the wake of the death of GRU head Igor Sergun in January 2016.

It’s possible the redaction includes an admission that he and Kislyak discussed policy — ascribing a a policy call to a condolence one is precisely what he did with the December 29 calls to Kislyak, after all. Note, too, the way Flynn distanced that conversation from Trump (he probably figured out that that call, like his much later one, would have been picked up). It’d be especially interesting if the redaction pertained to Flynn’s claim that Sergun died in Lebanon; Russia’s military issued a panicked denial today that Sergun died there (they say he died of heart problems in Russia).

The second redaction hides Flynn’s discussion of his trip to Russia in 2015, on a trip ultimately paid by RT, where he sat at a table with Vladimir Putin and Jill Stein.

This actually might be hidden for counterintelligence reasons — to hide the circumstances of how Russians tried to sidle up to Flynn by flying him in for the gala. That said, the details are likely part of Mueller’s understanding of how Russia cultivated Trump and those close to him.

The next redaction hides Flynn’s description of the outreach to the Russians he was making.

I suspect this provides more detail about the outreach Flynn made on Syria. He portrays it as pertaining to terrorism, not paying back Russia. The hidden passage may also address timing which we now know actually started during the election (which would mean this redacted passage could hide yet another Flynn lie).

Note, it’s actually fairly interesting that Flynn worked exclusively via Kislyak, but none of that is likely to be redacted.

The first paragraph about the December 29 conversation hides two details: what appears to be a request that Flynn set up the conference call that ultimately took place on January 28, and an inquiry on whether the US would send observers to … something.

This redaction is one I expect we’ll get follow-up reporting on, as Kislyak was making significant asks at that time.

Update: TC suggests the reference to monitors might pertain to evacuation of Aleppo. It’s definitely a possibility. Update: The observer comment pertained to Syria peace talks. h/t JM

The longest redaction in the 302 may be the one that hides Flynn’s description of the December 1 meeting with himself and Jared Kushner (Don Jr came in at some point — the meeting was conducted in his office) where Jared asked for a back channel of communications.

I find the extent of this redaction … to be bad news for Jared Kushner (and Don Jr if he attended more of the meeting than he claims). This is another meeting that FBI had details about (or later would discover them), from when Kislyak called home and reported on the back channel request. A significant purpose for this redaction must be to hide what Flynn said from the other co-conspirators.

Also note: if this meeting is the only other communication with Kislyak that Flynn admitted to, he may have also hid communications he had during the election (in which case those communications would have also been considered sensitive).

These two words are the only ones redacted in the entire three-paragraph passage describing Flynn’s lies about the vote on Israeli settlements.

The redactions here — at least the second one — are for diplomatic reasons.

I believe the second one hides the word “Egyptians;” I’m not sure if the first is long enough to be “Israel.” It may be “Trump,” in which case it’d be another point where Flynn hid how much he coordinated with Trump on all this.

In any case, the fact that Mueller redacted so little of this discussion suggests that the effort to help Israel is not a core part of his investigation (or if it is, Jared, who ordered Flynn to try to delay the vote on Israel, has already locked in his testimony on it).

It’s unclear what this redaction, in the first paragraph as the FBI Agents circled back to Flynn’s lies about the sanctions call, hides. It may be another reference to the discussion about sending observers somewhere.

That’s the final redaction, though. The rest — which details how the Agents quoted directly from the transcript (including the bit that was itself a quote of KT McFarland) is all unsealed, so presumably no longer sensitive from an investigative standpoint.

All of which is to say that the most sensitive investigative detail in Flynn’s 302 — the thing the government cared most about hiding — is what Flynn said about that December 1 meeting where Jared asked to set up a back channel of communication with Russia.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

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48 replies
  1. Raven Eye says:

    ““Could he be charged with treason?” Sullivan asked special counsel prosecutor Brandon Van Grack.”

    Yikes!

    • Jenny says:

      Judge Sullivan to Flynn, “Arguably, you sold your country out.”  Also said, “This crime is very serious,” stating Flynn lied “In White House!  In the West Wing!”

      Flynn will have more time to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.  More to be revealed …

       

  2. Erandall says:

    Flynn gets an excellent opportunity to reflect on his ‘co-operation’ to date. Surely he has a few more ‘insights’ he can share ;-).

  3. Peterr says:

    I agree with your take on redacting the stuff about Jared and the Dec 1 meeting, which makes me wonder about the exchanges between Judge Sullivan and the lawyers on both sides about whether Flynn has finished cooperating or if he might have additional cooperation yet to come. Per Andrew Prokop,  . . .

    Judge: Is Mr. Flynn still cooperating with and providing assistance to the government? SCO’s Brandon Van Grack hesitates. “It remains a possibility,” he says, that Flynn will cooperate further.

    also

    Flynn lawyer suggests his cooperation with Mueller is mainly complete. Additional cooperation would involve EDVA case (Kian and Alptekin), probably testimony at trial.

    Today is looking like a pretty terrible horrible no good very bad day for the Trump clan. Until tomorrow or when ever the next storm breaks, at which point today might be looking pretty good.

  4. Brian Weatherson says:

    The document is in a monospaced font, so you can sometimes count precisely how many letters are in the blacked out words. In the second last one, the long one is eight letters, and the short one is five letters. So both “Israel” and “Egyptians” are one letter too long if I’m counting right.

    “Putin” and “Russians” would fit, but so would many other things.

  5. pseudonymous in nc says:

    and an inquiry on whether the US would send observers to … something.

    Probably the first round of Syrian peace talks in Astana on January 23/24, where George Krol, the US ambassador to Kazakhstan, was the observer.

    That shouldn’t warrant a biggish redaction, though. Perhaps Flynn nixed the idea of sending someone from State — perhaps someone appointed by Obama and serving in an acting capacity — at Kislyak’s request? Laura Rozen might have thoughts on that.

  6. setlistthief says:

    Given today’s courtroom events, is it possible (or even probable) that the Special Counsel could change its sentencing recommendation?

    • Raven Eye says:

      At this point, is there any need to?  Could Mueller just let this hang out there.  He’s been pretty good about “load sharing”.

    • Peterr says:

      No.

      The SCO has its reputation to uphold here. If they were to go back and move their recommendation upward, no other potential cooperator would trust them. They do not want to hear this from the next person they’re trying to flip: “Sure, you say you’ll give me your best ‘fully cooperative’ language in the pre-sentencing report, but what’s to keep you from changing your mind and screwing me over like you did Michael Flynn?”

      Besides, if the SCO is thinking about changing their recommendation to make it harsher, it would appear that Sullivan is heading down that road on his own. He doesn’t need a push from the SCO to get there.

    • viget says:

      I agree with Peterr.  Why be the heavy when you can let the judge do it of his own accord?  Perhaps that’s why they never recommended a harsh sentence in the first place, they knew Sullivan would do it for them.  There’s a reason why the cooperation agreements spell out that the court is not bound by the prosecutor’s recommendation.

      Gotta think there’s some pretty damning info in that 302 that remains redacted, enough to really piss Sullivan off.  Also whatever it was that Flynn did, it had to be a bit more serious than lying to the FBI to really get McCabe and Strozk as fired up as they were.

      • setlistthief says:

        Thanks for the replies-confirms my own suspicion. And in a roundabout way it sends a message to Individual 1 that if he keeps attacking judges and the judicial system, harsh is what he and his buddies will get in return.

  7. Avattoir says:

    On fearless leader’s I Play Nostradamus post on today’s awesome shitshow, I confess to having been briefly torn between depicting Flynn’s legal team as the Monty Python gang in sneezer caps & pulled up pants (the one I went with) or the 3 Stooges.

    I chose poorly.

    Today’s performance somehow makes the one for Mickey Medallions look relatively dignified.

    Considering 4 decades of being involved in and observing these exercises, and bearing in mind it’s always bound to be less cringe-able watching someone else try to keep their charge out of the pokey than doing it oneself, without reservation that was the best, funniest, most satisfying sentencing hearing of which I’m aware.

    I think, in time, it’s actually got a decent chance of not passing comic into iconic, but breaking past iconic into historic.

    Which brings up yet another in my decade-plus record of congratulating our hostess for immediately reaching over the comedy for her next file on this saga.

    • Peterr says:

      I thought the “please don’t punish our client for what we wrote” comment to be hilarious.

      It would have sidetracked the main event, but I would love to have heard Sullivan reply, “Are you sure about that? Are you now telling me that you lied to the court when you wrote that your client was (paraphrasing here) entrapped by the FBI? He just told me he’s guilty, and that he knew that he shouldn’t lie to the FBI, and your filing strongly implied otherwise. If I accept your comment just now and therefore am not going to punish him for that filing, how about we set a date to discuss your punishment?”

  8. JKSF says:

    Somewhat OT. As detailed in yesterday’s post, Flynn was lying to the FBI to protect Trump. If Flynn has not come clean at this point to the fact that he was directed to lie to Kislyak by Trump, what are the implications for his plea and cooperation agreement? What are the implications for his sentence? If he were sentenced today and tomorrow it is proven that he was still not cooperating fully (that is, still lying) is it worse for him than if he is not yet sentenced when his duplicity is fully discovered? Having had a taste of Judge Sullivan is it possible that he has some clarifications to make to the SCO? And finally, could this have all been a tactic of the SCO to call Flynn’s bluff, knowing that he was still lying?

    • JKSF says:

      err sorry….

      …not come clean at this point to the fact that he was directed to lie  talk about santions to Kislyak by Trump, what are the implications… 

    • MattyG says:

      …Well…a March sentencing date might buy the WH time to negotiate a resignation deal but the trouble is there’s no guarantee Pence – who would presumably pardon DT after resignation – might himself be on the curb in all this. Unless DT has his “Poindexter” to pull his ass out of the fire this can’t end well for the Don, and looks headed for a finale more quickly than many have anticipated; not for the reason typically offered that “Mueller is wrapping things up soon”, but because our cellophane hair ringleader stumbled right into the squad car headlights all on his own.

      Edit: this remark was supposed to go at the end of the thread…

    • Drew says:

      Mueller may be good at 3-D chess, but not to this extent. This is what happens when you play it straight with crooks on the other side, the crooks get wound up in their own web. It helps that Sullivan is inclined to insist on no games.  That is the primary extent to which the SCO likely did any advance planning, they knew not to play games or appear to play games in the vicinity of this judge.

      Now what Flynn has got is 4 months to be on his best behavior and prove he can refrain from playing games, & the SCO will put together a very accurate report on Flynn’s past, present & future cooperation for Sullivan to consider. I doubt they will revise their bottom line recommendation–there’s no point, the judge is perfectly capable of re-calculating how harsh the sentence should be, considering aggravating & mitigating circumstances & how much credit should be given for the cooperation that is reported. Flynn’s under notice that he needs to be a very good boy, because his Christmas present has been delayed until a week after Ash Wednesday.

  9. viget says:

    Reply to JKSF @ 1355

    I have wondered this myself. Though it seems too clever by half, did Mueller’s team deliberately let Sullivan do their hard work for them, knowing his background and temperament when faced with all the facts that we are still not privy to, and threaten the imposition for harsh sentences as an incentive to further cooperate? It’s certainly a clever strategy to avoid further frothy right wing criticism. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if any sentence now imposed is immediately appealed by the Trump defenders given the judge’s “bias.”

    The only other thing I can think of is that Flynn has spilled all the beans regarding Trump, and will be the star witness in a future prosecution. Perhaps that’s why Van Grack was deliberately coy about future cooperation.

    • Avattoir says:

      Van Gack entered Prosecutor Valhalla with his response to Judge Sullivan’s question on “treason”.

      Read room, say ‘serious question’, quietly drop mic, turn best side to the court artist. That’s beyond textbook: that’s Ovechkin-level “Don’t even bother to send in your votes”:

    • chicago_bunny says:

      Though it wouldn’t surprise me if any sentence now imposed is immediately appealed by the Trump defenders given the judge’s “bias.”

      In his plea deal, Flynn waived the right to appeal the sentence.  See Section 7, second paragraph: https://www.justice.gov/file/1015121/download

    • Peterr says:

      When it comes to “too clever by half,” I’d look at Flynn’s lawyers and not the SCO. Putting all the stuff into their pre-sentencing memo about the FBI entrapping Flynn was just begging to be beaten on by someone. Mueller’s team took it apart in writing when they filed their reply, the 302s made it abundantly clear that the facts are on Mueller’s side, and Sullivan . . . Sullivan held Flynn and his lawyers up for all to see as the deceivers they are.

      All Mueller’s team did, really, was to get out of Sullivan’s way.

      • Avattoir says:

        This is cheap of me, but I’m posting ‘From the FUUUTURRRRE’, where fearless leader has already lead us thru a transcript. The more I see of the colloquy between Judge Sullivan and Van Grack, the more I’m impressed with the latter’s control and restraint.

        Those of us who’ve worked both sides of courtroom – and we are legion, due largely to the political system – will recognize that the two roles actually do have different demands and expectations. The more I prosecuted, the more I saw the value in the minimal, as a general rule; but working in the defense bar simply doesn’t allow for the same sort of restraint.

        So, I see your point, and don’t argue that there’s something to it; but it’s HOW one works with the limited pallet that can make all the difference. I don’t resile from my praise for Van Grack.

  10. pseudonymous in nc says:

    @JKSF: I don’t think you get to sentencing or the initial recommendation from the SCO without Flynn corroborating that the Kislyak stuff was dictated from the top. That in turn sets up the motive w/r/t telling Comey to lay off.

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        That continuing the investigation of Flynn after his resignation would expose how he wasn’t freelance-lying about his outreach to Kislyak, but instead was repeating the false story put out by everybody in the transition involved in that outreach.

        “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

        He was a “good guy” because he was loyal enough to keep lying.

  11. pseudonymous in nc says:

    I believe the second one hides the word “Egyptians;” I’m not sure if the first is long enough to be “Israel.”

    Fixed-width fonts make puzzling out redactions so much easier. It’s four letters, so probably “Sisi” to match with “Egyptians”.

  12. Doug R says:

    I know I’m probably wrong, but thinking that redacted paragraph at the dinner is about Jill Stein makes me happy.

  13. BobCon says:

    @Avattoir – The boys from Dewey, Burnham and Howe still seem right – they have hyperverbal skills, even in the service of nonsense, while the Gumbys seemed to struggle linking nouns and verbs.

  14. Willis Warren says:

    I’m not a lawyer, but it seems like a really, really, really bad omen for trump that this judge who saw the redactions went apeshit on Flynn and probably would have given him the maximum sentence probably because he saw what was in the redactions.

     

  15. Jenny says:

    With the current news about Flynn plus his former Turkish partners indictments does this spell trouble for Pence and McGahn? Both were on the Transition Team and did nothing when they learned Flynn was compromised?

    Newsweek reporting Jared and Ivanka “pushed to put Flynn in office.” No doubt they knew about Flynn’s past baggage.

    So many characters in this soap opera. It is getting very sudsy.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      [my emphasis]

      YATES: That’s right, because one of the questions that Mr. McGahn asked me when I went back over the second day was essentially, why does it matter to DOJ if one White House official lies to another White House official?

      And so we explained to him, it was a whole lot more than that and went back over the same concerns that we had raised with them the prior day, that the concern first about the underlying conduct itself, that he had lied to the vice president and others, the American public had been misled.

      And then importantly, that every time this lie was repeated and the misrepresentations were getting more and more specific, as — as they were coming out. Every time that happened, it increased the compromise and to state the obvious, you don’t want your national security advisor compromised with the Russians.

  16. Hychka says:

    My guess is that the stupid “The FBI entrapped me!” was a Trump demand so as to be able to offer a pardon on the basis of “unfair treatment,” something Tramp bitches about daily even when someone plays back exactly what Trump said. When something is really stupid, think “Trump.”

  17. Alan says:

    “On Tuesday night, CNN’s Chris Cuomo obtained a letter of intent to move forward with a Trump Tower in Moscow signed by now-President Trump on October 28, 2015.”

    I assume this doc came from the Trump camp, which continues to drip/leak damaging info that is believes will inevitably become public…

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