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The Mike Flynn Interviews, with Backup

A few weeks ago, the government turned over the backup to some Mueller interviews, including a number of Flynn interviews, at least one Steve Bannon interview, and a Corey Lewandowski one.

I’ve long been tracking the public Mike Flynn interview records (one, two, three). This post is an update incorporating, best as I could, the backup materials along with the interview reports. One primary Mueller interview may remain outstanding, along with his EDVA interviews regarding secretly being an Agent of Turkey.

Generally, the headings consist of one of three things:

  • My summary of what got included in the Mueller Report (which is helpful to see what is new to this declassification)
  • “Missing” and/or EDVA, which is a reflection of what Bijan Kian’s lawyers claimed they had gotten by June 2019
  • New, with a description of the content

The backup fleshes out what Flynn was questioned about, and what remains sensitive. The government has released maybe half of the emails and pictures that Flynn was questioned about in interviews, based on the references to such things in the interviews themselves. In general, if BuzzFeed got the backup material, the link I’ve added should link directly to that item.

But key kinds of materials were withheld. For example, the following were withheld:

  • Communications surrounding a 2016 Egyptian meeting (which Mueller suspected may have involved a bribe)
  • A Kushner Blueprint for Russia sent to Flynn on January 1, 2017
  • To the extent Flynn was shown it in interviews, the David Ignatius story reporting the Kislyak calls; that was generally withheld both for classification but also ongoing investigation (reflecting John Durham’s leak investigation into it)
  • A January 5, 2017 email referencing the Logan Act
  • An email about the Steele dossier
  • A July 24, 2016 email involving Flynn making it clear he recognized Russia had hacked the DNC; Flynn would equivocate on the subject in the weeks after that

1. November 16, 2017: Trump appoint Flynn as NSA, first call with Putin, Israel vote, communications with Kislyak, December Kislyak call

Mueller attendees: James Quarles, Aaron Zebley, Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered: January 5, 2018

Nine months after Mike Flynn got fired, ostensibly for lying to the Vice President, Mueller’s team invited him for a mulligan on his January 24, 2017 interview in which he lied several times to the FBI. In advance discussions about that interview, Brandon Van Grack alerted Flynn’s lawyers that there were likely things Mueller’s team knew that Flynn’s did not.

There is information that you or your client might not be aware of. From where we’re sitting, there might still be value in sitting down with your client. We have a good sense of what Flynn knows and what Flynn doesn’t know.

As one indication of how badly Flynn had misled his attorneys, Rob Kelner expressed surprise that Flynn might be exposed for false statements from his interview at the White House.

Frankly, we are surprised by that. That is not consistent with what we have learned from press reports and other sources.

Zainab Ahmad warned,

You don’t know everything he knows.

This first interview, then, might be considered a test, whether Flynn was willing to tell the truth about his actions and those of Trump’s associates. He failed.

The interview front-loaded general information (how he came to work for Trump, though even there, later interviews would offer slightly different details as to timing), and questions about topics that Flynn was a tangential participant in — the DNC emails, the June 9 meeting, meetings with Egypt and Mueller’s suspicion that Trump got $10 million from them, ties with Qatar, Manafort’s role in the platform change, Brad Parscale’s operation, an the hush hush meeting with the UAE.

Only after asking questions about all that did Mueller’s team ask Flynn the same questions the FBI had asked him nine months earlier. He answered the questions the same way. He lied to hide the specific requests of Russia on Egypt’s UN proposal and he lied about whether he had discussed sanctions with Sergey Kislyak and discussed them with the Transition team at Mar-a-Lago with Trump.

Topics:

  • How he came to work for Trump
  • The $10 million campaign contribution (Mueller suspected it to be sourced from Egypt)
  • Hillary’s emails (Flynn lied and claimed he had never looked for them)
  • The DNC emails (Flynn lied about discussions about the topic)
  • No knowledge about June 9 meeting
  • The meeting with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (and those suspected of brokering it); Flynn later admitted he met with Egyptians on more than one occasion
  • A reference to Qatar
  • Flynn’s views about Manafort, including the platform change
  • Flynn’s views on Russia
  • Flynn’s review of Parscale’s operations
  • Early congratulation calls, including Egypt, a botched one to Taiwan, and the first call with Putin
  • The meeting with Kislyak (Flynn claimed a back channel did not come up)
  • The call with Sergey Kislyak on 12/6/16, which he always insisted he didn’t remember, and a follow-up on December 7
  • The UAE meeting in NY
  • The UN vote (Flynn repeated his lies from earlier that year, twice)
  • The sanctions discussion (Flynn repeated his lies from earlier that year)

Backup

  • 9/15/16 email to Bannon regarding Egypt (A)
  • 12/7/16 email RE: Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak (regarding deferring all conversations until after inauguration) (B and C)
  • 3/27/2017 NYT article describing Kushner meeting (D)
  • 12/12/16 meeting keep UAE meeting to small circle (E)
  • Another email on Egypt

That night, Flynn’s lawyers told him he had botched the interview.

That same evening, after concluding the first proffer, we returned to the Covington offices where my attorneys told me that the first day’s proffer did not go well and then proceeded to walk me through a litany of conceivable charges I was facing and told me that I was looking at the possibility of “fifteen years in prison.”

2, November 17, 2017: Israel vote, December Kislyak call, especially comms with Mar a Lago, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump, Flynn’s last meeting with Trump, “we’ll take care of you”

Mueller attendees: James Quarles, Aaron Zebley, Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad (Zebley and Quarles in and out)

Entered: 1/5/18

According to Flynn, overnight his attorneys coached him on language to

“get through” the next day’s proffer and satisfy the special counsel.

Flynn shaded the truth in his November 17 interview — about the Trump Transitions contacts with their predecessors, about his discussions about sanctions with KT McFarland and Steve Bannon, about why he left no written record of having discussed sanctions. Still, it was a better interview, and after being confronted with just a selection of the communications that had recorded these communications in real time, his story edged closer to the truth, even while denying things (such as the explicit nod to their calls from Kislyak) that were in FISA transcripts. Among the things Flynn admitted that day was that he “knew he got involved in U.S. policy when he called KISLYAK.”

In addition, Flynn provided Mueller’s team what must have been important insight. He said that when he resigned, “TRUMP was tired and visibly shaken or upset.” But then when Sean Spicer explained his resignation, “It bugged FLYNN that SPICER said he (FLYNN) had been untruthful.” Flynn’s sense of betrayal would, at times, be powerful motivation for his cooperation with Mueller, until it wasn’t anymore.

Topics:

  • Calls with Kislyak, including January 12 one, (several iterations); Flynn lies abt Bossert speaking with Monaco, claims not to remember specifics of discussion with McFarland, makes excuses for not including sanctions in email, then backtracked somewhat, makes excuse for not telling Trump, claims he didn’t discuss it with Bannon
  • Flynn’s lies to others, including knights of the round table
  • His first FBI interview (several iterations)
  • Covington asks who he spoke with after the call, includes people (like Ted Gistaro) whom he didn’t tell
  • His resignation

Backup

  • 12/29/16 Text messages to Sara Flaherty (possible some withheld on b3) (A)
  • Some exhibit (possibly call records) eliciting a discussion about whether he and Michael Ledeen spoke about sanctions (B)
  • 12/30/16 email from McFarland relaying the talking points (C)
  • D [possibly comms from after he spoke with Kislyak]
  • 12/31/16 Keith Kellogg email (E)
  • Probably Ignatius article

Ongoing: Individual words redacted to hide an investigation into Ignatius’ source

3. November 20, 2017: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius

Mueller attendees: James Quarles, Aaron Zebley, Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered : 1/5/18

On November 20, Flynn inched still closer to the truth about what happened during the Transition period. He clarified a key detail about the $10 million infusion of cash that, Mueller suspected, had come from Egypt. Flynn described how Trump blamed him for not informing Trump that Vladimir Putin had been the first to call Trump after inauguration — something Trump had told Jim Comey.

And after being shown texts of the communications he had with Mar-a-Lago surrounding his calls with Sergey Kislyak, he effectively admitted that he had coordinated with Mar-a-Lago. There were still gaps. He had no explanation for why there was a meeting between him, KT McFarland, and Trump at 5PM, which would have been shortly after his call with Kislyak. Flynn inched closer to admitting that he and McFarland had agreed to leave mention of sanctions out of his text summarizing the call. And he admitted that he may have spoken about the sanctions discussion in some meetings with Steve Bannon at the latter’s townhome after the calls.

Once Flynn’s admissions about his own actions got closer to the truth, Mueller’s team asked him questions about Jared Kushner’s actions, especially a secret meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed in mid-December 2016.

Topics:

  • The Infusion of cash (correcting earlier explanation)
  • Theresa May arrival (included in Comey’s notes)
  • Calls with Kislyak (including texts with Flaherty)
  • Texts excluding sanction discussion
  • Meeting with Trump at 5PM on 12/29
  • Meeting with Bannon
  • Kushner’s blueprint for Russia
  • McFarland January 5, 2017 email
  • January 6, 2017 ICA briefing
  • Dossier
  • Cohen’s Ukraine plan
  • Someone who also believed CIA was bloated (and discussed UAE and Libya)
  • Seychelles meeting
  • Egypt package

Backup

Classified: Rex Tillerson? Some details about early January

Ongoing: Two b7A paragraphs in follow-up to Egypt package

4. November 21, 2017: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius, meeting with Trump [Missing]

Mueller attendees: James Quarles, Aaron Zebley, Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad; Mueller, briefly; Zebley left

Entered: 1/5/18

Having given Mueller’s team a passable explanation for his own actions, they focused the last interview on fine tuning that — particularly his admission to discussing the sanctions with Bannon — while getting him to talk about all the times he had been thrown under the bus by those who were in the know on the sanctions discussion, Bannon and McFarland.

Mueller’s team also got him to go over Kushner’s involvement in foreign policy, the relationship with Egypt, and the UAE meeting.

Topics:

  • Logan Act
  • Bannon’s townhouse (Bannon already knew content of conversation)
  • Knights of the round table meeting, Bannon and McFarland silent
  • Another instance of being thrown under the bus
  • Kushner on Mexico
  • Egypt
  • Rick Gerson and Tony Blair, the UAE meeting (April 2017 Flynn contact with Gerson)

Backup [large b4 redactions likely hiding a bunch]

  • Email on el-Sisi meeting
  • 9/16/16 email between Ivanka and Phares
  • Photo of Rick Gerson
  • Kushner email on keeping meeting small

Large b4 redactions (trade secrets), addressing two topics, which leads into Kushner on foreign policy.

5. November 29, 2017: Peter Smith [Missing]

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered: 1/5/18

The November 29, 2017 meeting, when the two sides were already discussing a plea deal, seems to be focused on answering questions that Mueller’s team didn’t know the answers to, unlike the prior proffers. This covered some of Flynn’s other legal exposure (such as his non-disclosure of foreign travel on his clearance form and his financial disclosure), just bits about his ties with Turkish officials, WikiLeaks and the Peter Smith attempt to find Hillary’s email, as well as other election year digital activities.

The interview ended with a discussion about language in a draft statement of offense admitting that Flynn had initially not told the government that he and Steve Bannon discussed sanctions. That language was cut from the final statement of offense, but it provides important background to interviews with others, including McFarland and Bannon.

Topics:

  • Op-ed on Libya relying on WikiLeaks docs
  • Discussions about WikiLeaks having Hillary’s emails, no direct contact
  • WikiLeaks following Flynn starting in October or November 2016, DMs him on 12/5/16
  • An NSC hire
  • Flynn notes on index cards
  • Meeting with Turkish officials, including sitting with Foreign Minister at Trump International Hotel in January
  • More Turkish
  • Svetlana Lokhova, including congratulations sent after election
  • Jobs after DIA
  • Meetings Flynn set up
  • Foreign travel not included in SF-86, financial disclosure
  • Peter Smith (original contact cyber business), probably downplaying extent of their contacts
  • Rick Gates during transition
  • Putin congratulatory phone call (possibly different details than original version), asked about a “signal”
  • Rick Gerson notes on 12/14/16
  • WikiStrat
  • PsyGroup
  • Donbass
  • Meeting with Susan Rice
  • Strong dollar
  • Bannon townhouse language in statement of offense

Backup

  • 10/6/16 Curtis Ellis email, possibly relating to an op-ed on Libya, using classified information that had shown up on WikiLeaks
  • Possible b7A
  • Possible SF-86 and financial disclosure form
  • 12/4/16 notebook entries re Rick Gerson meeting
  • Possible media report that Trump asked him about strong dollar

b7E redactions

Ongoing: Four b7A redactions in discussion of what he did after he left DIA.

6. January 11, 2018: November 30 meeting with Kislyak [Missing]

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, James Quarles

Entered: 2/22/18

Starts with admonishment.

In Flynn’s first interview after pleading guilty, Mueller’s team asked him more generic details — about how he used his classified phone, whether he used encrypted apps, whether he knew about the Seychelles meeting. It’s not clear he told truth about those questions or not, but he did provide other useful information, such as how often Erik Prince was at Transition headquarters.

Topics:

  • Classified emails
  • Flynn claims he only used classified phone with Susan Rice
  • Encrypted apps (he preferred Signal), especially whether Bannon and Kushner used them
  • Kislyak meeting, starting w/12/1/16 (obtained his bio), still claimed no back channel, did not recall sanctions discussion
  • UN calls (including Nikki Haley’s, Bannon’s involvement)
  • Rebuff of Manafort’s 1/15/17 email (Manafort at National Prayer Breakfast)
  • UAE meeting
  • Another discussion of fire-the-CIA guy (could be Prince)
  • Prince at Trump Tower on daily basis, no knowledge of Seychelles
  • Kevin Harrington: Russia trying to usurp US role
  • Gitmo transfer
  • Parscale meeting in September 2016
  • Whom he has heard from post-plea

Backup:

Ongoing: Two b7A paragraphs between discussion of Manafort and Egyptian.

7. January 19, 2018: Flynn did not have specific recollection about telling POTUS on January 3, 2017

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, James Quarles, Andrew Goldstein

Entered: 6/21/18 [note: several other 302s have an entry date of 5/21, so this may be a typo]

In Flynn’s January 19, 2018 interview, he protected the President. He said, over and over, that he had no idea if he had spoken directly with Trump about sanctions, or even what he had said to KT McFarland. The Mueller team did not prompt him with information that might have been useful to force him to admit that he had told Trump.

Flynn did, however, admit that Trump had a better understanding of the timeline of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak than Flynn did, including a probable reference to Trump’s involvement in the December 22 call about Egypt.

This 302 was not finalized until June 21, a testament to how important Flynn’s claim not to remember discussing this with Trump was to Mueller’s case.

Topics:

  • Contacts with Mar-a-Lago, claims he assumed McFarland talked to Priebus and Bannon
  • Meeting with Bannon on 1/1/17
  • Whether it came up on 1/3/17
  • Ignatius, now says he’s worried he broke the law
  • His interview (with b5 that may have covered discussion within WH afterwards)
  • Trump corrects his date
  • Whether Trump specified calls with Daily Caller
  • Correcting Nikki Haley on Crimea

Backup:

  • Possibly Ignatius article

8. January 24, 2018: [New] Questions about George Nader and Erik Prince

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered: 2/22/18

This interview took place in the wake of the George Nader detention at the airport, and reflects the first review of Nader’s phone. Prince was also a focus.

Topics:

  • Whether he recognized Nader
  • How Flynn arrived to the MbZ meeting and what was discussed
  • Whether Russia was discussed
  • Flynn’s meeting with Rick Gerson in December (which Tony Blair attended)
  • Erik Prince’s plans to outsource the IC and whether he was getting $$ from UAE
  • Prince’s presence in Trump Tower after the election
  • Extended b7A discussion

Backup:

9. April 25, 2018: Peter Smith

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad, Andrew Weissmann, Aaron Zelinsky

Entered: 5/21/18

On April 25, 2018, after most Trump associates had had their first interviews and the Mueller team had begun to unravel Roger Stone’s role, Flynn had his first interview discussing those issues. It appears he shaded the truth, disclaiming to have been certain that Russia had hacked the DNC and disclaiming awareness of all the discussions in the campaign about WikiLeaks.

Nevertheless, Flynn likely said things at this interview that betrayed knowledge of far more, even if he didn’t understand that.

Topics:

  • How he got involved in the campaign, including discussions of Russia and Sam Clovis’ role in it, dates involvement from 2/22/16; officially joined June 2016
  • RT trip
  • Regular contact with retired military officer, including email 6/29/16
  • DNC hack, Flynn claims he was uncertain abt attribution [break to walk Flynn through specific dates], Ledeen on missing emails, no memory of Stone, contact with FBI
  • Debate prep included “leverage” discussions about Assange, Flynn did not know under indictment (??)

Backup:

10. May 1, 2018: Peter Smith

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Aaron Zelinsky

Entered: 5/21/18

In this interview, Stone prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky tried to pinpoint Flynn’s vague memories from August 2016, specifically regarding his first flight with the campaign on August 3, 2016, in the middle of a period when Stone was in close contact with the campaign about WikiLeaks. In this interview, Flynn admitted that he had much higher certainty that Russia had done the hack than he had said weeks earlier.

Mueller’s team also asked him what amount to counterintelligence questions and started to figure out who in the FBI was undermining their case in Flynn’s name.

The meeting ended with a question about who used his IC badge to enter a classified facility on April 3, 2017.

Topics:

  • First trip on plane was 8/3/16, to Jacksonville, Flynn’s own assessment would be high likelihood Russia did the hack
  • Russian born investment capitalist talked about Clinton’s emails a lot
  • WikiLeaks reaches out to Flynn on 6/22/16 via publisher (recurring)
  • Flynn email 7/24/16 about attribution showing certainty–he walked back his certainty by August 3
  • Series of emails with someone military who moved to DIA, around first meeting with Manafort on 6/23/16
  • Question abt bots and social media
  • Email 11/2/16 may have clicked on the link
  • Trump’s 7/27/16 comment, specifically asked if Stone put it in his head
  • Contact in USDI
  • Retired general
  • 6/29/16 email from someone he was respectful of
  • Email 9/10/16 about speaking to Russia on Syria, someone pro-Russian
  • Dmitri Simes
  • Email sent to someone he met in August 2015 on 8/20/16
  • Contacts in FBI
  • Digital response team v. Parscales
  • Email 10/9/16 with link to Podesta
  • Extended discussion of Erik Prince, including transition
  • DIA visit on 4/3/17 (discussion about his IC badge)

Backup

Ongoing: Two b7A paragraphs abt discreet subject/person between discussion about WikiLeaks and about Prince.

11. May 4, 2018: [New: Manafort, Ledeen, and badging]

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Aaron Zelinsky

Entered: 5/21/18

The next meeting started with the unexplained use of his badge (Flynn claimed he still hadn’t found it). It hit on his efforts to find Hillary’s emails with Barbara Ledeen, their search for the emails on servers in Ukraine, and a long call Flynn had with Manafort in June, when the WikiLeaks effort first began.

Topics:

  • Use of his badge 4/3/17
  • Barbara Ledeen, including password protected email on 10/29/16
  • Servers in Ukraine
  • Micro-targeting
  • Hour-long call with Manafort on 6/23/16; first met Manafort on 6/30/16
  • The dossier and ICA briefing
  • Transition meeting, some Captain sharing information, and KT McFarland

Backup:

12. May 17, 2018: [New: Ledeen’s tampering]

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered: 6/1/18

Most of this meeting focused on ways that Flynn’s people were undermining the investigation, with a focus on Barbara Ledeen and Sara Carter (who published several false stories about the investigation). It also returned to the issue of what secure communications he used.

Topics:

  • Ledeen’s probes of the investigation
  • Sarah Carter’s propaganda (starting with possible immunity on 3/30/16)
  • Discussions about the investigation
  • Secure communications

Backup:

13. May 23, 2018:

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered: 5/29/18

While this meeting returned focus to two key prongs of the Middle Eastern part of this investigation, UAE and Qatar, it also probed more about Flynn’s current job and the FBI agents tracking his case.

Topics:

  • Qatar
  • 12/12/16 Trump Tower meeting, possibly with QIA
  • His then-current consulting gig
  • FBI agents, including retired, who are tracking his case

Backup

  • Picture from QIA meeting

b3: An entire discussion covered by b3

14. June 13, 2018: [EDVA, Missing]

15. June 14, 2018: [EDVA, Missing]

16. June 25, 2018: [EDVA, Missing]

17. July 26, 2018, [EDVA, Missing, possibly two 302s]

18. September 17, 2018: [New: someone else’s tampering, probably Derek Harvey]

Mueller attendees: Brandon Van Grack, Zainab Ahmad

Entered: 9/28/18

The entirety of this, Flynn’s last meeting with the Mueller team, seems to focus on the role of Derek Harvey, whom Flynn hired into the NSC, and who played a key role in helping Devin Nunes undermine the entire investigation.

Topics:

  • Relationship with someone on HPSCI, probably Derek Harvey

September 26, 2018: Proffer response on meetings with Foresman

January 28, 2019: [EDVA Missing]

February 28, 2019: EDVA

April 5, 2019: [EDVA Missing]

June 6, 2019: EDVA — Flynn blows up his plea deal

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.

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.

[snip]

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.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Steve Bannon?

Axios reported that PardonPalooza would accelerate yesterday. But it didn’t happen. Not yet, at least.

I wonder if that’s because Trump got new visibility on his own lingering jeopardy from the Mueller investigation.

There’s a section of the Mueller Report that got declassified in the last batch which may explain why Jerome Corsi wasn’t charged. In advance of three people whose prosecution was declined — which definitely includes KT McFarland, along with two others (Erik Prince or Sam Clovis may be one, George Nader may be the other) — the report explains,

We also considered three other individuals interviews–redacted–but do not address them here because they are involved in aspects of ongoing investigations or active prosecutions to which their statements to this office may be relevant.

Corsi obviously lied to Mueller, but his lies served, in part, to support the head fake the Mueller Report used to address how Roger Stone optimized the Podesta files.

Another of those liars could be Paul Manafort.

But the third may be Steve Bannon, who told a rolling series of lies that over time approached the truth, at least about some issues. Bannon even tried to lie again to back off his grand jury testimony in advance of the Roger Stone trial.

Bannon would be interesting for several reasons. Bannon knew about Stone’s interactions with “WikiLeaks” even before he formally joined the campaign. Bannon was a key player in setting up the fall 2016 meeting with Egypt, which preceded what the government thinks could have been a foreign bribe that kept the campaign afloat (indeed, one thing Bannon seems to have always lied about was his work with George Papadopoulos on that).

But most of all, Bannon was the fourth witness — with the others being Mike Flynn, KT McFarland, and Jared Kushner — to Trump’s interactions with Russia during the Transition four years ago. He was, with Jared, the person who most consistently used his personal email to conduct discussions of back channels with Russia (though all four took measures to keep their actions hidden from the Obama Administration and other Transition team members).

And Bannon was, for testimony before HPSCI the transcript of which got shared with Mueller’s team shortly before they closed up shop, scripted to deny any discussion of sanctions (among other things). You could get a clear understanding of what the White House was trying to deny by the wording of the questions.

Mueller’s team would have had this script in time for Bannon’s grand jury appearance in January 2019. We know one thing that Bannon was asked about, and begrudgingly told the truth about, pertained to the campaign’s enthusiasm about WikiLeaks (something about which he had lied in the past and tried to again). But we don’t know what else he got asked; Stone’s prosecutors got just the part pertaining to the Stone prosecution unsealed.

At the time of his grand jury testimony and until quite recently, Bannon was represented by Bill Burck. At least with Don McGahn, whom Burck also represented, Burck did not share details of his testimony with Trump’s lawyers. We know that because Trump was blind-sided when he learned about the extent of McGahn’s testimony. If that’s true of Bannon as well, then it would mean that grand jury appearance has been a blind spot for Trump and his lawyers.

Until now. After Bannon threatened Chris Wray and Anthony Fauci with execution, Burck fired Bannon as a client. Bannon recently hired Robert Costello to represent him in his Build the Wall fraud case. On top of being the guy who brokered a pardon to Michael Cohen in an attempt to silence him, Costello’s also Rudy’s personal lawyer. So Costello now has privilege with both Bannon and Rudy, and Rudy has privilege (by dint of being Trump’s defense attorney) with Trump.

The old gang’s back together.

Thing is, if Bannon told the truth about sanctions in that grand jury appearance, it’ll make it a lot easier to unwind a bunch of expected pardons, because Bannon’s testimony could be used to push Flynn, McFarland, Jared, and Trump himself to tell the truth about what they tried with Russia four years ago, exposing each to a fresh perjury charge they would no longer be pardoned for. Even if Biden’s Attorney General was disinterested in that, I expect there to be more transparency about these issues going forward.

That makes Bannon one of the most interesting, if not the most interesting, pardon candidates, because he knows where all the bodies are buried, but he also told the truth, once.

Tom Bossert Gives Trump the Advice Trump Refused Four Years Ago

Almost exactly four years ago, at a time when (seemingly unbeknownst to Trump’s incoming Homeland Security advisor Tom Bossert) Mike Flynn and his Deputy KT McFarland were secretly making asks of the Russian government, top Transition team officials discussed what to do about sanctions Obama imposed, in part, to punish Russia for interfering in the just finished election.

As part of that discussion, Bossert asked his predecessor Lisa Monaco how the Russians were responding to sanctions. At 4:01 PM on December 29, he reported back to Flynn, McFarland, Steve Bannon (at Bannon’s personal email), Keith Kellogg, and Reince Priebus:

[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 [sic] 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 receiving this call, Flynn called McFarland using the phone in his Dominican Republic hotel room. They spoke for 11 minutes.

Approximately eight minutes after Flynn and McFarland hung up, at 4:20, Flynn called Sergey Kislyak from that same hotel room phone to a phone at the Russian Embassy wiretapped by the FBI. The person who transcribed the intercept observed that it sounded like Flynn might be using his speaker phone.

On the call, Flynn raised the sanctions. He asked the Russian Ambassador not to box the Trump Administration in and further asked not to escalate things to avoid getting into a tit-for-tat.

Approximately 12 minutes after the end of Flynn’s call with Kislyak, KT McFarland responded to Bossert’s email, claiming Flynn would call Kislyak later than evening, yet quoting the phrases “tit-for-tat” and “box” Trump in directly from the call Flynn had just made to the Ambassador — the one the transcriber believed may 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.

[snip]

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.

Either because Trump’s incoming Homeland Security advisor was, like Bannon, also conducting this discussion on his personal email (Kislyak would make a comment that may reflect knowledge of the email exchange in his next call with Flynn) or because he somehow had access to his Transition email later, Tom Bossert was able to share this very damning exchange with investigators before they obtained the counterparties to it using a warrant.

Between the time of the Kislyak call and the time when Bossert shared those emails with investigators, he would be involved in the alteration of the MemCon recording Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with Russia, in which Trump said he didn’t much care that Russia had interfered in the election.

Tom Bossert has seen firsthand, more than once, how Trump has refused to hold Russia accountable.

Which is very interesting background to this NYT op-ed Bossert wrote, trying to convince his former boss to put the national interest ahead of his own temper tantrum and respond with leadership and cooperation to the SolarWinds hack.

After describing what a dangerous time a Presidential transition is for such a compromise, Bossert lays out the significance of the SolarWinds hack, explaining that the US government has no idea which of its networks Russia has control over.

The magnitude of this ongoing attack is hard to overstate.

The Russians have had access to a considerable number of important and sensitive networks for six to nine months. The Russian S.V.R. will surely have used its access to further exploit and gain administrative control over the networks it considered priority targets. For those targets, the hackers will have long ago moved past their entry point, covered their tracks and gained what experts call “persistent access,” meaning the ability to infiltrate and control networks in a way that is hard to detect or remove.

While the Russians did not have the time to gain complete control over every network they hacked, they most certainly did gain it over hundreds of them. It will take years to know for certain which networks the Russians control and which ones they just occupy.

He then explains that with that access, the Russians could alter data (at Treasury, among other places) or impersonate people, potentially using official credentials to sow disinformation.

The actual and perceived control of so many important networks could easily be used to undermine public and consumer trust in data, written communications and services. In the networks that the Russians control, they have the power to destroy or alter data, and impersonate legitimate people. Domestic and geopolitical tensions could escalate quite easily if they use their access for malign influence and misinformation — both hallmarks of Russian behavior.

Bossert provides some steps the government must take to respond — including replacing entire networks — and then turns to advising his old boss. He starts with soft-pedaling, the way one has to when advising a President who is a narcissist, suggesting that Trump’s threats to veto an NDAA that broad majorities of both parties support because he’s mad at Twitter are instead a partisan dispute.

The National Defense Authorization Act, which each year provides the Defense Department and other agencies the authority to perform its work, is caught up in partisan wrangling. Among other important provisions, the act would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to perform network hunting in federal networks. If it wasn’t already, it is now a must-sign piece of legislation, and it will not be the last congressional action needed before this is resolved.

Then Bossert gets more direct: Trump has to rebuke the Russians in a way he refused to in December 2016 and refused to do again in May 2017 and refused again in July 2018 in Helsinki (though Bossert had been fired before Helsinki).

While all indicators point to the Russian government, the United States, and ideally its allies, must publicly and formally attribute responsibility for these hacks. If it is Russia, President Trump must make it clear to Vladimir Putin that these actions are unacceptable. The U.S. military and intelligence community must be placed on increased alert; all elements of national power must be placed on the table. [my emphasis]

Bossert then gets close to, without actually, describing how Trump could be blamed for this if he doesn’t punish Russia.

President Trump is on the verge of leaving behind a federal government, and perhaps a large number of major industries, compromised by the Russian government. He must use whatever leverage he can muster to protect the United States and severely punish the Russians.

And, finally, the guy who got sent out to report back on President Obama four years ago to prepare Flynn for a call that Bossert probably had no way of knowing would undermine sanctions designed to punish Russia for the last attack, tells his former boss, who from start to finish has refused to cooperate with Democrats, that he has to cooperate now.

At this moment, the two teams must find a way to cooperate.

President Trump must get past his grievances about the election and govern for the remainder of his term. This moment requires unity, purpose and discipline. An intrusion so brazen and of this size and scope cannot be tolerated by any sovereign nation.

We are sick, distracted, and now under cyberattack. Leadership is essential.

Tom Bossert is trying to convince his former boss to serve the good of the country when Bossert never managed to do that when he actually was Trump’s direct advisor.

He would do better to threaten to make it clear the degree to which Trump has been “colluding” with Russia all along.

Update: Relatedly, Trump’s White House tried to gag IC leaders from reporting on how bad this is to Congress.

Rubio’s counterpart on the committee, Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.), said the government is “still assessing the extent of the penetration,” but lamented that “the current president of the United States has not said a word about this.”

Despite the series of briefings, there are signs that the White House was trying to muzzle top officials seeking to fill in lawmakers on what they know.

During a National Security Council meeting on Tuesday night, national security leaders were instructed not to reach out to Capitol Hill for briefings on the massive hack without explicit approval from the White House or ODNI, according to people familiar with the episode.

Organized Crime

Know what you call a crowd that requires 25 pardons to cover their illegal activities of the last 5 years?

As it happens, Trump is mulling the pardons at a juncture when loyalty appears his principal concern, complaining repeatedly over the past weeks that Republicans are deserting him when he needed them to help overturn the election results.

He has largely frozen out those advisers and associates who do not seem on the same page. One person who used to speak to Trump regularly, but who delicately encouraged him to soften his post-election stance, no longer has his calls returned and hasn’t heard from Trump in weeks.

In all, the President is considering pardons for more than two dozen people in his orbit whom he believes were targeted — or could be targeted in the future — for political ends. That’s in addition to hundreds of requests from others who have approached the White House directly, and tens of thousands more whose petitions are pending at the Justice Department.

Organized crime.

After Trump Spent Four Years Inviting Russia to Hack the US, Russia Allegedly Did Just That

Yesterday, Reuters revealed that the same vulnerability used to steal FireEye’s Red Team tools was also used to spy on Treasury and Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which administers the Internet. Then WaPo revealed that Russia’s APT 29 hacking group is believed to be behind the compromise. Multiple outlets — including FireEye itself — revealed that the hack had used a vulnerability in SolarWinds IT monitoring software identified in the spring. FireEye explains the hack has targeted, “government, consulting, technology, telecom and extractive entities in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East,” (presumably reflecting what they’ve seen in their clients as they respond to their own compromise). And CISA issued an emergency directive aiming to stem the damage in agencies beyond just Treasury and NTIA (among SolarWinds’ other US government clients are DOJ and two nuclear labs, as well as Booz Allen, which might as well be US government). Later today, Reuters confirmed that DHS had also been targeted. State, NIH, and parts of the Pentagon have also been targeted.

Let me make clear before I start that thus far, this is nation-state spying, without the kind of sabotage we’ve seen from Russia in the past (if it is indeed Russia). Russia would do what they did with this vulnerability with or without Trump in office (indeed, I have a suspicion their overt hacks of the US will go up under President Biden, mostly because Trump didn’t need any help damaging the US government). While the full scope of the victims is not yet known, it’s quite clear that hackers targeted a slew of entities, governmental and not, with this campaign. So having Trump in office in no way created this campaign nor chose the target.

Nevertheless, it is the case that the President of the United States, as a policy matter, has gone to great lengths to make it easier for Russia to minimize the costs of hacking the US.

Almost four years ago, Mike Flynn called up the Russian Ambassador and asked him not to box the Trump Administration in in the wake of President Obama’s effort to hold Russia accountable for interfering in our elections, in part by hacking multiple participants in it, from both parties. Vladimir Putin complied with Flynn’s request, taking no steps in response. Not only did Sergey Kislyak make sure Flynn knew that his request had played a key role in Putin’s decision, but he told Flynn that the Trump Administration and Russia were on the same side, targeted by sanctions aiming to incur a cost for Russia’s actions. “I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect.”

Well before Kislyak had suggested to the 30-year intelligence veteran that Russia and Trump were on the same side against establishment America, Flynn had already taken steps to hide his actions, perhaps because some Transition members, like Marshall Billingslea, objected to the pre-inauguration outreach to Russia.

When the whole thing got leaked to the public, Flynn lied even to the Vice President-Elect about his outreach.

But Trump appears to have been in on the secret. “The boss is aware” of Kislyak’s earlier requests of the Administration, Flynn told Kislyak on December 31, 2016. Indeed, Flynn made the first call that he would later lie about from Mar-a-Lago, while Flynn, “worked all day with trump from Mara lago,” as KT McFarland bragged in real time.

When the FBI interviewed Flynn about those calls a month later, he lied about the requests he had made of Russia. But he appears to have told a remarkable truth about one thing. “With regard to the scope of the Russians who were expelled,” from the US in retaliation for interfering in a US election, the FBI agents who interviewed him wrote, “FLYNN said he did not understand it. FLYNN stated he could understand one [diplomat expelled as a persona non-grata], but not thirty-five.” General Flynn, a thirty year veteran, thought an appropriate response to a systematic assault on American democracy was to kick out one suspected spy.

Months later (though this would not be revealed until years later), the newly installed President would make it clear he agreed with his short-lived National Security Advisor. In his first face-to-face meeting with representatives from Russia as President on May 10, 2017, President Trump told Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that he was unconcerned about Russian interference in the election that had made him President, because the US had historically done the same in other countries. Trump’s officials would take efforts to hide the most embarrassing aspects of that meeting (including that Trump shared highly sensitive Israeli intelligence with the Russians), first by altering the MemCon of the meeting and then having Trump’s new National Security Advisor, HR McMaster, give, “a misleading account of what happened during TRUMP’s meeting with LAVROV.” And Russia would have known that Trump and McMaster were lying.

Before Trump would tell Russia, to their face, that he didn’t much mind that Russia had hacked American democracy, he started dismantling the United State’s ability to prevent further hacks. That started with an effort to prevent the FBI from investigating why Flynn had reached out to Russia to undermine sanctions and (as a sentencing memo approved by Bill Barr’s DOJ would later explain) who ordered him to do so. The day Trump learned the FBI had interviewed Flynn, he asked FBI Director James Comey for loyalty. Then, after Trump fired Flynn — ostensibly for lying to the Vice President — he then privately asked the FBI Director to, “let[] this thing go, to let[] Flynn go.” After Comey testified publicly to Congress about the investigation, Trump fired him.

A long line of people would follow Comey out the door, many of them experts on Russia or counterintelligence or cybersecurity. Trump invented reasons in most cases (reasons that, as with Comey, sharply conflicted with his own views about Hillary Clinton). The obvious real reason had to do with retaliation for investigating him. But in those firings and resignations, Trump got rid of numerous people who had long fought Russian organized crime (like Andrew McCabe and Bruce Ohr), and counterintelligence experts like Peter Strzok. Before and after his impeachment, he got rid of other Russian experts like Marie Yovanovitch and Alexander Vindman. Even those who left of their own accord, like Fiona Hill, were demonized for their true testimony under subpoena.

The most remarkable moment came in July 2018, shortly after the Mueller team indicted Russia’s hackers for their attack on our democracy, when Trump met Putin in Helsinki.

Days before the meeting — though possibly after he had been warned the indictment was coming — Trump announced that he and Putin were talking about cybersecurity cooperation.

Then at the actual summit, with Putin displaying Trump like a soggy trophy, Trump sided with Putin’s denials over the US intelligence community in part because of conspiracy theories about the DNC server.

My people came to me, Dan Coats, came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia.

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server but I have confidence in both parties.

I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC?

Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? 33,000 emails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily.

I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.

I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did is an incredible offer.

He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. Okay? Thank you.

That is, after a lengthy meeting with Putin, Trump simply decided — perhaps because he had to decide — that Russia had not attacked the US at all. His solution, per Putin’s suggestion, was to send people who had been investigating Russian crimes to Russia, something that has gotten people killed in the past.

Meanwhile, Trump started dismantling the cybersecurity defenses built up during the Obama Administration. The first day John Bolton started as Trump’s third National Security Advisor, experienced cybersecurity guy Tom Bossert was fired as Homeland Security czar.

President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, was fired Tuesday as the president’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, consolidates power in the White House.

On Monday night, Bossert was socializing with current and former U.S. Intelligence officials at a conference in Sea Island, Georgia, and a source close to him told NBC News that the adviser was unaware of any intention at the White House to seek his resignation, and that he had no plans to quit.

“New team,” the source said, without further explanation.

Bossert was called in to Bolton’s office early Tuesday morning and told that he was being fired, according to a source with direct knowledge.

Trump’s associates may have figured out that Bossert had provided key details about the events at Mar a Lago in December 2016; he also appears to have provided emails to Mueller’s team that helped them to get those of others like Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon.

Rob Joyce, a top NSA expert, was moved back to the Agency a few months after Bossert left. So even as Bolton was downgrading the pandemic expertise within NSC, he was also eliminating top cybersecurity talent.

That was done because Bolton is a power hungry asshole. But Trump continued eliminating cybersecurity expertise (even beyond that ensuring secure elections) in a fit of pique after the election. At a time when this hack would have already started, Trump fired the head of CISA, Chris Krebs, along with a deputy because they refused to back his conspiracy theories about the election. Politico reported that, in Krebs’ absence, “There is ‘massive frustration with CISA on a sluggish response to agency breaches.'”

Cybersecurity was one area where Trump’s team really was every bit the match of Obama’s — if not better. But Trump fired or removed key people one after another.

Similarly, also in a fit of pique, Trump put one after another unqualified flunky in charge of the entire Intelligence Community, first Twitter troll Ric Grenell and then resume fluffer John Ratcliffe. He did so, in substantial part, because they would ensure that Congress would not get briefed on threats from Russia. He also did so to ensure documents that purportedly undermined the case that he had been elected with Russian help would be released to the public. Under the two men, the government released documents that might have revealed key details about sources and methods to the Russians, both on how they collected on the Russian Embassy and on how quickly the CIA picked up certain pieces of intelligence in summer 2016.

Finally, things have come full circle. After Flynn blew up a perfectly good plea agreement (I’ll show in a few days he still would have been better off with that) largely in the service of making unsubstantiated claims of abuse refuted even by Barr’s DOJ along the way, Barr needed to help him out of the legal pickle and jail time his shitty defense attorney Sidney Powell got him into. As part of that effort, the Attorney General of the United States moved to dismiss the prosecution based off a claim (one that conflicted with a filing submitted by his own DOJ months earlier) that Flynn did nothing wrong by calling up Russia to undermine sanctions imposed, in part, to punish them for a hack. The case was so weak, the team trying to invent excuses for why Flynn shouldn’t be prosecuted for lying to hide his attempts to undermine sanctions on Russia altered documents. And that still didn’t work.

And so, along with a Thanksgiving turkey, Trump pardoned Mike Flynn, his first act of lame duck clemency, for Flynn’s service in protecting Trump from accountability for, himself, undermining those sanctions. Trump came into office telling Russia not to worry about hacking the United States. Trump told them explicitly, to their face, not to worry about hacking the United States. And in pardoning Mike Flynn, Trump made it clear that Russia should not worry — about Trump at least — about hacking the Untied States.

We will presumably get more certainty in days ahead about whether Russia did this hack, as well as the many key targets of it. The real question, however, will be whether Trump will be held accountable for inviting it to happen.

Update: The NYT describes analysis pointing out that Trump continues to sow conspiracy theories about voter fraud while remaining silent about getting pwned by his buddy Putin.

Analysts said it was hard to know which was worse: that the federal government was blindsided again by Russian intelligence agencies, or that when it was evident what was happening, White House officials said nothing.

But this much is clear: While President Trump was complaining about the hack that wasn’t — the supposed manipulation of votes in an election he had clearly and fairly lost — he was silent on the fact that Russians were hacking the building next door to him: the United States Treasury.

Updated with link to Politico and expanded list of targets.

Update: Richard Blumenthal, after attending a classified briefing on this compromise, has repeatedly attributed it to Russia.

Mike Pompeo has similarly stated, as fact, that Russia did it.

The Forgotten Coffee Boy Errands

Among the things Steve Bannon has lied about most assiduously was the role George Papadopoulos played in setting up a fall 2016 meeting with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The first time he was asked about the Egypt meeting in a February 2018 interview with Mueller, he gave Jared Kushner credit. Later in the same interview, Bannon claimed he,

would generally blow off Papadopoulos and thought to himself “I don’t need this guy.” Flynn would be on the hook for the meetings Papadopoulos was suggesting, and Bannon didn’t need Papadopoulos.

Bannon transitioned immediately from that claim to disavowing advance knowledge of the emails Russia had.

Papadopoulos never told Bannon about the Russians having dirt on Clinton, and Bannon never heard Papadopoulos tell anyone in the campaign, such as Sam Clovis, that the Russians had dirt on Clinton.

Of course, by the time Bannon joined the campaign proper, he was already talking to Roger Stone about Russia dealing emails.

In an interview with SSCI, Bannon told even more ridiculous lies about Papadopoulos’ role in the el-Sisi meeting. When asked about a sustained thread between him and the Coffee Boy around the meeting, Bannon claimed he had accidentally emailed Papadopoulos about the meeting when he intended to email someone else.

Between September 16, 2016, and September 18, 2016, Papadopoulos and Bannon exchanged dozens.of messages relating to a potential engagement between President El~Sisi of Egypt and Trump, ultimately confirming a dinner meeting at 9:00 p.m. on Monday, September, 19, 2016. During this email exchange, Bannon asked Papadopoulos to email a briefing in advance of the meeting with President El-Sisi, which Papadopoulos sent noting that “while in Athens over dinner with Greek defense minister last May, he personally introduced me to the Egyptian defense minister and the rest became monthly consultations with the Egyptians in DC.” There are an additional two email messages related to this conversation that were redacted when produced to the Committee. Bannon told the Committee that he mistook Papadopoulos for a separate Campaign staffer and never meant to engage with Papadopoulos on this issue. Bannon Tr., pp. 95-98.

At the time then, Papadopoulos told Bannon that his ties with Egypt started back in May, when he was in Greece the same day as Putin and when he bragged to Greece’s Foreign Minister that the Russians had Hillary’s emails.

These same ties were key to the role that Papadopoulos played during the Transition, when he was hoping Flynn would hire him for a key NSC job on energy (hopes for that job is the excuse he later used for lying to the FBI). He had at least two more substantive discussions with Bannon in this period, one on and following December 9, and another on and following January 4.

Papadopoulos, however, was about to travel to Greece, and was keeping senior members of the Trump Transition Team apprised of his engagements. On December 9, 2016, Papadopoulos passed on a purported request from the Prime Minister of Greece to meet with President-Elect Trump in early January 2017 to Bannon.3415 In an email the following day, December 10, 2016, Papadopoulos further stated that he “[s]poke with the Greek defense minister.3416 They want to sign a government to government agreement with the USA for all rights to all energy fields offshore. Strategic foothold in the Mediterranean and Balkans.”3417 Bannon replied to the note, adding Michael Flynn and Kathleen Troia (K.T.) McFarland to the communication, both of who were-senior national security officials on the Transition Team.3418 Papadopoulos then wrote to the group on December 10, 2016, that the Greek defense minister had “earmarked the island of [K]arpathos for a potential listening post and air base for the US” and further stated “A base on [K]arpathos is key to controlling sea lines of communication in the Aegean/plan b should Incirlik once again become unusable.”3419 The following day, December 11, 2016, Papadopoulos wrote to Flynn’s Transition Team email address, passing along the phone number for Kammenos, the Greek Defense Minister, noting that the “[l]ine is not secure, however. He can pass along a secure number when you both find the time to discuss.”3420

Papadopoulos again reached out to Bannon on January 4, 2017, relaying a request from the Greek Foreign Minister for a phone call with Trump. 3421 Bannon responded, adding Flynn, which Papadopoulos used to also request a meeting with the Egyptian ambassador .. 3422

3415 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Bannon, December 9, 2016 (B&P GP F:ile 2018 000609).

3416 (U) According to Greek press reporting, Papadopoulos and Kammenos had lunch in Piraeus on Saturday, December 10, 2016, where Papadopoulos described himself as a “representative of Trump.” Kourdistoportocali.com, “World Exclusive: George Papadopoulos. and Panos Kammenos in ‘Dourabei, ‘” December 10, 2016.

3417 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Bannon, December 10; 2016 (B&P GP File 2018 000609).

3418 (U) Email, Bannon to Papadopoulos, Flynn, McFarland, December 10, 2016 (B&P GP File 2018 000609).

3419 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Flynn, Bannon, McFarland, and Kellogg, December 10, 2016 (B&P GP File 2018 000610).

3420 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Flynn, December 11, 2016 (B&P GP File 2018 000610).

3421 (U) Email, Papadopoulos to Bannon, January 4, 2017 (B&P GP File 2018 000635).

3422 (U) Email, Bannon to Papadopoulos and Flynn, January 4, 2017 (B&P GP File 2018 000635); Email, Papadopoulos to Flynn and Bannon, January 6, 2017 (B&P GP File 2018 000635). [my emphasis]

The latter one, in which Papadopoulos wrote Bannon about Greece and Bannon then looped in Flynn, in response to which Papadopoulos also passed on a request from Egypt’s Ambassador, appears to be the email mentioned in an October 2016 warrant application targeting Mike Flynn.

Emails obtained pursuant to a judicially-authorized search warrant show that one or about January 6, 2017, a member of the Trump campaign team on foreign policy issues e-mailed [Flynn] and advised that a foreign government official had been asking to meet with FLYNN. Later that day, FLYNN responded to the Trump campaign member: “We’ll reach out and try to meet this coming week.” FLYNN’s response was also sent to [KT McFarland] and [Flynn’s scheduler Daniel Gelbinovich].

When Papadopoulos testified about this to the House, he left out the Egyptian part of things.

A So I never spoke about Russia at all with Michael Flynn, K.T. McFarland during the transition. It was about an energy project that the Greek Government wanted to discuss with the incoming administration, and that’s why I was put in touch — that’s my understanding of why I was put in touch with Michael Flynn during the transition over email to discuss this deal that, I guess, the Greek Government wanted to discuss with the higher-ups in the incoming administration about, I don’t know, giving U.S. companies rights to their energy reserves, something along those lines.

[snip]

Q Okay. So you never had a conversation or were aware of conversations with Michael Flynn relating to Saudi Arabia?

A To my recollection, the only interactions I had with Michael Flynn were regarding this Greek energy deal, and I think that’s documented in emails.

Even when asked specifically about who else he spoke with in the Transition, Papadopoulos left Egypt off, then claimed not to remember whether he had any meetings with Egyptian officials.

Q Okay. So you never had a conversation or were aware of conversations with Michael Flynn relating to Saudi Arabia?

A To my recollection, the only interactions I had with Michael Flynn were regarding this Greek energy deal, and I think that’s documented in emails.

[snip]

Q Any meetings with Egyptian officials?

A During the transition? I can’t remember, but it’s possible, because I had a very close network with them. But I can’t remember about Egypt in particular.

Given that an Egyptian bank may have given Trump a big infusion of cash after the first meeting, I can understand why everyone would be so forgetful about this meeting.

But given the likelihood all these people will lose their Fifth Amendment privilege after they get pardoned in the next few weeks, perhaps they can be asked to refresh their memory about why the Egypt operation was so closely tied to the Russian one.

John Durham and the First Fight over a Doctored MemCon of Trump’s Meetings with Russia

A year ago, John Durham was investigating who leaked the fact that Mike Flynn had secretly worked with Russia to undermine sanctions that served, in part, to punish Russia for helping Trump get elected. Mike Flynn and KT McFarland had been claiming that David Ignatius forced them to lie about conversations that they made active efforts to cover-up even when they were secret, an obviously bullshit claim, but one that DOJ adopted as credible nevertheless.

The problem with that prong of the investigation (even beyond the fact that Flynn and McFarland were already covering Flynn’s calls before they had been made public) — as I pointed out when it was reported — that the most likely sources of the news that Flynn had been having secret conversations with the Ambassador were several groups that could leak this information legally: Original Classification Authorities, outgoing or not, or members of Congress. For the record, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page appear to have assumed the leak came from Congress. But if James Clapper or Jim Comey or another OCA leaked it as part of a counterintelligence inquiry into why Flynn did that, it would be entirely legal. All the more so given that Trump was not yet in office.

Given the new details we have on the Durham investigation — including yet more proof he and his investigators grossly misunderstand counterintelligence — I’d like to return to another leak: that Trump shared highly classified Israeli intelligence with Sergey Lavrov in their meeting on May 10, 2017. Given recent events, I think there is a decent chance that Durham investigated and may still be investigating this one, too.

As I noted, among the last Mueller 302s released to BuzzFeed were three or four that dealt with this leak, a coincidence in timing that is among the reasons I suspect Durham may have reviewed these 302s. They first described how after a meeting around the time Jim Comey was fired, an FBI counterintelligence detailee to the White House got called into Acting Homeland Security Advisor John Daly’s office after a meeting and grilled in a way that the detailee seemed to find inappropriate. Among other things, Daly asked the detailee what he thought of Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

A second interview with the detailee conducted on the same day appears to describe the aftermath of the meeting on May 10, 2017, at which Trump shared this intelligence. It appears the detailee read the MemCom of the meeting and realized what Trump had done. He appears to have first alerted his boss of what happened (it’s unclear whether that boss was at the White House or FBI), and then escalated it. He tried to tell Tom Bossert, but instead told Daly, which led to the grilling by Daly laid out in the first interview. After that meeting, the detailee told Bossert what happened. The detailee’s notice to Bossert led him to take measures to minimize the damage, as described by the original report on the meeting.

Senior White House officials appeared to recognize quickly that Trump had overstepped and moved to contain the potential fallout. Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, the services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.

One of Bossert’s subordinates also called for the problematic portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients, efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.

Over two years before similar events would lead to impeachment, Trump’s aides were trying to doctor the record of his calls with Russia to hide how he had damaged our allies.

According to the 302, Bossert applauded the detailee for alerting him of the problem. “Thank god you came to us.”

But then after the story leaked to the WaPo and NYT, the detailee was summoned to Bossert’s office, only to be grilled by both Bossert and Daly. After the detailee was grilled for 20-30 minutes, someone else was, as well. Almost immediately after his grilling, the detailee saw HR McMaster give a press conference at which, per the detailee, McMaster “gave a misleading account of what happened during TRUMP’s meeting with LAVROV.” Like Flynn had earlier that year, McMaster was lying publicly about something the Russians knew was a lie.

After he was grilled, the detailee appears to have informed FBI chain of command, including Bill Priestap.

Shortly thereafter, it appears that the detailee learned from Bossert that he was not getting a job he expected. The detailee asked when that decision was made, Bossert appears to have lied either about the job offer or about the decision to alter the MemCon in real time.

Not long after, the detailee left the NSC. Before he did, he put copies of emails recording all this as well as the partially redacted MemCon he had seen in a safe. The 302 suggests that the White House fired all the other people who had seen the MemCon.

Among the other 302s released last week include a record of FBI obtaining copies of Bill Priestap’s discussions with Ezra Cohen-Watnick and what appears to be the detailee at the time, which almost certainly includes notes relaying the events surrounding the MemCon. There’s also an almost entirely redacted 302 from Ted Gistaro, which was at least his second interview. Gistaro was Trump’s briefer both at Mar-a-Lago during the Transition period when Flynn was secretly calling Sergey Kislyak and probably still during the May 2017 period. Another 302 might be the FBI picking up the documents that the detailee had left behind.

All that is to say that among the very last documents that Bill Barr’s DOJ cleared for public release deal with a very complex set of problems central to questions of Trump’s relationship with Russia during the days that FBI would expand its counterintelligence investigation to incorporate Trump, as well. There’s the matter of the leak, which has never been charged. The original WaPo, which appears to have relied on more sources, cites both current and former officials, including at least one who remained close to Trump officials.

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

[snip]

“It is all kind of shocking,” said a former senior U.S. official who is close to current administration officials. “Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security. And it’s all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia.”

[snip]

“Russia could identify our sources or techniques,” the senior U.S. official said.

A former intelligence official who handled high-level intelligence on Russia said that given the clues Trump provided, “I don’t think that it would be that hard [for Russian spy services] to figure this out.”

Given that Bossert called NSA and CIA to alert them, there would be many candidates for this, including the OCAs for the intelligence and the partnership with our ally. Indeed, the journalists on the original story cover CIA and the Pentagon, not FBI. But the grilling of the detailee suggests that the White House suspected him.

Then there’s the matter of what the FBI should do with this information — and it seems fairly clear that the detailee was one if not the primary source of the information for the people overseeing the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. It is absolutely within Trump’s right to give our enemies classified information. It also undoubtedly damages the US (as the Trump-friendly source[s] for the story seem to agree).

If Andrew McCabe included this exchange among the things he considered before opening a counterintelligence investigation into Trump, I can see how Durham — who has exhibited over and over that he doesn’t understand counterintelligence — would deem it inappropriate, particularly if egged on by Bill Barr. If an FBI counterintelligence detailee at the White House had a role in its dissemination, all the more so.

But I can also see how, from a counterintelligence investigation, McMaster’s lies about this (on behalf of Trump) would raise concerns about Trump’s compromise. As with Flynn before him, the Russians would know that Trump was lying about his coziness with Russia.

Barr has set Durham up such that he can issue a report that the Attorney General — whoever it is — will be expected to make public (though if the report violates the rules that got Jim Comey fired, there would be a good excuse not to). If this is part of Durham’s investigation, Barr may be trying to suggest that the counterintelligence investigation into Trump was wholly inappropriate.

There’s a problem with that, of course. Trump had already probably committed a crime in working on a pardon for Julian Assange, well before he was even elected. That is, neither the leak to Ignatius (by whomever) nor the leak about the Russian meeting (by whomever) can be said to have inappropriately kicked off the counterintelligence investigation into Trump. His actions in October 2016 had already done that.

But, even if Durham showed any inkling of understanding of the counterintelligence matters he is investigating,  there’s no reason to believe he would know that there are seemingly ongoing matters that implicate Trump even before he was elected.

And if this is Barr’s play, of course, it may be undercut once Trump leaves office. Already, HR McMaster has, years later, criticized Trump’s efforts to coddle Russia. If asked to do so under oath in the next Congress, he may have far more to say about the damage Trump did to the country because he was so insecure about Russia’s help in the election.

Update: Bill Leonard, the former head of ISOO (and as such the guy who was in charge of the entire US classification system during the W administration), has corrected me on my assertion that Trump could legally share this information. He could under US law, but doing so violated international law. He explains:

Based upon reporting, the information Trump compromised was provided to the U.S. by an intelligence partner pursuant to a bilateral agreement.  Under international law, this bilateral executive agreement obligated the U.S. to protect the information.  Within the U.S., we have elected to utilize the classification system to protect such shared information.
While as President, Trump is free to abrogate the bilateral agreement, there is no indication that this was his intent.  Thus, pursuant to International law, he was obligated to protect it which he clearly failed to do.
Reverse the situation.  Foreign leaders do not have the right to unilaterally disclose U.S. classified information that has been shared with their country pursuant to a bilateral agreement.  The same restrictions pertain to a U.S. president.
Classification is but one of the many authorities this president has abused.  It needs to be called out as such.

The Trump Team Covered Up Flynn’s Calls in Real Time

I’ve been asked to write a summary of the Mike Flynn case. This will be a series covering the following topics:

  • Proof that Flynn and others were trying to hide his calls in real time
  • The basis for the investigation into Flynn
  • Known details of the investigation
  • Bill Barr’s efforts to dismantle the Flynn prosecution

Jared Kushner and KT McFarland lie in real time about Flynn’s calls

To understand the circumstances behind the Mike Flynn investigation, prosecution, Barr interference, then pardon, it helps to understand that Flynn and others built cover stories, in real time, both of the times that their efforts to get Russia to help them undermine President Obama’s policies succeeded.

For example, on December 22, after receiving a tip from a Senate staffer, Jared Kushner called Flynn and “directed [him] to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to learn where each government stood” on an Egyptian resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements, asking that they delay the vote or condemn the resolution. At about the same time, Trump tweeted a statement calling for a veto of the measure. Shortly after Jared’s call and Trump’s tweet, Flynn called Sergey Kislyak, then called an Egyptian contact, then spoke to Kislyak, then called the Egyptian contact several more times. After those calls, Trump and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi spoke, after which el-Sisi released a statement withdrawing the UN motion, describing a call with Trump in which, “They have agreed to lay the groundwork for the new administration to drive the establishment of a true peace between the Arabs and the Israelis.” After that statement, Jared pushed to release a statement falsely claiming the Egyptians initiated the calls.

Can we make it clear that Al Sisi reached out to DJT so it doesn’t look like we reached out to intercede? This happens to be the true fact patter and better for this to be out there.

The Transition spokesperson ultimately did release a statement falsely claiming that, “Mr. Sisi initiated the call.”

Jared hid the real sequence of their intercession in real time.

The Trump Administration continues to hide the substance of Flynn’s call with Russia that day. Although Ric Grenell had most of the transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Sergey Kislyak released, he had his December 22 call transcript withheld. The transcript from a call that Kislyak initiated the following day, however, shows that after consulting with “the highest level in Russia,” Kislyak conveyed to Flynn that Russia would push for more consultations that would delay the vote.

Kislyak: Uh, I just wanted as a follow up to share with you several points. One, that, uh, your previous, uh, uh, telephone call, I reported to Moscow and it was considered at the highest level in Russia. Secondly, uh, uh, here were are pointing, uh, taking into account, uh, entirely your, uh arguments.

Flynn: Yes.

Kislyak: To raise a proposal or an idea of continued consultations in New York. We will do it.

Notably, at the end of December 22, KT McFarland was happy to claim credit privately for Flynn’s success at delaying a vote, noting that he, “worked it all day with trump from Mara lago,” suggesting that Trump was closely coordinating with Flynn — and possibly even listened in on — his call with the Russian Ambassador. That’s one of the calls that Flynn would lie about months later when questioned by the FBI. McFarland would even go on to liken this effort to Richard Nixon’s effort to undermine Vietnamese peace talks and Ronald Reagan’s efforts to delay the release of Iranian hostages.

The other call Flynn lied about months later served to hide coordination at Mar-a-Lago, too. On that call, Sergey Kislyak reached out to Flynn after President Obama announced sanctions; he had a list of three non-sanctions issues he used to explain his call, issues that would have all been appropriate to discuss as part of Transition. After the third, Flynn broke in and asked Kislyak to convey a request that Russia not box “us” in, a request that, given Kislyak’s response, Flynn must have already made once.

Flynn: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I understand. Okay, um, okay. Listen, uh, a couple of things. Number one, what I would ask you guys to do — and make sure you, make sure that you convey this, okay? — do not, do not uh, allow this administration to box us in, right now, okay? Um —

Kislyak: We have conveyed it. And–

Then Flynn — not Kislyak — raised Obama’s sanctions, reflecting knowledge that they included expulsions.

Flynn: Yeah.

Kislyak: It’s, uh, it’s uh, very very specifically and transparently, openly.

Flynn: So, you know, depending on, depending on what uh, actions they take over this current issue of the cyber stuff, you know, where they’re looking like they’re gonna, they’re gonna dismiss some number of Russians out of the country, I understand all that and I understand that, that, you know, the information. that they have and all that, but what I would ask Russia to do is to not — is — is — if anything — because I know you have to have some sort of action — to, to only make it reciprocal. Make it reciprocal. Don’t — don’t make it — don’t go any further than you have to. Because I don’t want us to get into something that has to escalate, on a, you know, on a tit for tat. You follow me, Ambassador?

Flynn was on vacation in Dominican Republic when he made this call. He would later claim — an uncharged lie — that he “was not aware of the then-upcoming actions [against Russia] as he did not have access to television news in the Dominican Republic and his government BlackBerry was not working … he did not know the expulsions were coming.” As noted, that was a lie. He did know. We know several of the ways he learned about the sanctions. McFarland’s assistant, Sarah Flaherty, sent Flynn a NYT article on the sanctions. Flynn and McFarland spoke about how to respond to sanctions at least once before Flynn’s call. Most remarkably, after McFarland learned that Flynn would be speaking with the Russian Ambassador, McFarland spoke to Trump’s soon-to-be Homeland Security Czar Tom Bossert, he went to speak with his counterpart Lisa Monaco, and then Bossert emailed out some feedback he had learned from Monaco, including that the Russians were threatening to retaliate for the expulsions. So Flynn not only knew of Obama’s planned sanctions, he even knew part of what the Obama Administration knew about the Russian response to sanctions when be broached the subject with Russia.

Flynn’s lying about his foreknowledge of the sanctions (and therefore his coordination with Mar-a-Lago) would come later. But establishing a cover story came the next day, after Russia announced it would take no retaliatory action. Flynn had told McFarland the previous evening about his call with Kislyak, including that he had raised sanctions. But after Putin announced he would not retaliate (and Trump tweeted out his approval), McFarland forwarded a Flynn text to key transition staffers with a summary of Flynn’s call that made no mention of sanctions. Significantly, she sent it exclusively to official Transition email accounts, including those of Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, even though a key warrant application shows that Bannon and Kushner generally appear not to have used their Transition email accounts for foreign policy discussions. Flynn would eventually tell Mueller’s team that he purposely did not include sanctions in the text McFarland forwarded to others because, “it would be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.” Given the way McFarland selectively chose to include all foreign policy advisors on some emails and just Kushner and Bannon on others, and given an earlier disagreement between Transition team members about whether it was even proper to conduct such outreach with Russia, such selective reporting on Flynn’s calls may have had an additional goal, beyond just creating an affirmatively false record in case Obama’s team ever saw the emails. The email may have served to keep some Transition team members in the dark — as even Vice President Mike Pence remained in the dark weeks later.

However broad the intent, there is documentary evidence that for both calls about which Flynn would later lie to the FBI, Transition team members who also knew of the calls helped to cover them up in real time. Weeks before the FBI ever came calling, then, Flynn and others were already lying about these calls.