Four Years Ago Today, Russia Told Trump the Deep State Was Targeting Trump Along with Russia

Four years and a few days ago, when Trump’s Transition team learned that President Obama would impose sanctions on Russia, in part, to punish them for interfering in the election that got Trump elected, Mike Flynn and KT McFarland strategized about how to respond. Before Flynn returned a request for a call from Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, McFarland asked Homeland Security Czar Tom Bossert to find out from his predecessor how Russia was responding to the sanctions. He came back with a report that he emailed to Trump’s top advisors, including Steve Bannon at his private email.

[Monaco] confirms the Russiand [sic] have already responded with strong threats, promising to retaliate. [She] characterized the Russian response as bellicose. My thoughts, sans the Russia angle, on which I defer to Mike and KT: [redacted] : Cyber attacks by forcing governments or anyone else are unacceptable and must be taken seriously. The alleged Russian hack of US entities involved in the US political process is a problem. Of course we must separate their attempts to influence our election from the rash conclusion that they succeeded in altering the views of any American voter. We must be wary of escalatory retaliation to follow.

Immediately after Bossert sent out this email, Flynn and McFarland talked about what he should say to Kislyak. We don’t know what they said. Shortly after they hung up, Flynn called Kislyak and asked him not to escalate. Among other things, Flynn told Kislyak that Russia would be sending a message that Trump’s team would recognize if they didn’t escalate.

Flynn: And please make sure that its uh — the idea is, be — if you, if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of even basis. Then that, then that is a good message and we’ll understand that message. And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we, where because if we put out — if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a — let’s, let’s keep this at a level that us is, even-keeled, okay? Is even-keeled. And then what we can do is, when we come in, we can then have a better conversation about where, where we’re gonna go, uh, regarding uh, regarding our relationship. [my emphasis]

About 12 minutes after Flynn and the Ambassador hung up, McFarland sent an email responding to Bossert’s (with at least Bannon using his personal email), purporting to strategize about a response, and claiming that Flynn would speak to Kislyak in the future (even though Flynn had already returned the call). Her email repeated some of the language Flynn had used — a (second) request that Russian not box Trump in, a hope to avoid a tit for tat escalation — in his call with Kislyak (which the analyst who transcribed the call thought might have been made on a speaker phone).

On Dec. 29, a transition adviser to Mr. Trump, K. T. McFarland, wrote in an email to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump’s victory. The sanctions could also make it much harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote in the emails obtained by The Times.


Mr. Obama, she wrote, was trying to “box Trump in diplomatically with Russia,” which could limit his options with other countries, including Iran and Syria. “Russia is key that unlocks door,” she wrote.

She also wrote that the sanctions over Russian election meddling were intended to “lure Trump in trap of saying something” in defense of Russia, and were aimed at “discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference.”

“If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote. [my emphasis]

The next day, Russia first announced, then backed off an escalation.

Then, on December 31, 2016, Kislyak called Flynn again. It had been two days since the calls Flynn made from a hotel phone in the Dominican Republic and the emails sent to insecure private emails. It had been over a week since Flynn foolishly blurted out to the Russian Ambassador that he wasn’t just trying to undermine President Obama’s policies with Russia; he was making similar calls to a bunch of other countries.

In short, it had been plenty of time for Russia to recognize there were likely insecure communications floating around talking about Flynn’s (and Trump’s) efforts to undermine the official policy of the United States.

In case Russia’s public “good message” to Flynn hadn’t been enough, Kislyak wanted to tell Flynn personally (on a phone he surely knew was bugged) that Putin had made his decision based on Flynn’s promise to operate with cooler heads. But along the way, he echoed something that McFarland had said in her own email.

Kislyak: Uh, you know I have a small message to pass to you from Moscow and uh, probably you have heard about the decision taken by Moscow about action and counter-action.

Flynn: yeah, yeah well I appreciate it, you know, on our phone call the other day, you know, I, I, appreciate the steps that uh your president has taken. I think that it was wise.

Kislyak: I, I just wanted to tell you that our conversation was also taken into account in Moscow and…

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: Your proposal that we need to act with cold heads, uh, is exactly what is uh, invested in the decision.

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: And I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect.

Flynn: yeah, yeah

Kislyak: and and with all our rights to responds we have decided not to act now because, its because people are dissatisfied with the lost of elections and, and its very deplorable. So, so I just wanted to let you know that our conversation was taken with weight. [my emphasis]

As McFarland had said two days earlier, Kislyak echoed back: The sanctions weren’t [just] about punishing Russia for interfering in the election. They also targeted Trump.

Four years ago today, the Russian Ambassador secretly spoke to Flynn and told him that Russia and Trump had both been targeted, together, by the US government. That comment explains a lot of what happened since.

53 replies
  1. oilyphants!!! says:

    In my riddled brain, Kislyak’s usage of deplorable is a signal like a “hey fuck you, we know you’re listening” or maybe he just likes the world deplorable and thought it would resonant with Flynn.

    • Reader 21 says:

      I had the exact same thought—Kisylak knew exactly what he was doing. He chose those words carefully—would be great to be able to ask him, as he and Lavrov were in that fateful Oval Office meeting with Individual-1–but oh yeah, we can’t, he’s dead.

      PS. Great post, Dr. Wheeler! Happy New Year.

  2. Montana Voter says:

    More to the point, on what basis does K T McFarland assert that “they also targeted Trump.” After the past four years, it is clear that Trump could be manipulated in many ways by unsupported suggestions about the motivations of others. This statement by McFarland certainly could be seen as a means of tapping into Trump’s hatred of Barack Obama.

    • subtropolis says:

      I think that some of them truly believe the nonsense that what transpired was all a cunning plan to make Trump look bad. That includes many Republicans in Congress. Whether that’s because this notion has been repeated so often among them, or that it’s the kind of ratfuckery that would come naturally to those assholes were the shoe on the other foot, I don’t know.

  3. BobCon says:

    I’m still sort of amazed Flynn was dumped so quickly. I know it was the smart thing to do, but we’ve seen over and over how Trump avoids doing what is in his own self interest, which would include not bringing Flynn into his official innermost circle in the first place.

    I know we can’t count on people like Bannon ever being capable of giving us an accurate account of what was going on (although his twisted mind is certainly capable of providing clues), but I would love to see people like Priebus and McGahn really grilled on what they know about those early days.

    I’m not sure who would be capable of doing that grilling, though. No superficial journo like Haberman or Woodward is up to the job, and I doubt any sitting politician has the depth of knowledge either. I don’t think a pure prosecutor is up to it — it would take someone who has a broader policy sense. Maybe someone in the Jane Mayer mold, although to be honest it probably would take a team to really get the full context.

    • Chetnolian says:

      Remember why Flynn went. He was the fall guy for the snafu which let the VP appear to be caught lying, at a time when Trump’s paranoia hadn’t truly kicked in. Nobody could have guessed what would follow.

    • John Langston says:

      Flynn was dumped quickly because Sally Yates made a stink about it and the Trumpers panicked and fired Sally. And then Trump fired Comey.

      Double panic.

    • Mulder says:

      Medhi Hasan is the man for the job. I’d pay money to see him interview any one of these crooks.

      He did a number on Erik Prince.

  4. Reader 21 says:

    Great post indeed—I’ve still never quite understood why Flynn lied to the FBI—as an elite, very seasoned military intelligence professional, he knew full well he was being recorded. And, it’d make sense, for the incoming NSA to talk, at some point albeit not that precipitously perhaps, with his rough counterparts from our most hostile foreign adversary. So, why lie? Plain arrogance, perhaps—as with other trumpers, the rules just don’t apply to them? Or, as I believe Dr Wheeler has alluded, not knowing just how deeply the cooperation and collaboration with Russian military intelligence went, and wanting to help cover up? I do hope, someday, we can get to the bottom of it.

    • PeterS says:

      I’ve always thought it was just that he’d agreed a line, directly or indirectly, with Trump and decided to stick with it. Stupidity is usually a big part of the explanation.

    • emptywheel says:

      I’ve noted elsewhere that he, McFarland, Bannon, and Jared were all trying to hide these calls, not just from the Obama Admin, but also from other members of the Transition (Marshall Billingslea had counseled against such calls, for example). But I think there’s even more to it than that.

      • Chris.EL says:

        Over the last four years of Trump I’ve read NYT, WaPo, don’t remember this aspect being reported so vividly.

        (Chris Christie’s massive work product for the transition tossed into the trash. Trump really enjoys hurting people, doesn’t he?)

        Really important observations from across the pond…

        Fintan O’Toole: Trump has unfinished business. A republic he wants to destroy still stands
        2020 in review: Donald Trump will continue to unleash racism, nativism and a fear of government

        Irish Times link:

        • subtropolis says:

          That transition clusterfuck was a dark sign of things to come. As always, O’Toole hits the mark:
          This is his legacy: he has successfully led a vast number of voters along the path from hatred of government to contempt for rational deliberation to the inevitable endpoint: disdain for the electoral process itself.

          In this end is his new beginning. Stripped of direct power, he will face enormous legal and financial jeopardy. He will have every reason to keep drawing on his greatest asset: his ability to unleash the demons that have always haunted the American experiment – racism, nativism, fear of “the government”.
          This ain’t over after the 20th. His legal problems won’t keep him from riling up the crazies. If anything, that jeopardy will only encourage him to do so. A stake through the heart, indeed.

    • subtropolis says:

      Because he was covering for the fact that Trump was indirectly involved with the calls through listening in?

  5. Zinsky says:

    How interesting that the seed of the “Deep State” paranoic obsession that Trump manifested and that grew within his rotten guts for four years, was planted by a dirty Russian. You couldn’t come up with that as the underlying motivator for a head of state in a cheap spy novel if you tried…

    • Savage Librarian says:

      Sadly, a very costly cheap spy novel. BTW, I’m wondering what thoughts you might have about “boarding school syndrome” and if or how it may have impacted politics in the UK and USA.

  6. Chetnolian says:

    Oh lots. Given how few Brits go to boarding school the number who run our lives is astounding.
    And Happy New Year from here. It has to be better than last year.

  7. PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

    “Immediately after Bossert sent out this email, Flynn and McFarland talked about what he should say to Kislyak. We don’t know what they said.”

    Mcfarland was at Trumps club with Trump at this time, right? Do we not know what was said because they never answered truthfully, or is this conversation memorialized in redacted form somewhere in doj?

  8. MattyG says:

    It would be interesting to know more on Russia’s long game to encourage the emergence of the Deep State narrative among rightwingers in this country. The play appears to have been intrinsic to how Kremlin operatives gained footholds in the GOP. The Deep State narrative, the right wing’s obsession with guns and the NRA, and wild eyed racism. Blended together not even terriblly well concealed operatives got direct audience with top GOP influencers. One can only imagine how much of the Deep State propaganda narrative had it’s seeds behind the walls of Red Square.

    That the US is such a fertile ground for such debauched thinking in a blemish on our country of course – but the RU play in this area would be fascinating to know more about.

    • puzzled scottish person says:

      Trump’s last weeks seem to involve his building of his own deep state to maintain influence after he’s gone. Will it work?

      I now feel a deep-seated need to mention watery bints bearing swords ;-)

  9. John Langston says:

    Talk about “collusion”, Mcfarland and the crowd admits that sanctions targeting Russia also targeted Trump. Then they lie about the conversations to Pense (if you believe it), the American people and the FBI.

    Whether their actions were based on delusion or collusion, it was still collusion. All Trump’s folks had to do was denounce Russia, take the high ground and not lie. They’d still have the advantage of all of Russia’s interference.

    Of course Trump was hiding Don Jr’s secret meeting with Russian agents, Manafort giving polling data to a Russian agent and Cohen’s negotiations for Trump Tower Moscow. Unknown are Trump’s ties through Deutsche Bank and whatever shit Flynn was into. All of which gives Russia blackmail material on Trump and the rest of them.

  10. puzzled scottish person says:

    I’m probably missing something but, if I was a lawyer, my emphasis on this particular passage might have been rather different.

    ‘“If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote.

    The bit I would be worried by is ‘… Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A election to him.’

    Are they bragging or are they washing their hands of the mess?

    Words, it’s only words (or Elephant Talk, per King Crimson). Context is all, of course, and Marcy will know that better than me or Tweedledum and Tweedledee (words mean exactly what they want them to mean; no more, no less).

    Happy New Year, everyone, by the way, and, if Marcy wants to come and live in Scotland, we’d love to have her and the terrorist foster dog and her husband too.


  11. Chris.EL says:

    slowly now, I’m coming to wondering the story behind the “terrorist foster dog” nickname for June-Bug … in my little world, my pets can tend to have more than one name, so I get it.

    Recalling the photo of JB with the small bag of dry dog food; was Marcy ever lucky that day! (I would have encountered dry dog food strewn in the kitchen from wall to wall.)

    This remark is not meant to be nasty … I don’t know much about Scotland, though it is possible I have ancestors from the terrific land …

    Memorable images come from movies such as “The Rhythm Section” and “Victoria and Abdul” — where Queen Victoria and her numerous entourage attempted a picnic on the countryside (moor?).

    An image of a cold, windy storm approaching with rain drops falling into dainty china teacups really makes the point on the weather!

    A lot of our immigrant ancestors came to North America for the better climate — and greater life opportunities… John Muir stands out…
    From Twitter — this fellow is notable due to his representation by Lin Wood, IIRC. I’m mentioning this because I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT WHEN A CONSPIRACY ATTEMPT IS SHUT DOWN WITH IRREFUTABLE BACKING!
    “Nicholas Sandmann @N1ckSandmann
    It’s said that the CJ was on Epstein’s Island because “John Roberts” was on a flight log.

    The only problem is that the Supreme Court was in session on that flight date, with Roberts sitting.”

    • bmaz says:

      Well, let’s put it this way, June Bug the Terrorist Foster Dog spent a stint here at Casa de bmaz, and promptly took up residence like a queen on our glass living room coffee table. Much to the consternation of our mutts. It was kind of an awesomely headstrong move considering our dogs were far bigger.

      • Chris.EL says:

        … from a dog’s / canine’s perspective, that’s a perfectly understandable move!

        “I’m new here, I don’t know you guys, so just to give myself a little edge on safety, this is my spot.”

        A 30-45 lb. dog managing to navigate a glass table top is a rather impressive feat!

        Years ago I found an Afghan hound in my yard; she didn’t chase my cats — and that impressed me. She slept a lot; turns out she was low on thyroid.

        We never had to discipline this dog; she always knew when she had done something wrong (i.e. sleeping on the bed when we were out for dinner…). A sweet dog.

      • P J Evans says:

        When I had to move into a place that didn’t allow cats, friends took mine in. And 8-pound cat took over their house, bossing their two (larger) cats around.

        • Ruthie says:

          My 11 pound terrier typically has no interest in dominating other dogs, but he loses his mind in the presence of a tennis ball. Once we were at the dog park and he tried to take a ball from a German Shepherd. She very kindly warned him that his entire head would fit in her mouth before letting him go unharmed.

        • Chris.EL says:

          A report has been circulating here in California: Vallejo, CA K-9 handler was caught on video *punching* his canine partner for the transgression of nipping when man tried to take back job-well-done reward toy!!!!

          Punching a dog is a fantastic way to get a dog to ABSOLUTELY F-ING HATE YOU for all time.

          That policeman has no business anywhere working with dogs!!!
          Marcy’s Twitter this morning has this interesting report:
          Seems Trump’s Turnberry golf resort in Scotland lost £2.3 million in 2019 alone. (Making it a fine money laundering facility — guess we didn’t send enough secret service agents to stay and play!)

        • timbo says:

          This sort of parallels the recent Trump call to the Georgians. Includes video instead of just audio though. The dog has a leg up. And, let me tell you, punching your dog in California is not generally acceptable to the dog lovers of this state. There are paws laws here…

  12. Stacey says:

    I haven’t heard Flynn speak too many times for comparison with his transcript calls with Kislyac, but he sounds like a “submissive peer” here—a dog that rolls over and pees himself in the presence of a dominant dog or person. His speech is haulting, trying to communicate either between the lines or at least while CAREFULLY reading his superior listener for acceptance as he treads so lightly thru the convo. It seems extremely odd to me that this experienced powerful general would seem so junior in his dealings with the Russian if there were not something he was or imagined himself to be DUCKING under. He knew he was doing something that he believed wrong and/or he knew it was being recorded. His language suggests he’s trying to communicate with a plausible deniability and yet Kislyac is trying to get the clear gist of what’s going on here into that recording.

    He acts like he knew, and his experience and position tells us he HAD to know, this was being recorded, and then he STILL lies about it to people he also had to know had either listened to or could listen to the recording? Now the odd thing to me has always been that the FBI agents thought he was not showing obvious signs of lying. He was a good liar, as you might think someone with his training and cockiness would be.

    Do these transcripts of the Kislyac conversations sound like a guy who would be a good liar while being interviewed by the feds? No! He sounds like a different person in the transcripts than someone who presents as he normally does and how he presented in the interview. I’m not suggesting he is a different person in reality, only that these two sides of a person don’t show up in the wild together. There is an explanation we’ve not heard yet for why this guy presents these two different ways when with only what we know, he should NOT.

    He is hiding something he’s AFRAID of in the calls and he was lying fearlessly in the interview. Why?

    He may have been lead to believe that the recordings had been dealt with and therefore were not a threat to him, but I think I recall them sort of jogging his memory with enough quoted language and gently asking him to be really sure about what he recalled for him to be disabused of that notion. Something happened between his calls with Kislyac and his interview. The calls happened under Obama’s intelligence apparatus and maybe he thought once Trump was safely ensconced in the WH he would be safe from consequences, so who cares what happens then? But if that was his thought then why didn’t he just tell the FBI “yeah, we talked about sanctions and anything else the new admin wanted to do differently with the Russians, elections have consequences, bitch!” But he didn’t. He hid perfectly defensible conduct very confidently even though he was clearly fearful while engaging in that conduct. This is telling of something! I’m just not sure what.

    • William Bennett says:

      Does seem kind of like a case of preemptive defense (against what?). Why bother lying about something you could brazen out if you wanted to. “Yeah, a little premature by the letter of the law but everybody does it and it was just a matter of getting the jump on putting our own policies in place vis a is Russia. Not a capital crime.” Unless it’s just that Flynn shares Trump’s pathological-liar habit of thinking you’re better off lying even when the truth would serve just as well if not better.

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