When No Means Yes: The Flynn and McFarland Response to Information to Paul Manafort

Jason Leopold liberated a bunch of the A1 back-up files (meaning the documents about which witnesses get asked) to Mueller 302s last night.

In virtually every way — from Mike Flynn bragging about sitting with Putin at the RT gala, to Erik Prince pretending not to remember obvious references to Russia in dealings with George Nader, to the response to George Papadopoulos’ offer to set up a meeting with Russia — the files make Trump’s flunkies look worse than was already known.

I want to show one specific example of how that’s true.

The Mueller Report told the story of how, after a secret meeting in Madrid with Oleg Deripaska deputy Georgiy Oganov where the two discussed “recreating old friendship” that Manafort had with Deripaska, Manafort returned and reached out to incoming Deputy National Security Advisor KT McFarland.

He would have told her, among other things, to undermine the Russian investigation by pointing to problems with the Steele dossier that Deripaska had been feeding both sides of.

As the Mueller Report tells it, McFarland asked if she should respond to Manafort, Flynn advised her not to, and she did not.

On January 15, 2017, three days after his return from Madrid, Manafort emailed K.T. McFarland, who was at that time designated to be Deputy National Security Advisor and was formally appointed to that position on January 20, 2017.945 Manafort’s January 15 email to McFarland stated: “I have some important information I want to share that I picked up on my travels over the last month.”946 Manafort told the Office that the email referred to an issue regarding Cuba, not Russia or Ukraine, and Manafort had traveled to Cuba in the past month.947 Either way, McFarland- who was advised by Flynn not to respond to the Manafort inquiry appears not to have responded to Manafort. 948

The Senate Intelligence Report tells it slightly differently. It describes that Flynn told her they shouldn’t respond until they were “in the hot seats.”

(U) Manafort returned to the United States from Madrid on January 12, 2017.615 Three days later, Manafort sent an email to K.T. McFarland, who at the time was designated to become the number two official in Trump’s National Security Council and was serving as Flynn’s deputy on the Transition.616 In the email, Manafort asked McFarland if she was in Washington D.C. that week and, if so, if she was willing to meet informally.617 Manafort said he had “some important· information I want to share that I picked up on my travels over the last month.”618

(U) Before responding to Manafort, McFarland forwarded Manafort’s request to Flynn and inquired whether she should. agree to meet with Manafort.619 Flynn responded by recommending that McFarland not meet with Manafort “until we’re in the hot seats,” presumably a reference to their taking official roles in the U.S. Government. 620 It is unclear what Manafort hoped to speak with McFarland about, but he claimed to the SCO it involved matters related to Cuba, not Russia or Ukraine.621

That is, rather than telling McFarland not to take the meeting, Flynn told her to hold off until Trump was inaugurated.

The email itself provides more details.

First, Manafort was specifically suggesting they only meet if she was in DC.

That is, Manafort wanted to meet in person. He didn’t want to tell her his “important information” if they were in different cities.

And Flynn was not only aware that Manafort might be “working for” someone, but he was specifically concerned about the perception of meeting with Manafort, “especially now.”

Unmentioned in this exchange, but important background, is that the press was already focused on Flynn’s secret phone calls with Russia, and he had already committed himself to several public lies about when he spoke with Sergey Kislyak and when.

And curiously, even though it took less than an hour for McFarland to forward this to Flynn and him to respond, the government does not, apparently, have any response McFarland sent to Manafort.

That doesn’t mean McFarland was implicated in Manafort’s coziness with Russian intelligence. But it does demonstrate how Mueller put the email in a remarkably favorable light.

37 replies
  1. WB says:

    Interesting and very perceptive, as always. If you ever write a book about Trump, Mueller, and Russia, I’m sure it will be excellent. But also infuriating.

    Every time I read your pieces, my blood pressure rises.

  2. Bruce Fuentes says:

    Just a layman here with no deep legal insights.
    Mueller was built up as some sort of super do-gooder that would get through the morass and find truth, justice, and the American way.
    Now that actual details of the investigation have come out, he and the investigation do not look as good in the light of day. I, and I am sure many people, are not sure what to think.

    1) Was he just incapable of doing the job as needed? Incompetent.
    2) Unwilling to do the job as needed? Complicit.
    3) Just unable to push through the obstruction to get to and expose the actual facts? Not sure what word describes this accurately.

    • emptywheel says:

      I really recommend Andrew Weissmann’s book, which talks about specific things that seem really problematic. The most infuriating is that Rosenstein and Aaron Zebley wouldn’t let him work with states to ensure Manafort would face consequences one way or another. That effectively made them partners in the pardons that made actual cooperation from Stone or Manafort impossible.

      That said, I also think the line between a crime and not, once someone becomes president, is really thin. I think the intent was to refer an impeachment. Congress didn’t act on that.

        • bmaz says:

          Weissman would be a bad look for AG. Garland is fine, and clean. He is exactly what the job needs at this moment.

          • Willis Warren says:

            I realize the signals it would send, and I like MG. But I keep thinking of that scene in Ender’s Game, where Ender beats up the bully, beats him so brutally it kills him. When asked why he states “I wanted to win the fight, and also the next one, and the next one” (that never happened).

    • CCM says:

      I think in the end Mueller is an institutionalist. He was not an independent prosecutor, he answered to Rosenstein and Barr. His years in the military/FBI gave him a mentality of follower of orders. His report was skillfully edited by Rosenstein/Barr to shade the facts and draw conclusions favorable to Trump et al. He likely acquiesced because he got the facts to congress and he thought, here it is let the chips fall where they may. He real mistake was not following the money, he had the legal authority. He should have called Trump’s bluff and been fired or not fired.

      • Zirc says:

        What bothers me is that Mueller’s investigation appears to have been solely criminal/preparatory to an impeachment. I agree that he is/was an institutionalist, but to the extent that the investigation bled over into counterintelligence, he (and his team) must have seen that the institutions he so revered were in danger, mortal danger, even. I don’t want to say he cooperated with what appear to be traitorous actions, but his institutional reverence contributed to him being bamboozled by people who were playing to a hostile adversary’s advantage. Did he underestimate the GOP’s acceptance of Trump and co’s treachery? He was a republican after all. If he trusted McConnell and McCarthy to lead his party to the rescue of our institutions, he was sadly mistaken.


        • subtropolis says:

          You’re ignoring the fact that Barr had put very tight constraints on his investigation. It was clear to him that Trump was never going to be indicted. Hence, he laid everything out for Congress to take up. What more could he have done? Ensuring that he was fired would have been pointless.

      • PieIsDamnGood says:

        I believe Mueller was certain an impeachment would immediately follow his report and accepted damaging edits/review because of that.

        • Zirc says:

          If you’re right, PieIsDamnGood, it means that he trusted McConnell and McCarthy, which is self-delusion to the nth degree.


          • subtropolis says:

            No, it means that he had little other choice. Had he bucked the system and been fired, we’d have never seen any report, whatsoever. It’s interesting that you mention “self-delusion”.

            • Marinela says:

              Still, it doesn’t compute his testimony to Congress, when he had the chance to speak up. Under oath he said that his investigation was not interfered with, that he was allowed to investigate whatever facts he discovered. Are we saying now that Mueller was going to be fired if he’d subpoena Trump for an interview, follow the money, etc? Cannot have it both ways. Either he was allowed to do his job or not.
              Unless … Mueller was chosen because he was sure to stay in his lane, unlike Ken Star, and (most importantly) his investigation was confined to be very limited at every junction…

      • Cwolf says:

        WRT Mueller, I think his testimony on the matter before the Congress can be reasonably interpreted as hostile to exposing the truth. That makes him complicit in the coverup. I suspected as much at the time and am now convinced. I have no clue as to why he would compromise himself in this way.
        Rosenstein, who we all now know is as corrupt as they come and who was the big wheel at the center of the DOJ investigation following Sessions recusal, selected Mueller to take point. His “investigation” quickly rounded up a few scapegoats and indicted a gaggle of distant Russians, then zilch for almost 2 years. He rides off into the sunset. Fade – Cut. Nothing to see here.

  3. Buford says:

    is there any reason that an Unredacted version of the Mueller investigation has not been released yet?

    • Silly but True says:

      Some various reasons not limited to:
      1. America still has the facade of the presumption of innocence: There remain innocent Americans implicated in the investigations’ various leads but uncharged of any crime who do not deserve the harassment of the salaciousness of an investigatory report..

      2. Executive Branch still retains some authority in holding confidential deliberations of Executive Branch decision-making under the principle of “deliberative process privilege,” for which there were a number of legal fights with DoJ by various parties, some who pierced the privilege — notably Buzzfeed, for example — and some who did not.

      • bmaz says:

        I am sorry, have you ever been on a a US criminal trial jury or ever in front of one?

        Because your baloney garbage about loss of the “presumption of innocence” is complete tripe. Go do one, or sit through one on an actual jury, or you really do not know jack shit.

        • Silly but True says:

          Be as it may, the Mueller Investigation and its report were not any criminal trial; it was a unique hybrid criminal and cointel investigation serving as prelude to possible criminal trial if individuals were so charged. Despite the desire to see names named 2017-2019, any uncharged — presumed innocent — individuals still deserve confidentiality within the investigatory stage. It is not general practice to name uncharged individuals for good reason.

        • CCM says:

          The really ugly part is not the trial but the plea bargain process. Prosecutors pile on charges and make a guilty plea seem like the best option. My time in court I came away with the impression the system seemed to function to punish the poor and those with addiction.

      • Fraud Guy says:

        re: bmaz’s point

        I sat on a jury and, after the prosecution rested, wondered why we were at trial, because the evidence was so weak, and the pretext for the stop by police was so flimsy.

        After we delivered our verdict, the young DA and defense attorneys asked to speak to the jurors to ask us about how we felt. I asked the prosecutor why he pushed for trial when the case was so weak, I wondered why there were even charges, and he insisted that he met probable cause, which meant that he could charge the defendant. I told him that seemed a very low bar to clear, and he agreed, but still defended his right to bring the case to trial.

        The defense attorney admitted that he asked the defendant to make a plea deal, but she insisted on trial. I told him that I was in favor of acquittal after the prosecution rested, so he shouldn’t have pushed for a plea.

        (BTW, the defendant was acquitted on third jury poll/vote)

        This is at the low end of the spectrum; at the high end, if you are connected, or the police, or powerful, it seems that prosecutors often do not wish to proceed unless they feel they have slam dunk/evidence beyond a reasonable doubt (I seem to recall that phrase from a DA who declined to prosecute a police officer, and also with Clinton when the Justice Department stated that they felt there was sufficient doubt as to her servers that they would not prosecute).

        • bmaz says:

          Not saying they always get it right, but pretty much they do. As I’ve said before, I quit talking to them post trial because it made me insane hearing their thought process. But they almost always got the ultimate decision right. Juries get a very bum rap, they are pretty good.

          • Bruce Fuentes says:

            To that point. I was on a jury for the sexual assault of an elderly(80’s) woman. After 5 hours we got it right, but I found the thought processes of some of the jurors fairly disturbing. The evidence was a slam dunk, but there was still a need for some jurors to hold the woman partially accountable. In the end reason? and stubbornness won the day and the conviction.
            I see your point that juries usually get to the right place but how they get there can be scary.

            • bmaz says:

              That is exactly what I am saying. And, to FraudGuy’s point, exactly why I quit talking to them (unless I really thought there might be juror misconduct) early in my career. It will drive you nuts and negatively influence how you work, and that is not a good thing.

              • vvv says:

                I agree with juror thought process being weird but I do talk to them if they want to, sometimes none will, or just 2 of 12, once in a while you get 8-12 if it was a smooth trial – if lots of contention then less stay.
                But I’ve had jurors in plaintiff auto cases tell me, in a jurisdiction where police reports are inadmissible and they are instructed on that at least three times, that they held non-production of same against me because they thought I was hiding something, and yet not hold it against the defense.
                I’ve won red light cases on failure to sound the horn – just silly stuff, but 9 of 10 verdicts seem ultimately correct, and I think that’s pretty OK.
                I’ve also had jurors in the same trial criticize me for not enough eye contact, while others say too much.
                In the end you typically have 12 very different people, the majority of whom are diligent, interested and invested, even if they have radically different opinions on parts of the evidence, ultimately agreeing on a verdict.
                I love this stuff.

  4. Tom says:

    Ironic to read of Flynn cautioning McFarland to avoid meeting with Manafort because it’s “Unknown who he is working for” at same time as Flynn himself was being paid as a secret lobbyist for the Turks.

  5. BobCon says:

    I loved the nugget from Leopold about Barbara Ledeen pushing “evidence” on Catherine Herridge.


    It’s not automatically damning for Herridge, since there is nothing stopping a kooky source from reaching out to a reporter. But CBS really ought to think harder about looking over her shoulder at her sources, and whether she is worth the risk of having her on the payroll.

  6. madwand says:

    This just in from Politico, ABJ orders release of DOJ memo justifying not prosecuting Trump.


    “U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued that ruling in a withering opinion that accused Barr of being “disingenuous” when describing Mueller’s findings and found that the Justice Department was not candid with the court about the purpose and role of the 2019 memo prepared by Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.”

    I’ve always wondered why that memo got so much traction but R’s used it to their advantage.

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