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Two One-Time Devin Nunes Flunkies Under Investigation for Leaks

Michael Ellis, the Devin Nunes flunky who had been installed as NSA General Counsel over more qualified people, resigned from NSA after being placed on leave since Inauguration Day. I hadn’t realized until I read Ellen Nakashima’s report on Ellis’ resignation that he was being investigated for leaking classified information, though Catherine Herridge reported that investigation in real time, the very same day that Ellis’ attorney wrote NSA inquiring about the investigation.

Meanwhile, a long David Ignatius profile of another Nunes flunky, Kash Patel, mentions that he, too, is under investigation for leaking classified information.

Patel repeatedly pressed intelligence agencies to release secrets that, in his view, showed that the president was being persecuted unfairly by critics. Ironically, he is now facing Justice Department investigation for possible improper disclosure of classified information, according to two knowledgeable sources who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe. The sources said the investigation resulted from a complaint made this year by an intelligence agency, but wouldn’t provide additional details.

Both of these men (along with a third Nunes flunky, Derek Harvey) have been a real threat to national security and both have a history of writing crappy reports for Nunes (recent reporting reminds that Ellis was the author of an unnecessarily shitty Edward Snowden report, for example). There’s little doubt they have released the kinds of material that have never before been released, but much of that would either be legal and/or protected by Speech and Debate.

But the fact that both are being investigated for leaking classified information raises questions whether leak investigations are just being used as an easy way to take out intelligence community critics, whether they’re both suspected of leaking the same information, or whether there’s more there.

The Ignatius story, in particular, is of interest, not least because he’s the guy who first reported Mike Flynn’s conversation with Sergey Kislyak in a seemingly sanctioned leak, making this report a kind of book-end to the Trump Administration. All the more so given that Ignatius not only notes the sensitivity of the probe into Patel, but then tells a story that likely relies on classified information of how Patel’s incompetence almost blew up a SEAL rescue mission in Niger.

Anger toward Patel within the national security bureaucracy mounted after an Oct. 31, 2020, hostage rescue mission in Nigeria. The incident, never previously reported in detail, was described by four high-level sources.

It was a rescue mission that was nearly aborted partly because of inadequate coordination by Patel. SEAL Team Six had been assigned to rescue 27-year-old Philip Walton, a missionary’s son who had been kidnapped by gunmen in Niger, near the border with Nigeria. Patel, as a senior counterterrorism adviser, had assured colleagues that the mission had a green light, according to several sources. The SEALs were ready to parachute into the rescue site from high altitude (one source estimated 30,000 feet) when there was a last-minute hitch.

But as the SEALs were about to jump, military commanders and State Department officials realized that one necessary item hadn’t been completed: The Nigerian government hadn’t been informed prior to the operation inside their country, as required.

A frantic last-minute effort to obtain the necessary permission ensued. The SEAL team’s aircraft held over the target, flying in a racetrack pattern, for about 45 minutes while the State Department tried to locate a Nigerian national security official who could receive the official notice. Finally, just 15 minutes before the operational window closed, the Nigerians were given word, the SEALs parachuted down, and the hostage was rescued.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were angry that, in their view, Patel had prematurely said the operation was fully cleared, according to knowledgeable officials. One senior Pentagon official said he was “incensed” at Patel. A second senior Pentagon official described Patel’s actions as potentially “dangerous” for the SEALs.

The attack on Patel’s role in the hostage rescue may be a signal about what Patel is suspected of leaking.

While Ignatius provides no indication of what Patel is suspected of leaking, the WaPo columnist does link to an interview Patel did with Aaron Maté. The interview is about what you’d expect from a propagandist interviewing a propagandist.  Patel makes a slew of false claims that Maté encourages: the purpose of FISA, what normally goes in FISA applications, the intelligence against Carter Page, what servers the FBI obtained as part of its investigation into the hack (Maté still ascribes the single server fallacy!), what Crowdstrike actually had access to, what Bruce Ohr’s FBI interviews actually showed. Perhaps the most hysterical part of the interview is where Patel claimed that the way to conduct an investigation is to follow the money, but Maté never asked him why HPSCI didn’t follow the money on a single Trump associate, to say nothing of Trump’s role in money laundering for Russian oligarchs.

Nevertheless, in their discussion about the Russian investigation, Patel was quite careful to avoid revealing non-public information, not even for a report he authored claiming poor tradecraft on the Intelligence Community Assessment of the Russian attack that both SSCI and John Durham have investigated and dismissed.

Maté similarly let Patel dodge really answering questions about his conduct on January 6, even though some of the biggest questions about that day pertain to why DOD delayed for three hours before reinforcing the Capitol, including why it took over 30 minutes for an order to deploy to get from Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller to Guard Commander General William Walker who had been waiting on stand-by. In response to Maté’s question, Patel first repeated his selective breach of Executive Privilege to claim that Trump had already authorized Guard deployments, then answered a totally different question than the one Maté asked — not why DOD let the attack continue for 3 hours, long after it had gotten repeated requests for help, but how quickly DOD deployed the Guard after they had allowed an attack to happen across town while they watched.

We activated, from a start, the fastest augmentation and mobilization of uniformed military troops in the DC area since World War II, and we put 24,000 boots on the ground in less than 48 hours. I don’t know who’s saying we slow-rolled anything, because these are Guardsmen, they’re not active duty military.

While Patel violated Executive Privilege, there’s nothing classified about the belated Guard deployment.

It’s in-between those two conversations, though, where Patel may have succumbed to Maté’s persistent questioning about the very same topic about which Ignatius’ sources attack Patal: hostage rescues. Maté asked about a report that Patel had tried to negotiate the release of Austin Tice. Patel first responded to Maté by saying that he wouldn’t address whether Tice is alive or not. But then Maté followed up, and Patel told a self-serving story about his role in an attempt to free Tice. In it, Patel provided non-public details about his meeting with Assad representatives in Syria and may have confirmed an intercept on Bashar al-Assad.

Maté: Can you tell us anything about your discussions with Syrian officials, what they were asking from you, their level of openness to having talks with the US government?

Patel: Sure, I mean, look, that didn’t happen overnight. You know, one of President Trump’s priorities was, “go get American hostages home,” and I think we got over 50 — 53ish, hostages, detainees back — from 20-some countries maybe. Maybe a little less. But Austin Tice had been missing for, going on eight years, and we had made no headway, really, on it, so we made it a priority. We started working with our counterparts in the region. That trip was almost 18 months in the making. And we finally were able to land a meeting in Damascus because I told them, I said, “I’ll come see you. You send someone who can represent President Assad directly, because I can represent President Trump directly on this matter. And let’s go sit down.” And they said, “okay, come to Damascus.” And I don’t know if they thought we would show up or not. We did. And we were very clear. We said, “look, I understand I’m not getting Austin home on this trip, but I would like a proof of life. What would you like in return for that?” We had very frank conversations. They said, we want X amount of movement for the United States military. Troops stuff, and this and that. And I said, “look, all of that’s on the table. We can discuss all those things. I need a proof of life.” And they said they would take it back to Assad. Which they did. I know they did that. And then, I think shortly thereafter, I switched over to the Department of Defense, and tried to continue that mission, but, um, that one was one I just, unfortunately, didn’t succeed on. [my emphasis]

The most likely way that Patel would come to learn, with certainty, that whatever go-betweens he met with in Damascus actually did report back to Assad would be via an NSA or CIA intercept. If that is how he learned, then confirming that he knew Assad got a report back might have burned the intercept. Doing so with Maté at the Grayzone, which personally and as an outlet produce a lot of Assad apology, might be particularly sensitive. And the ease with which Maté appealed to Patel’s ego to get him to reveal these details would raise real questions about whether Patel played a role in the earlier WSJ story about the meeting, which was published on October 18, days before Patel almost fucked up the October 31 Niger mission.

That is, this Ignatius story seems like an effort to undermine Patel’s self-interested stories of heroism on hostage rescues, after he disclosed non-public details about one of them.

Which would also suggest that, whatever the merit of the investigation into Ellis (and I think GOP concerns about it have some merit), the investigation into Patel may be substantive.

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.

Ron Johnson Grasping at Chum

Russian disinformation purveyor Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley continue to serially demand and release documents from FBI in hopes of sustaining a buzz suggesting that Hillary was treated better than Donald Trump.

The latest batch is a hodgepodge. It purports to be,

messages from former FBI agent Peter Strzok related to Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI’s investigation of Trump campaign and administration officials, and the FBI’s “Midyear Exam” investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

But it is actually a hodgepodge, including texts pertaining to Guccifer 1.0, the ongoing hacks of the DNC, and other investigations pertaining to Russia, including the beginnings of a focus on Russia’s 2016 social media campaign. Some of the texts, such as one from October 21, 2016 about leaked Podesta emails involving Obama, don’t obviously involve Strzok at all.

There is no possible set of search terms that would return these texts. But they’re useful to compare with another more motivated set of texts released by the Jeffrey Jensen investigation that overlap with this one. Here’s a set of texts packaged up to justify blowing up the Flynn prosecution.

As a later filing to Judge Sullivan admitted, they were actually repackaged from the FBI original, and in the process an error was introduced into the document (adding the wrong time for the “Will do” text).

The set released to Johnson includes just a few of those texts, completely out of context.

But those texts reveal one reason why the Jensen texts were packaged up: to alter the UTC times to Eastern time, the kind of thing that, for trial exhibits, needs to be formally noticed. It’s the kind of thing Sullivan wouldn’t need to assess the evidence, but that would make the connections Jensen was trying to feed the public (some false) easier to put together.

Neither the Senators, their staff, nor the frothy right seem to have cared that these texts reflect a random grab bag to keep them occupied. Chuck Ross got himself in a tizzy, for example, because Strzok read the Michael Isikoff article reflecting information from Steele and determined that the Steele reports were “intended to influence as well as inform.”

In his rendition of the text, Ross claims that this means Strzok knew “Steele was a source” for the story. Of course, it means no such thing (and Ross had to mis-cite it to make the claim). It actually reflects that Strzok knew Steele’s reports were a source for the story, which was noticed to the FISA Court from the very first application, and so nothing we didn’t already know.

Then there’s the Federalist, which claims that this text proves the FBI was wiretapping calls between Fox News and George Papadopoulos.

The text is a copy of a text sent by someone else (that is, forwarded to the person who forwarded this to Strzok). It appears to come from Chicago (CG). Chicago was running an informant on Papadopoulos, who spoke quite a lot to him while being monitored. The most likely explanation for this is that after news about Sergei Millian was breaking (whose name is redacted in all these texts), Papadopoulos told the informant that Fox had reached out to him. In the same way Papadopoulos bragged falsely about meeting Russia’s ambassador and Putin’s niece, he may well have exaggerated the seniority of the person he spoke with.

Meanwhile, some of the texts provide needed content.

One text explains part of why Joe Pientka wrote up the briefing he gave Mike Flynn, Chris Christie, and Trump in August 2016: to capture what was said in case anyone leaked it.

He was wise to do so! Both Flynn and Trump would go on to make claims about what went on in the briefing, with Flynn falsely claiming that briefers said they disagreed with President Obama’s policies, claims that do not accord with the record — thus far — we’ve gotten of it.

And in January, amid a recurring discussion about how to organize the investigations — and exhibiting a concern that the multiple (Egypt, Flynn on Turkey, Papadopoulos and Israel) different CI concerns would turn into a Trump focused investigation rather than one focused on multiple legitimate concerns run by people with specific expertise to them — Strzok raised the risk of Flynn leaking. Flynn had a history of sharing classified information inappropriately. In one of the calls with Kislyak, Flynn offered up what kind of calls the Transition had been making (which might have been classified if it happened after inauguration).

Flynn: Yeah, there … there, I can tell you that there’s, uh, you know, a litany of countries that are … that we’re talking … I’m … I’m talking directly to. And … and that …

Kislyak: I see.

Flynn: Basically, just as I asked you.

With this disclosure, Flynn basically admitted to the Russians that Trump’s people were conducting a systematic effort to undermine Obama’s policy. And Kislyak just took at all in, letting Flynn run his mouth.

“I see.”

So at a time he would have been reviewing these transcripts and seeing how little filter Flynn had with a hostile country, Stzrok noted that the conversations with Kislyak or others could easily turn into an Espionage investigation, file code 65, if Flynn shared classified information.

There’s more, reflecting a real concern about the leaks that also (rightly) pissed off Trump, along with real efforts to chase them down.

But for now, DOJ and FBI appear to be throwing random shit Ron Johnson’s way to get through the end of the term, when he’ll no longer Chair HGSAC.

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.

The Facts “Known to” the Mueller Investigation: Judge Sullivan Should Demand the December 22, 2016 Flynn Transcript

I wrote up four things that, if I were Judge Emmet Sullivan presiding over the Mike Flynn case, I would do:

  • Make Trump name Flynn’s crimes
  • Establish a record about whether Flynn or Sidney Powell traded electoral assistance for this pardon
  • Force DOJ to explain what went into the altered documents
  • Identify who wrote the pardon

I’ve been thinking especially about what may be unconstitutional vagueness in Trump’s pardon, which purports to pardon Flynn for any facts “known to” the Mueller investigation. How do you circumscribe facts “known to” an investigation? After all, the entire Justice Manual and a lot of US code was “known to” those who conducted the investigation. Much of Flynn’s biography became “known to” investigators. Is Flynn pardoned for anything pertaining to that? That would be prospective immunity that goes well beyond the President’s pardon power. And how can Trump pardon crimes “related” to the investigation that have not yet been committed (if, for example, Flynn were to become a lobbyist for Russia based on the warm relationship he established by lying to protect them and chose not to register as a foreign agent for them)?

And so in addition to forcing Trump to name the crimes for which he is pardoning Flynn (at least with respect to all those before Sullivan, which include his charged false statements, the selling out to Turkey related crimes that were part of the plea, and crimes committed in Sullivan’s court room and the EDVA grand jury), it seems Sullivan may have the ability to lay out what is included in that “known to” language.

As part of that, Sullivan may have the authority to demand that DOJ file all of Flynn’s 302s as well as the transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Sergey Kislyak (Sullivan might also ask DOJ to lodge the grand jury testimony implicating Flynn, because that, too, defines the scope of the pardon).

I’m certain that DOJ is trying to hide those 302s, but I also don’t think there’s anything all that surprising in there (indeed, I think we’d find that Flynn was knowingly shading testimony). But I still think it legally sustainable, not least because there’s reason to believe Flynn committed a crime with respect to a fact that I suspect was not known to Mueller, because it may have been deliberately withheld (again, I’ll explain more in January). That probably won’t send Flynn to prison, but it should be recorded.

The transcripts, however, are more interesting. Bizarrely, DOJ never submitted the transcripts in this docket. Sullivan asked for them after the Mueller Report came out, but DOJ refused based on their true contention that nothing in Flynn’s case relied on the transcripts. But the Motion to Dismiss absolutely did rely on the transcripts, because it was premised on the claim that Flynn did nothing wrong on the calls. Ken Kohl even invoked them in the September hearing before Sullivan. But in spite of the fact that a selection of those transcripts were released, they were never submitted in this docket. Sullivan may be able to demand them, if only to avoid the problem of Constitutional vagueness pertaining to the scope of Flynn’s pardon, particularly with regards to what facts were known to Mueller.

That’s where things get interesting. Because DOJ made claims before Sullivan — that Flynn did nothing wrong on his calls to Kislyak — relying on the transcripts, but it specifically withheld the transcript of a call that was included in the criminal information: the December 22, 2016 call.

As I’ve noted, when ODNI released these transcripts, they didn’t even release the summary of the December 22, 2016 call included in Flynn’s charges, much the transcript.

I believe one of the facts “known to” Mueller’s investigators, but not known to us, is that Trump was present for that call, possibly even listening in. As such, it’s certainly within the scope of things for which Trump intends to pardon Flynn. But to avoid any confusion going forward that it is included, it needs to be known to us, or at least knowable to a future DOJ.

DOJ would squawk (they’ll squawk anyway, but that’s their own damn fault for writing a pardon that suffers from vagueness).

Again, I’m not saying that this provides Sullivan a way to dismiss the charges (though I see no reason why he can’t dismiss without prejudice). It doesn’t. What it does do is make a record of the true scope of the pardon.

Four Things Judge Emmet Sullivan Should Do in the Wake of Flynn’s Pardon

As I noted, Trump attempted to be expansive with his pardon of Mike Flynn. He failed. I think the chances that Flynn does prison time are almost as high today as they were last week.

And while I think there is absolutely nothing defective in the pardon that Trump signed and while I’m certain that Judge Sullivan will honor that pardon (though DOJ is asking him to dismiss the charges with prejudice; Sullivan should dismiss them without prejudice), there are four things that Sullivan has the means of doing to raise the cost of Trump’s pardon. Those are:

  • Make Trump name Flynn’s crimes
  • Establish a record about whether Flynn or Sidney Powell traded electoral assistance for this pardon
  • Force DOJ to explain what went into the altered documents
  • Identify who wrote the pardon

Make Trump name Flynn’s crimes

While whoever wrote this pardon tried (but failed) to make it comprehensive, it only names one of Flynn’s crimes: false statements (indeed, that’s the only crime that DOJ lists for the pardon on its website).

But by moving to withdraw his plea, Flynn put his other crimes before Judge Sullivan. So Sullivan has every right to inquire whether this pardon includes all of Flynn’s crimes. He could issue an order for Trump to come before him to answer whether the pardon forgives Flynn for:

  • His lies about what he said to Sergey Kislyak during the transition
  • Serving as an undisclosed Foreign Agent for Turkey
  • Lying about serving as an undisclosed Foreign Agent for Turkey
  • Conspiring with others to hide that he was an undisclosed Foreign Agent of Turkey
  • Lying about his own guilt and the circumstances surrounding his guilty pleas
  • Lying about lying to Flynn’s Covington lawyers

The answer to all those questions is yes. Trump does mean to pardon Mike Flynn for secretly working for Turkey while getting classified briefings. Trump does mean to pardon Flynn for lying to Sullivan (and he does know that Flynn did lie to Sullivan). Sullivan has a need to know that explicitly and he should get Trump on the record.

Trump won’t show, of course.

Until he is made to, after January 20th.

Note, I’d also make Trump state, under oath, when he signed the pardon. It is dated with Wednesday’s date, but I highly doubt that DOJ had it written by then. If Trump signed it after having lunch with Mike Pence yesterday, it’s possible that Trump didn’t write it this broadly until broaching a pardon for himself with Pence.

Establish a record about whether Flynn or Sidney Powell traded electoral assistance for this pardon

Judge Sullivan also has reason to want to know if someone offered Trump something of value for this pardon. He has evidence they did — in the altered documents designed to serve as a campaign attack on Joe Biden. And the news is full of evidence that Sidney Powell may have offered further benefit, in her efforts to challenge Trump’s election loss.

Sullivan should put both Flynn and Powell under oath and require that they confirm or deny whether they have offered favors to Trump for the pardon.

They won’t show, of course.

Until they are made to, after January 20th.

None of this would invalidate the pardon, of course. But if Trump got some other benefit from Flynn’s lies that went into this pardon, especially efforts to undermine a legal election, then the Attorneys General in those states that already investigating Trump’s efforts to steal the election would have reason to want to know that, and Sullivan has the means to get them under oath to do that.

Force DOJ to explain what went into the altered documents

People at both FBI and DOJ altered documents submitted in Sullivan’s court, the FBI by adding false dates to exhibits and DOJ by redacting footers indicating that the documents were covered by the protective order. Sullivan has reason to ask how that happened and who was involved in the effort.

Even if Trump pardoned everyone involved, there would still be a means for Sullivan to punish most of those involved, because most of those involved have law licenses and can be disbarred.

Sullivan should schedule a hearing — no need to rush, he might as well schedule it for January 26, after everyone involved gets a COVID shot — to ask the following people if they had a role in altering the documents (or eliciting a corrupt interview with Bill Barnett):

  • AUSA Jocelyn Ballantine
  • AUSA Sayler Fleming
  • AUSA Ken Kohl
  • US Attorney Jeffrey Jensen
  • FBI Executive Assistant Director John Brown
  • FBI Agent Keith Kohne
  • Acting DEA Administrator Timothy Shea
  • AG Bill Barr
  • DAG Jeffrey Rosen

Again, most of these people have law licenses that Sullivan could put at issue, and he has good reason to want to hold someone accountable for altering documents in his court.

These people won’t want to show. But after January 20th, they may have no way of avoiding it.

Identify who wrote the pardon

In his confirmation hearing, Bill Barr said that pardoning someone for giving false testimony would be a crime. Trump just committed that crime. Whatever lawyer wrote up the pardon language — whether it’s Barr or White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — just conspired to commit a crime.

Judge Sullivan should identify everyone who had a role.

[Fourth item added after the original post.]

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.

Even Bill Barr (in His Confirmation Hearing) Agreed that Trump Just Committed a Crime

Three different times during Bill Barr’s confirmation to be Attorney General, he agreed that agreeing to pardon someone for false testimony — as Donald Trump just did for Mike Flynn — would be a crime.

Patrick Leahy, specifically invoking Barr’s sanction of the Caspar Weinberger pardon that squelched the Iran-Contra investigation, asked Barr about pardons.

Leahy: Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

Then, in this exchange from Amy Klobuchar, it appeared to take Barr several questions before he realized she knew more about the evidence than he did, and started couching his answers.

Klobuchar: You wrote on page one that a President persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: [Pause] Yes. Any person who persuades another —

Klobuchar: Okay. You also said that a President or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: And on page two, you said that a President deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an obstruction. Is that correct?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. And so what if a President told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?

Barr: I’d have to now the specifics facts, I’d have to know the specific facts.

Klobuchar: OK. And you wrote on page one that if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. So what if a President drafted a misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting. Would that be obstruction?

Barr: Again, I’d have to know the specifics.

Shortly after that exchange, Lindsey Graham tried to clarify the issue, asking the pardon question at a more basic level, coaching another not to testify, as Trump has done on Twitter repeatedly.

Lindsey: So if there was some reason to believe that the President tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?

Barr: Yes, under that, under an obstruction statute, yes.

Lindsey: So if there’s some evidence that the President tried to conceal evidence? That would be obstruction of justice, potentially?

Barr: [nods]

Admittedly, by the third exchange, both Lindsey and Barr were hedging far more carefully about the set of facts.

But on three different occasions during his confirmation hearing, Barr made some kind of statement that said floating pardons for false testimony would be a crime.

Thanks to records made available by Ric Grenell and Sidney Powell, we know that Trump was personally involved with Mike Flynn’s negotiations with Russia about the UN statement on Israel. We also know that within two days after Flynn intervened to undermine Obama’s sanctions, Trump knew of Flynn’s conversation with Sergey Kislyak.

Flynn lied to cover that up with the FBI, and lied about his knowledge of Trump’s involvement with Mueller.

According to Bill Barr’s own testimony to Congress then, Trump’s pardon of Mike Flynn is obstruction of justice.

How Ric Grenell and Sidney Powell Have Made It Easier to Prosecute Donald Trump for Conspiring with Russia

In a Mike Flynn sentencing memo submitted in January delayed twice to secure all necessary approvals, Bill Barr’s DOJ asserted that Flynn’s lies were material because they hid, in part, who directed that he call up the Russian Ambassador and undermine sanctions.

It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

[snip]

The defendant’s false statements to the FBI were significant. When it interviewed the defendant, the FBI did not know the totality of what had occurred between the defendant and the Russians. Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

That makes sense. After all, Don Jr took a meeting in June with envoys for Aras Agalarov and — at a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton — said his father would reconsider Magnitsky sanctions after the election. Both after that meeting and on October 7 — two of three days that stolen emails were released — Aras Agalarov provided elaborate gifts to Trump, the latter one personally couriered from Russia by Ike Kaveladze. When Agalarov didn’t succeed in revisiting his conversations about sanctions directly after the election, Jared Kushner sought out a back channel. Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak arose directly out of the meeting at which Kushner made that request, and Kushner ordered Flynn to pursue the discussions with Kislyak. Flynn, Kushner, and KT McFarland made efforts to keep those conversations secret, even from other members of the Administration. At the same time, Flynn and McFarland were explicitly talking about sending secret messages between Putin and Trump.

So it would make sense that Flynn’s effort to undermine sanctions might be proof that Trump had entered into a quid pro quo back in June, rewarding Russia’s help for getting elected with sanctions relief.

But the Mueller Report did not find adequate proof that Trump directed this effort to charge it.

Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge.

[snip]

Our investigation accordingly did not produce evidence that established that the President knew about Flynn’s discussions of sanctions before the Department of Justice notified the White House of those discussions in late January 2017.

The Report relies on some, but not the most damning, of the exchanges back and forth between Flynn, McFarland and others released in an affidavit targeting them in 2017, as well as Flynn and McFarland’s testimony.

Since that time, several other pieces of evidence have become available — thanks to the interventions of former Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell and Flynn (and recently fired Trump) attorney Sidney Powell, among others — that might tip the balance on this evidentiary question.

Bill Barnett’s interview report claims he pursued a desired outcome in the interviews of Flynn and KT McFarland

One of those things is the testimony of Bill Barnett, one of the key FBI agents who investigated Flynn. Barnett was interviewed by Jeffrey Jensen in the review of Flynn’s prosecution that Sidney Powell demanded in June 2019 and Bill Barr gave Powell in January 2020, just after DOJ filed a sentencing memo calling for prison time.

Barnett’s testimony is, by itself, remarkable for all the ways it materially conflicts with the actions he took in the case. Effectively, he claims to have treated the investigation as a criminal investigation when documents he drafted clearly treat it as a counterintelligence investigation (thereby undermining all the claims that this was just about the Logan Act).

Barnett also claims that, after expressing disinterest in conducting this investigation four different times but ultimately relenting only so he could serve as a counter-weight to other investigators on the team, he single-handedly prevented the Mueller team from concluding that KT McFarland was lying when she told a story about coordinating with Mar-A-Lago that exactly paralleled the lies that Flynn originally told.

Barnett describes that he was the only one who believed that KT McFarland was telling the truth when she said that she did not remember Trump directing Flynn’s efforts to undermine sanctions. Significantly, he describes this question as — in Mueller’s view — “key to everything.”

Many at the SCO had the opinion that MCFARLAND had knowledge TRUMP was directing [sanction discussions] between FLYNN and the Russian Ambassador. When MCFARLAND did not provide the information sought, it was assumed she was lying. When BARNETT suggested it was very possible MCFARLAND was providing truthful information, one of the SCO attorneys participating in the interview said BARNETT was the only person who believed MCFARLAND was not holding back the information about TRUMP’s knowledge of [the sanction discussions]. MUELLER described MCFARLAND as the “key to everything” because MCFARLAND was the link between TRUMP, who was at Mar-a-Lago with MCFARLAND, and FLYNN, who was in the Dominican Republic on vacation, when [the calls] were made.

Again, it is stunning that Barnett was permitted to give this answer without being asked about the call records, which showed Flynn lied about consulting with Mar-a-Lago, to say nothing about the way that McFarland’s forgetfulness matched Flynn’s and then her unforgetting similarly matched Flynn’s. It’s not a credible answer, but Jeffrey Jensen doesn’t need credible answers.

Then, having made it clear that he believed that Mueller treated McFarland as the “key to everything,” BARNETT described how he single-handedly managed to prevent the entire team from concluding that Trump was in the loop.

BARNETT was told at one point he was being taken off the MCFARLAND proffer interview because SCO attorneys thought would be easier for MCFARLAND to talk without BARNETT there, due to her attitude toward BARNETT during past interviews.

McFarland has complained publicly about being caught in a perjury trap by the FBI agents who first interviewed her (and the 302s show a continuity among the FBI agents), so Fox viewers have actually seen evidence that McFarland had a gripe with Barnett.

BARNETT insisted he be on the interview. When BARNETT was told he would not be allowed on the interview, BARNETT suggested he might take the matter to the Inspectors General or to “11.” BARNETT believed some at SCO were trying to get MCFARLAND to change her story to fit the TRUMP collusion [sic] theory. [Probably Van Grack] later contacted BARNETT and said BARNETT would be part of the MCFARLAND interview.

During the proffer interview with MCFARLAND, the “obstruction team” was leading the interview. BARNETT described the “obstruction team’s” questions as general. They did not ask follow-up or clarifying questions. BARNETT was perplexed by their lack of asking follow-up questions. BARNETT began asking MCFARLAND follow-up questions and direct questions. BARNETT was trying to “cut to the chase” and obtain the facts. BARNETT asked questions such as “Do you know that as a fact or are you speculating?” and “Did you pass information from TRUMP to FLYNN?” Andrew Goldstein (GOLDSTEIN), a SCO Attorney, called “time-out” and cautioned BARNETT by saying, “If you keep asking these questions, we will be here all day.”

It’s unclear whether Barnett’s depiction is correct or not. The 302 of that interview is heavily redacted, but doesn’t show a “time out” in it. What matters for the purposes of this post is that Barnett is claiming he singlehandedly prevented McFarland from implicating the President.

You would never get this kind of admission from an FBI Agent, that he single-handedly undermined the questioning of a witness to get an outcome he believed in, all the while undermining his previously untainted credibility. But Sidney Powell’s demands led to DOJ producing it, nevertheless.

And that’s before any further scrutiny of Barnett’s role and the material inconsistencies here. Such scrutiny might come from the Strzok and Page lawsuits, which would have reason to use his pro-Trump tweets as proof that they were selectively disciplined for expressing political views on FBI-issued devices. Or, particularly given his efforts to blame investigative decisions on Andrew McCabe in ways that conflict with the public record, the McCabe lawsuit might have cause to inquire whether he was the agent who sourced a false story that Sara Carter published, alleging that McCabe said, “First we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump,” which ended up leading to the investigation into McCabe itself and ultimately to his firing. Or, DOJ IG might have cause to investigate the Jensen investigation itself, given how it submitted altered documents packaged up for publication, and the circumstances of the Barnett interview in particular, given how DOJ withheld material information from Judge Emmet Sullivan by redacting references to Brandon Van Grack in the interview report.

Interviewing Barnett in such an obviously biased way provides an easy hook for more scrutiny.

For the first time in history we can compare NSLs to warrants obtained

Then there’s another unprecedented thing that Powell’s demands produced: A report of (some of) the NSL’s that DOJ used against Flynn in early 2017. In an effort — almost certainly deliberately misleading — to suggest that McCabe and Strzok inappropriately got NSLs targeting Flynn in 2017 that they chose not to get in 2016 (there’s reason to believe they did get NSLs, only financial rather than communication ones), the government summarized what NSLs FBI obtained in February and March 2017. Those were:

One NSL, authorized on February 2, 2017, sought subscriber and toll billing records for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 1, 2015 to the present.

A second and third NSL, authorized on February 7, 2017, sought “electronic transactional records” for an email address associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 15, 2015 to the present and subscriber information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from August 1, 2016 to the present.”

A fourth, fifth, and sixth NSL, all authorized on February 23, 2017, sought toll records for three telephone numbers, for the period of January 1, 2016 to the present, and an email address, for the period of inception to the present, all associated with Michael T. Flynn.

A seventh NSL, issued on March 7, 2017, sought subscriber and transactional information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn from December 21, 2016, to January 15, 2017.

The government has only recently permitted NSL recipients to inform targets, but just targets, and only after a significant delay. Here, however, you have the government listing out the seven different communication records publicly, in a case where there was already a pending request and precedent to release the warrant applications publicly.

That not only allows us (again, for the first time I know of) to see how the FBI launders information learned in an NSL for use in a potential criminal prosecution, but it also tells us something about the communications devices the government had reason to find relevant when it did obtain warrants.

Warrant applications for Flynn’s iPhone 6 and a computer (first filed on July 7, 2017, then refiled on July 27, 2017) rely on toll records obtained in June 2017 and “other materials in the government’s possession” (which surely include those NSLs) to determine that Flynn had used the same phone from March 2015 until at least June 8, 2017. That said, Flynn changed the number three times, including after he learned he was under criminal investigation in January 2017. After Flynn refused to turn the phone over in response to a subpoena, the government obtained a warrant that would have permitted it to search Covington & Burling, where Flynn was storing it, if they didn’t otherwise produce the phone.

The warrant application and a parallel one targeting Flynn’s son* were focused on FIG, but written in a way such that any communications with foreign officials like Kislyak would still be responsive, and could be used in a False Statements or Foreign Agent prosecution.

By the time of the July 27 warrant that presumably successfully obtained Flynn’s phone, the government already had his Flynn Intelligence Group emails (there are two EDVA warrants that have not yet been unsealed, and some of those emails were turned over pursuant to a subpoena).

Also by that time, the government had confirmed that Flynn’s FIG email was provided by Google. This was the period prior to the time when DOJ agreed to let enterprise clients know when warrants were served on their facilities, meaning the government could have independently obtained FIG emails from Google, as they obtained Michael Cohen’s Trump Org emails from Microsoft in the same period.

On August 25, 2017 — the same day that Mueller asked GSA to turn over related devices and email accounts — Mueller obtained a warrant for Mike Flynn, KT McFarland, and Flynn assistant Daniel Gelbinovich’s devices and emails. GSA had provided Flynn one email account, three phones, and three computers, which would be consistent with devices hardened to three levels of classification — unclassified, Secret, and Top Secret (Flynn had renewed his clearance earlier in 2016). The government had already used a d-order to obtain the header information for the email accounts and obtained toll records by undisclosed means (of which there would be several possible, but the NSLs would have provided that information as well). In addition to sender and recipient information, the header information would have shown what IP any emails were sent from, using what devices (this would have built on information obtained via NSL), which can help to identify the location of someone. The August 25 affidavit referenced FIG emails obtained via subpoena to demonstrate that the Russians contacted Flynn at his Transition account (as well as via Gelbinovich and, apparently, Flynn’s son); though because the Russian side of the conversation would have already been targeted under FISA, the FBI also would have had their side of the communication, which the Russians surely knew.

Then on September 27, 2017, Mueller obtained a warrant targeting the email accounts and devices of Keith Kellogg, McFarland assistant Sarah Flaherty, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, and Jared Kushner. These two posts show how damning the content relayed in this warrant is. For the purposes of this post, however, the affidavit is useful because it identifies whether the emails Flynn and McFarland were using to communicate with the others were Transition accounts or not. While it appears Kellogg always used his Transition account, Flaherty, Spicer, and Priebus occasionally did, most of the rest did not, except in cases where they were writing cover emails. But her emails! (Numerous communications from Tom Bossert are included in this batch, as well, but that must come from an interview and subpoena he complied with.)

In addition, the affidavit explains that regarding the sanctions coordination, McFarland was consistently calling Flynn on his personal cell phone (the implication may be that earlier calls were on one of his GSA devices). He was responding to her and calling Kislyak from the hotel phone where he was staying in the Dominican Republic (the latter calls and their content, the FBI would know from FISA intercepts). The December 31 follow-up from Kislyak was placed to Flynn’s personal cell.  The affidavit does not, however, describe which phones Flynn used for other calls.

There are many details about these records that are interesting. Among the most interesting, however, is that the FBI would have known before they obtained the first warrants on Flynn’s devices and emails that almost none of the key calls with Russia, nor even the key calls coordinating the Russian sanctions call with McFarland and others, involved Flynn’s GSA devices. Additionally, there appear to be extra phones, not identified by the known warrants. These might be the possible targets of the NSLs:

One NSL, authorized on February 2, 2017, sought subscriber and toll billing records for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 1, 2015 to the present. [Flynn personal phone]

A second and third NSL, authorized on February 7, 2017, sought “electronic transactional records” for an email address associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 15, 2015 to the present and subscriber information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from August 1, 2016 to the present.” [Flynn Intelligence Group email and another phone (possibly his son’s?)]

A fourth, fifth, and sixth NSL, all authorized on February 23, 2017, sought toll records for three telephone numbers, for the period of January 1, 2016 to the present, and an email address, for the period of inception to the present, all associated with Michael T. Flynn. [GSA accounts]

A seventh NSL, issued on March 7, 2017, sought subscriber and transactional information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn from December 21, 2016, to January 15, 2017. [unidentified account]

At a minimum, the NSL report suggests that even though none of the calls identified in the warrants were to Flynn’s presumably more secure phones (indeed, only Spicer appears to have had a second phone at that point, probably in part because, of the others, only Kellogg and Flaherty had clearance), the government chose to obtain those phones as well. The government knew, when it obtained the August 2017 warrant, that there was something interesting on those second and third GSA lines Flynn was using.

If it weren’t for Sidney Powell’s attempts to frame Andy McCabe, these details would be totally classified. But because she demanded the “review,” it shows that there are parallel phone communications via which Flynn could have kept Trump in the loop on his calls to Russia (remember, translators believed the key December 29 one, which Flynn made from his hotel phone, sounded like he was using a speaker phone).

Ric Grenell releases really damning transcripts but withholds the potentially most damning one

Finally, in yet another unprecedented release, while he was Acting Director of National Intelligence, Twitter troll Ric Grenell prepared the release of the actual transcripts of the calls between Flynn and Kislyak, purportedly to show there was nothing untoward about the calls. (Current DNI John Ratcliffe approved the actual release as one of his first acts on the job.)

Even by itself, the transcripts were far more damning than the gaslighters suggested. Of particular note, on the December 31 call that Kislyak placed to tell Flynn that Putin had held off on retaliating because of his request, Flynn told the Russian Ambassador that Trump was aware of one thing — a proposed Syrian “peace” conference — that Kislyak had raised just two days before.

FLYNN: and, you know, we are not going to agree on everything, you know that, but, but I think that we have a lot of things in common. A lot. And we have to figure out how, how to achieve those things, you know and, and be smart about it and, uh, uh, keep the temperature down globally, as well as not just, you know, here, here in the United States and also over in, in Russia.

KISLYAK: yeah.

FLYNN: But globally l want to keep the temperature down and we can do this ifwe are smart about it.

KISLYAK: You’re absolutely right.

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

This evidence would have been inadmissible without Grenell’s intervention. There would have literally no way in hell Mueller would have been permitted to rely on it, a raw transcript of a FISA intercept targeting a foreign power. With it, however, you have Flynn saying in real time that Trump was aware of these conversations with Russia, well before they were made public. That’s precisely what Mueller concluded they couldn’t prove.

The transcripts make evidence obtained using criminal process still more damning, too.

For example, the transcripts and the affidavits make it clear that Flynn, McFarland, and the Russians were explicitly messaging back and forth. First Flynn explicitly told Kislyak that if Russia did not escalate in response to Obama’s sanctions, “we,” which would have to include Trump, would recognize that as a message.

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]

When Putin announced he would not retaliate, KT McFarland sent two emails explicitly labeling the move as a signal.

My take is Russians are taking the most restrained retaliation possible — it’s his Signal to trump that he wants to improve relations once obama leaves. Although [Obama] didn’t mean to he has given [Trump] new leverage over Putin.

[snip]

Putin response to NOT match obama tit for tat are signals they want a new relationship starting jan 20. They are sending us a signal.

But then Trump thanked Putin for the move, suggesting he was in on the signaling.

After he did so, McFarland sent Flynn, Kellogg, Flaherty, Priebus, Kushner, and Bannon — the latter of whom almost never used their official accounts but did here — and laid out a cover story, describing Flynn’s call without mentioning that he had raised sanctions. She offered,

a summary of FLYNN’s conversation the day before with the Russian “AMBO,” which I believe to be shorthand for “Ambassador.” McFarland appears to recite a summary of information she received from FLYNN in this email; she provides a summary of FLYNN’s conversation with the Russian Ambassador, but does not indicate that they discussed the sanctions imposed against Russia that had been announced earlier that day.

Flynn would admit to Mueller’s team that he, and therefore McFarland, who knew the truth, deliberately hid his discussions of sanctions with Kislyak.

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.1267

But the Russians — who may have monitored some of the traffic that went on between these unsecure personal accounts — made damn well sure that the US intelligence community had a record that all this signaling was intentional. Kislyak called Flynn on his unsecure personal cell phone and told him he had a message, too. The message was that Flynn’s request was the reason Putin had not acted. The message was also that Russia recognized (or claimed to, to play to the Americans’ paranoia) to be pitted against the same hostile entities together.

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.

This messaging all ended up with Russia and the incoming President aligned on the same side, against the US government.

Still, that’s not direct proof that Trump was involved in real time (though I suspect the government obtained that from its NSLs).

But that may be why Mueller charged Flynn’s lies about the UN vote. In that case (in part because McFarland wasn’t hiding her actions as much), it’s clear that Jared Kushner ordered the effort (and the Americans initiated the calls).

According to records obtained during the course of the investigation, at approximately 8:46 a.m. on December 22, 2016, FLYNN had a four-minute conversation with Jared Kushner. After that conversation concluded, at approximately 8:53 a.m., FLYNN called the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. FLYNN then called a representative of the Egyptian government and had a four-minute conversation with him. At approximately 8:59 a.m., FLYNN had a three-minute conversation with the Russian Ambassador. Over the next few hours, FLYNN had several additional phone calls with the representative of the Egyptian government.

When the Trump crowd succeeded in delaying a vote, McFarland made it clear that Flynn was at Mar-a-Lago working directly with Trump on this effort.

At approximately 8:26 p.m. on December 22, 2016, K.T. McFarland emailed FLYNN and Sarah Flaherty and stated that FLYNN had “worked it all day with trump from mara lago.”

And in spite of the fact that he himself initiated the effort, Kushner sought to release a public cover story, to hide that he and his father-in-law initiated the effort.

Kushner replied all to that email [including Spicer, Bannon, Priebus, Kellogg, McFarland, Kushner, and one other person whose name is redacted] and wrote: “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 pattern and better for this to be out there.”

This was a lie — a lie designed to cover up that he and Trump and Flynn had worked with Egypt (which had allegedly bribed Trump to get him through the election) and Russia (which had conducted an elaborate operation to help him) to thwart the vote and with it the official US policy not to protect Israel’s illegal settlements.

As it turns out, the transcript from Flynn’s call to Russia that day isn’t among those Grenell released because they were so helpful to Trump. Even the one-line summary of the call, released for all other substantive calls, remains redacted.

But there, too, Kislyak may have been performing for the FBI intercepts he knew would catch these calls.

First, on the December 23 call — the one after the call for which the transcript hasn’t been released — Kislyak assures Flynn that whatever happened on it was considered by Putin.

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.

Then on the December 29 call, when Flynn asks Kislyak that Russia not box in the new Administration, Kislyak says that message has already been conveyed.

FLYNN: do not, do not uh, allow this administration to box us in, right now, okay? Um —

KISLYAK: We have conveyed it.

That request wasn’t in the December 23 call, so it must have been in one of the communications that preceded it, possibly even the face-to-face with Kushner in Trump Tower.

In his December 22 call — the one the content of which Grenell hid — Flynn made an ask of Russia, an ask that went beyond a vote at the UN. That was a call made from Mar-a-Lago, possibly even made with Trump on the call. That was a call that McFarland bragged Trump was involved with personally.

The Mueller Report, relying on evidence that would be admissible in court, said it was unclear how involved Trump was in any of this. But thanks to Ric Grenell, we now have solid evidence he was personally involved, if not on the phone for the call.

And even Bill Barr’s DOJ says that kind of personal involvement from Trump might amount to the kind of coordination that Bill Barr claimed didn’t exist.

When Mueller closed up shop, his team decided that they couldn’t make this case in court. Now, thanks to Sidney Powell and Ric Grenell, the Biden Administration may have a much easier time making that case.


*We know this warrant targeted Michael G. Flynn because it was sent to Barry Coburn, who represented the failson, because the warrant always refers to Flynn père as Michael T. Flynn (as an affidavit referencing both would necessitate), and the target of the third warrant tried to invoke the Fifth Amendment for questions about Flynn Sr.

“Normal Transitions:” KT McFarland Sent Tom Bossert to “Spy” on Lisa Monaco

Trump is excusing his refusal to transition power by claiming he never got a real transition.

The President’s refusal to concede, as CNN has previously reported, stems in part from his perceived grievance that Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama undermined his own presidency by saying Russia interfered in the 2016 election and could have impacted the outcome, people around him have said.

Trump continues to hold a grudge against those who he claims undercut his election by pointing to Russian interference efforts, and he has suggested it is fair game to not recognize Joe Biden as the President-elect, even though Clinton conceded on election night in 2016 and the Trump transition was able to begin immediately.

That’s not true, but it’s also not new that he’s blaming others for his own mistakes and obstinance.

Because he’s ignoring the many efforts the Obama Administration made to ease the transition (many of which were rebuffed), it bears making something implicit in this post more explicit.

KT McFarland sent someone — almost certainly Tom Bossert — to learn what Obama’s Homeland Security Czar, Lisa Monaco, knew of Russias’ response to Obama’s sanctions. Only after Flynn got Bossert’s response did he call Sergey Kislyak.

And Kislyak exploited Trump’s insecurities as a result.

It’s not public precisely when Flynn (or his assistant) told McFarland that Ambassador Kislyak had reached out to the incoming National Security Advisor. It seems likely that Flynn forwarded the text he received from Kislyak on December 28 to McFarland and her assistant, however, because Kislyak’s text to Flynn is sourced to the subpoena production of that assistant, Sarah Flaherty, in the Mueller Report.

According to KT McFarland’s own testimony, however, she believes she told Steve Bannon about the upcoming call before it happened. The Mueller Report places this conversation shortly after McFarland called Flynn on his personal cell phone at 2:29PM on December 29 but did not reach him. That would confirm McFarland knew Flynn was going to speak to the Russian Ambassador before Flynn texted Flaherty to see if McFarland was available for a call at 3:14PM. Flaherty told Flynn that McFarland was unavailable because she was speaking with Homeland Security Czar designee Tom Bossert.

So at 3:14PM, McFarland already knew Flynn was preparing to talk to Kislyak and she was talking with Bossert.

Sometime in between 3:14PM and 3:50PM, based on Flynn’s representation that this call happened before he spoke with McFarland, Flynn called the spouse of the SJC staffer currently leading the pushback on this investigation, Michael Ledeen. Flynn and Ledeen spoke for 20 minutes.

At 3:50PM, McFarland called Flynn on his personal cell phone. They spoke for 6:39 minutes.

At 4:01PM, Bossert emailed a group including Flynn, McFarland, Bannon (at a private email), Keith Kellogg, and Reince Priebus, relaying what he had learned speaking with Lisa Monaco.

[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.

At 4:01PM, just as he would have received that email, Flynn called McFarland using his hotel phone. They discussed highly sensitive foreign policy issues on that unsecure phone for 11 minutes.

At 4:20PM, shortly but not immediately after speaking to McFarland about what surely included what Bossert had learned from Monaco’s representation of real time intelligence collection on and conversations with Russia, Flynn called the Ambassador to Russia, again from his hotel phone.

Even though Kislyak initiated the outreach after Obama had announced sanctions, Russia’s Ambassador feigned having called for other reasons, reasons that pre-dated the imposition of the sanctions. He went through them one-by-one:

  • He reassures Flynn that Russia won’t take any actions on the Middle East (notably Israel), particularly because it might change under the Trump Administration. He tells Flynn he has told Obama that.
  • He invites Flynn to send representatives to a Russian-Turkish conference on Syrian peace in Astana that will take place after Trump is inaugurated.
  • He proposes that Trump and Putin speak by secure videoconference on January 21, they day after the inauguration.

Flynn all but interrupted Kislyak and asked him to make sure that Obama not box Trump in (the fact that Flynn raised sanctions himself is one reason DOJ and FBI were so certain Flynn was lying when he claimed to the FBI that he never spoke about sanctions with Kislyak).

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–

Note: By saying “we have conveyed it,” Kislyak seems to suggest he has already gotten and fielded this request. That suggests that may be something that Flynn raised during their December 22 conversation, the transcript of which Ric Grenell has kept hidden.

Flynn continued, barreling through his request on sanctions.

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?

Kislyak sounded hesitant, noting that FSB and GRU couldn’t very well partner with the US on terrorism if they were under sanctions and Flynn agrees. Kislyak then agreed that he will try to “get the people in Moscow to understand it,” obviously a reference to Putin.

Then Flynn specifically framed Russia’s response as a kind of message to Trump.

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]

And Russia’s response was viewed as a signal. KT McFarland said as much in two sets of emails, the first to Flynn, Kellogg, Spicer, Priebus, Bannon, and others (all at their official accounts):

My take is Russians are taking the most restrained retaliation possible — it’s his Signal to trump that he wants to improve relations once obama leaves. Although [Obama] didn’t mean to he has given [Trump] new leverage over Putin.

Then, hours later, she sent an email to Flynn, Kellogg (on his official account), Kushner, Priebus, and Spicer (at least some of whom were on on personal accounts), adding:

Putin response to NOT match obama tit for tat are signals they want a new relationship starting jan 20. They are sending us a signal.

Shortly thereafter, Trump thanked Putin for his restraint — the action that Flynn said would be interpreted by Trump as a message — publicly on Twitter, shortly after which McFarland wrote a cover email to hide that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak.

But Russia, knowing well that Kislyak was tapped, didn’t leave this implicit signaling to chance.

On December 31, Kislyak reached out to Flynn again, emphasizing that he had a message on top of what Putin’s decision said publicly. A key part of that message was that Trump and Russia were on the same side, pitted against the US government.

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.

This exchange was, transparently and successfully, an attempt to convince the paranoid Flynn and his insecure boss that Russia was on the same side as them, against all their detractors. Even when this transcript was released, it was clearly an attempt to play on the resentments of Flynn and his boss. Every single thing that has happened since suggests it worked, presumably with similar massaging along the way to reinforce that sentiment.

But with the release of the warrant applications targeting Flynn, we now know that these exchanges, with McFarland and Flynn holding off on a response until they learned what the Obama Administration knew about the Russian response, were conducted in significant part on totally unsecure devices — Flynn’s cell phone, his hotel phone, and at least Bannon and apparently several others using their private email to discuss how to respond to sanctions.

Thus, it’s likely that by the time Kislyak called Flynn back, Russian intelligence had picked up at least some of this back and forth. It’s likely he knew that Trump’s closest advisors were effectively treating Russia as a more trusted partner than the Obama Administration, and even using one of their only civil relationships with the Obama Administration, Bossert, to better counteract Obama’s actions in order to establish closer ties with Russia.

For years, Trump has falsely claimed that the Obama Administration spied on the Trump campaign. This exchange suggests the opposite happened: Trump used one of the only civil relationships his Transition team had with Obama not to ensure a smooth transition, but instead to use Obama’s information to more closely align with Russia.