Even after Learning the FBI Was Investigating, Trump Berated Flynn for Not Being Obsequious Enough to Putin

The Independent has a story that is being taken as news: That Trump berated then National Security Advisor Mike Flynn in from of Theresa May for not telling him that Vladimir Putin had called.

Theresa May’s former Chief of Staff, Nick Timothy, described Trump shouting in the middle of a formal luncheon.

Mr Timothy spoke about a “fairly extraordinary” lunch during which Mr Trump shouted at his then-national security advisor Michael Flynn.

“Somebody just mentioned in passing that Vladimir Putin had asked for a call with him, and right in front us he absolutely shouted down Mike Flynn,” he said.

“Like really shouted. This was at a formal dinner with butlers and fancy crockery – and he was properly shouting at him down the table.”

Mr Timothy said the president yelled: “If Putin wants a call with me you just put him through.”

It’s not actually a new story. Trump told a version of the story himself in real time, to Jim Comey, at the same dinner where he asked for loyalty from the FBI Director. According to Jim Comey’s memo memorializing the January 27 dinner, Trump raised the incident in an attempt to convince Comey that he, Trump, believed Flynn had poor judgment.

He then went on to explain that he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgement and illustrated with a story from that day in which the President apparently discovered during his toast to Teresa May that [Putin] had called four days ago. Apparently, as the President was toasting PM May, he was explaining that she had been the first to call him after his inauguration and Flynn interrupted to say that [Putin] had called (first, apparently). It was then that the President learned of [Putin’s call] and he confronted Flynn about it (not clear whether that was in the moment or after the lunch with PM May). Flynn said the return call was scheduled for Saturday, which prompted a heated reply from the President that six days was not an appropriate period of time to return a call from the [President] of a country like [Russia]. This isn’t [redacted] we are talking about.”) He said that if he called [redacted] and didn’t get a return call for six days he would be very upset. In telling the story, the President pointed his fingers at his head and said “the guy has serious judgment issues.”

But the differences in the story — with Timothy emphasizing that Trump was pissed for not putting Trump on the phone with Putin immediately, as compared to Trump’s claim that he was pissed because Flynn scheduled the return call six whole days later — are notable (if subtle), particularly when read in context.

We’ve known for some time that Sergey Kislyak first started tying to schedule a call between Trump and Putin during his December 29, 2016 call with Flynn, when Flynn asked Russia to keep any retaliation against US sanctions measured; the meeting itself was even mentioned in the original David Ignatius column that revealed the call. But we now have some of the transcripts of those calls. Those transcripts show how Kislyak pitched the meeting — and the January 21 date — even before Flynn raised the sanctions (Kislyak was also pushing for public US participation in a Turkish-Russian “peace” initiative on Syria to be held the first week of the Administration, something else included in KT McFarland’s cover story for the call).

KISLYAK: I mean heads up, we wanted you to know this. And the third final uh, point, General, is uh, I am entrust to convey through you to Seer- uh to President Elect, proposal from the Kremlin. Maybe to organize a conversation over the secure video line that starting on the twentieth would be available to Mr. Trump. And it’s there, certainly, uh – uh, between the White House and the Kremlin. And our proposal is to have the conversation on the twenty.first between our Presidents. And the idea of Mr. Putin is first of all to congratulate uh, your President Elect or the President, at the time, and maybe to discuss small number~ briefly, of issues that are on our agenda. So his proposal is on the twenty-first of January.

FLYNN: Okay. Ummm

[Timestamp: 05:20]

KISLYAK: Is by security video. Secure video line.

Then, on December 31, after Kislyak told Flynn that Putin had considered Flynn’s request not to escalate before deciding not to even respond, Flynn offered up that “the boss is aware” of the request for a January 21 secure call. Flynn acknowledged Kislyak was trying to schedule it for the day after the inauguration, but did not commit to that date.

FLYNN: I haven’t gotten, I haven’t gotten a, uh, confirmation on the, on the, uh, secure VTC yet, but the, but the boss is aware and so please convey that

KISL YAK: I will

FLYNN: And we can set that up Fairly quickly and well have at I don’t want to go through, I don’t want to go through a big, uh, uh, gyration of, you know, what is on the agenda. I think the agenda just needs to be a couple of simple things uh, and let the two talk about, let the two communicate if, if we end up having it on the 21st, if not

KISL YAK:

Absolutely, FLYNN: the 21st, then what we, we, uh, may end up, you know, sometime very close after just because other, other scheduled events, if that makes sense. Okay. [my emphasis]

Then, the day before inauguration, Kislyak left a message reiterating Russia’s request to speak “after the inauguration,” and reminding Flynn of their conversation — a conversation that had been revealed by David Ignatius, leading Flynn to start lying publicly about the request he had made on it.

KISLYAK: Good morning, General. This [sic] Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador. I, uh, apologize that I disturb you but I wanted to check whether you have, um, uh, answer to the idea of our two presidents speaking, uh, re-… uh, after the inauguration. You remember our conversation and we certainly would appreciate any indication as to when it is going to be possible. Uh, I would appreciate your calling back and telling me where we are. Thank you so much. All the best.

And then, according to the public story, Putin called to congratulate Trump on January 21, the call for January 28 got scheduled at some point, and on January 27, Trump had a public meltdown about how all that had gone down. In both versions of the story, Trump was pissed that Flynn hadn’t been responsive enough to Putin. In Trump’s version, however, he claimed to be unaware Putin wanted to call on January 21; Mike Flynn told Kislyak he knew of that all along (and the public record shows that Trump knew that Putin placed the call no later than a presser immediately before the lunch in question).

What happened the day before is instructive. On January 26, 2017, the day before Trump had an embarrassing meltdown because his National Security Advisor wasn’t prioritizing a call with Vladimir Putin that Trump first learned about — in the context of secret requests of Russia — weeks earlier, Trump learned that the FBI not only knew of the calls with Kislyak, but knew the substance of his calls with the Russian Ambassador. Trump learned that the FBI found those calls — in one of which Flynn affirmed that Trump knew of the call request — problematic.

On January 26, 2017, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates contacted White House Counsel Donald McGahn and informed him that she needed to discuss a sensitive matter with him in person. 142 Later that day, Yates and Mary McCord, a senior national security official at the Department of Justice, met at the White House with McGahn and White House Counsel’s Office attorney James Burnham. 143 Yates said that the public statements made by the Vice President denying that Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions were not true and put Flynn in a potentially compromised position because the Russians would know he had lied. 144 Yates disclosed that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI. 145 She declined to answer a specific question about how Flynn had performed during that interview, 146 but she indicated that Flynn’s statements to the FBI were similar to the statements he had made to Pence and Spicer denying that he had discussed sanctions.147 McGahn came away from the meeting with the impression that the FBI had not pinned Flynn down in lies, 148 but he asked John Eisenberg, who served as legal advisor to the National Security Council, to examine potential legal issues raised by Flynn’s FBI interview and his contacts with Kislyak. 149

That afternoon, McGahn notified the President that Yates had come to the White House to discuss concerns about Flynn.150 McGahn described what Yates had told him, and the President asked him to repeat it, so he did. 151 McGahn recalled that when he described the FBI interview of Flynn, he said that Flynn did not disclose having discussed sanctions with Kislyak, but that there may not have been a clear violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. 152 The President asked about Section 1001, and McGahn explained the law to him, and also explained the Logan Act. 153 The President instructed McGahn to work with Priebus and Bannon to look into the matter further and directed that they not discuss it with any other officials. 154 Priebus recalled that the President was angry with Flynn in light of what Yates had told the White House and said, “not again, this guy, this stuff.” 155

When telling the FBI Director about Flynn’s failures to set up a call with Putin on January 21 that Putin’s Ambassador had asked for in the very same call where Trump’s National Security Advisor had made an ask that undermined Obama’s punishment of Russia for tampering in American democracy, Trump described it (in the same conversation where he asked Comey for loyalty) as poor judgment.

It’s unclear why Trump did that, in a dinner meeting fairly obviously designed to undermine FBI scrutiny of why Flynn did what he did.

But if Trump believed that Flynn exercised poor judgment, it would mean he judged that Flynn should have made good on the request that Kislyak made in the same call where Trump , via Flynn, made a request. It would have meant, in context, that Trump believed Flynn should have showed more subservience to Putin.

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45 replies
  1. BobCon says:

    I’m curious what the background was behind the missed connection. Was Flynn somehow not aware what a Putin called meant? Was this a sign someone like Priebus was trying to keep Putin at a distance? Or had Trump been dissembling up to that point about his relationship with Putin and Flynn thought it was supposed to stay at a wink and nod level? Or was it just the general chaos that always surrounds Trump?

      • Ben Soares says:

        …yes, I was wondering the same thing. Was the video link ever made ? Would there be a trace of it?

      • viget says:

        YES YES!!! I thought this is what you were getting at! The biggest problem w/ the Kislyak call wasn’t so much the sanctions stuff (which was disturbing) but rather that Flynn arranged for an encrypted call directly with Putin that only he and Trump knew about!!!!

        Except, maybe so did the FBI….

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          Except that Flynn did not truly arrange that encrypted call. Even a rabid clock just might recall its training and get something right once; Flynn’s vestigial memory (not honor) would have driven him to protect POTUS from embarrassing himself by taking a totally unprepped-for call from Putin on January 21. Sure, Trump had to perform outrage. That’s all he does. As Mary Trump keeps telling us, he’s going for the win in the moment.

      • BobCon says:

        So possibly meaning he assumed witnesses would talk and that it would get back to Putin that he was upset. Or maybe he wanted to demonstrate to US allies whose side he was on. What a mess of a man.

      • Chris.EL says:

        casting a vote for performing.

        The debt was being called due: pay up; pay up now.

        D.T. didn’t want to pay up; he never does, does he?

        Needed someone to blame, Flynn very handy for the fall guy.

        imho

    • Nehoa says:

      I am going with poor judgement on Flynn’s part. He obviously did not understand how subservient to Putin Trump was. The request for a channel of communication outside of the US intelligence community purview should have given him a clue. This was a handler wanting to talk to his agent.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I agree with the possibility that Trump was performing for his audience – it’s what he does. If this were about him being ignorant of something, he would have wanted to avoid publicly embarrassing himself just to embarrass Flynn. Reasons to make this public include intentionally creating the impression that he was ignorant about something that he knew about and to lay blame on Flynn, because he’d learned that the FBI had more information about his exchanges with Russia than he wanted it to know.

    This brings up again why the urgent need to discuss sanctions with Russia. It knew that Trump’s policies would be different than Obama’s, and that they would take effect within days, promptly after Trump’s inauguration. (It’s safe to say that the Russians were more knowledgeable about American law and practice here than Trump.) There was no policy reason to hold these talks this quickly. An obvious alternative explanation involves Trump’s dependent relationship on Putin. He’s expressed it consistently and in countless unusual ways since then

    • emptywheel says:

      The urgency came from Russia, not Trump. If anything Flynn or someone trying to manage him was putting on the breaks, which is why he pissed off Trump.

      But it’s also, in my opinion, clear that Russia was trying to compromise Trump from the start, and also maximizing the degree to which Trump saw his own fortunes as necessarily tied up with Russia. It succeeded beyond Russia’s wildest dreams (with Narcissism as extreme as Trump’s it seems very easy to do).

      It’s the same way the Manafort double game worked: increase his legal exposure even while ensuring you’re the only solution to his legal exposure. They did the same with Trump.

      • Savage Librarian says:

        Thanks, Marcy! Looks like it might be raining in DC. But it seems to be lovely near Galway. I hope June Bug had a nice romp today.

      • BobCon says:

        I’m really curious what would have happened if Trump had decided to blow off Putin post election.

        We’ve seen how easily Trump has cowed the GOP — it doesn’t seem far fetched that if Trump had angered Putin and Russia retaliated with dirt about the election, we’d see the exact same result as the revelations about Ukraine — Dems reluctantly making an issue, GOP closing ranks, and then Trump not changing.

        Did Putin have more than just stuff on the level of 2016 Corsi/Stone/Assange/etc. crime? I know there was the promise of Moscow developments, but I have to assume post election all kinds of other deals were being floated from all over the globe.

        Or did Putin just have Trump figured out and knew how to ratchet the pressure in a clever way without an obvious checkmate lined up?

      • Marinela says:

        Yes, Trump was performing, claiming he didn’t know. It also means it was planned, as Flynn had to stay quiet in front of the guests, about what he knew, while Trump claimed ignorance of the calls.
        It explains why Trump is helping Flynn with Bill Barr involvements, and why Trump tried to force Comey to look away from investigating Flynn.

    • Molly Pitcher says:

      I was thinking that it sounds like Putin wanted to make a sharp upward snatch on Trumps choke collar, just to remind mind his dog who was boss.

      It would have been a little reminder to not overlook the kompromat Putin has.

  3. joel fisher says:

    Add this lie to the pile of lies Trump told to the FBI in the course of their investigation. Just another felony for Barr’s Justice Dept. to ignore. After awhile they lose their impact. “The death of one person is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic”; Joseph Stalin. I guess you could say the same thing about lies.

  4. mospeck says:

    trump is a call up from triple A ball, up for his cup of coffee in the bigs.
    putin is the tsar of corruption

    • P J Evans says:

      I see him more as a bush-leaguer who’s good at snow jobs and blackmail, but will never be able to handle the majors *and can’t understand it*.

  5. Coyle says:

    So Trump is in the middle of toasting the British PM at a White House dinner when he decides to throw a tantrum because of a missed call from Putin. Must have been a shocker for May when she realized the US government had a “special relationship” with a country other than the UK.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      From that Independent article: “The problem with that is … you [the UK] can’t go all in with China without undermining your security relationship with America. China doesn’t share western values, and its strategy is, I’m afraid, one of domination.”

      A remarkable comment from someone informed enough to have been an aide to the British Prime Minister. A post-Brexit Britain – especially its food and health care industries – is about to be reminded how much “domination” forms a part of its special relationship with an America that is no longer FDR’s.

      • Coyle says:

        If Trump’s meltdown was “performative,” then perhaps the intended audience wasn’t Putin (or Flynn) but rather Theresa May and her entourage. The message: There will be no post-Brexit “special relationship” between the US and UK that isn’t pre-approved by the Kremlin.

        • FL Resister says:

          How long before the facts are revealed about Russian influence on US international policy during the Trump administration?

        • Rayne says:

          That’s a good take, though he could also have been playing for more than one audience. Don’t you wish you knew how the reality TV character was coached before this performance?

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Trump’s vision for his second term, from Peter Baker’s outrageous stenographic phone interview with Trump:

    “But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we’d have a very, very solid, we would continue what we’re doing, we’d solidify what we’ve done, and we have other things on our plate we want to get done.”

    If Trump sounds that “very, very” empty-headed when he talks with Putin, no wonder Putin has him would around his little finger. What boggles the mind is that writers like Greenwald, Mate, Taibbi, and Yves Smith and most of her readers are so convinced that Russia- and Ukrainegate are hoaxes put out by a defensive and empty-headed American establishment. (The latter think Taibbi walks on water.)

    https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/08/trump-biden-campaign-strategy.html
    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/27/us/politics/donald-trump.html

  7. klynn says:

    A little OT

    I have been trying to find which of your SSCI threads mentioned an attorney from TN but did not name the attorney?

    Just trying to figure out some GOP TN connections. Sorry if it seems like a random question. I’ve been searching the threads and can’t find the post.

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