The transcripts of calls between Michael Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were released Friday after they were declassified by the Trump administration.
Flynn, who briefly served as President Trump’s White House national security adviser, was fired in February 2017 and then pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about discussing sanctions and a UN vote with Kislyak in December 2016.
Flynn says he did not intentionally lie and the Justice Department decided this month to drop the case, finding FBI agents including Peter Strzok had no valid basis to interview Flynn days into Trump’s presidency.
Four calls and one voicemail are transcribed over 24 pages released by Republican lawmakers.
“Lt. General Flynn, his legal team, the judge and the American people can now see with their own eyes – for the first time – that all of the innuendo about Lt. General Flynn this whole time was totally bunk,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement. “There was nothing improper about his call, and the FBI knew it.”
Grassley added: “After all the screw-ups and malicious behavior by FBI and DOJ officials during the Russia investigation, we simply cannot take them at their word anymore. We need oversight and transparency to sort out this mess.”
The transcripts document conversations during the Trump presidential transition, including the men discussing sanctions. In one conversation, Flynn implores Kislyak not to escalate a sanction war with the outgoing Obama administration.
Flynn said to the ambassador: “I know you have to have some sort of action, to only make it reciprocal; don’t go any further than you have to because I don’t want us to get into something that have to escalate to tit-for-tat. Do you follow me?”
In another conversation, Flynn talks about the incoming administration’s views on the Middle East.
“[Y]ou know that the strategic goal is stability in the Middle East,” Flynn said. “That’s the strategic goal. And, and, you know, between you and I, and you know this, and we know this, you know between Moscow and Washington. We will not achieve stability in the Middle East without working with each other against this radical Islamist crowd. Period.”
In an apparent reference to the UN vote that Flynn allegedly lied about, regarding Israeli settlements, the Trump adviser said: “We will try to help to postpone the vote and to allow for consultations.”
Trump Intelligence director John Ratcliffe sent the documents to Congress on Friday after they were declassified this week by his predecessor, acting director Ric Grenell. Defenders of the retired Army general, including White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, point out that the FBI had the transcripts when they interviewed Flynn.
Recently released documents revealed that the FBI nearly closed an investigation into Flynn on Jan. 4, 2017, after finding no evidence that he was a Russian agent. But Strzok and his mistress, former FBI attorney Lisa Page, with whom he traded anti-Trump text messages, intervened to keep the case open citing the never-used Logan Act of 1799, which bans ordinary citizens from conducting foreign diplomacy. The law is widely considered unconstitutional.
Then-President Barack Obama learned of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak before then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who ran day-to-day operations at the Justice Department. Yates, who was fired by Trump for refusing to defend a travel ban on a group of predominately Muslim countries, was stunned to learn about the Flynn-Kislyak calls directly from Obama at a Jan, 5, 2017, meeting, rather than her subordinates, according to recently released documents.
The FBI’s interview of Flynn occurred outside of standard protocol. Former FBI Director James Comey publicly acknowledged he sent agents including Strzok to interview Flynn days into Trump’s administration without informing the White House counsel’s office. Senior Justice Department leaders also were cut out of the decision, which Yates said frustrated her.
A handwritten note released this month from former FBI counterintelligence director Bill Priestap — following a meeting with Comey and then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe — said regarding Flynn: “What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”
Flynn was fired by Trump for allegedly lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the calls with Kislyak, which were made with the knowledge of other Trump transition officials. Pence recently said he’s inclined to believe that Flynn did not intentionally lie.
In pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, Flynn avoided charges for working as an unregistered agent of Turkey and agreed to cooperate with investigators in the Russia probe. A subsequent investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.