(National Sentinel) Set-up: A report published Tuesday indicates that President Donald J. Trump’s first national security advisor, former Army three-star general Michael Flynn, actually did not lie under oath to FBI agents, though he was later charged with making false statements to agents in a bizarre case that has congressional investigators baffled.
As reported by the Washington Examiner‘s Byron York, then-FBI Director James Comey briefed several lawmakers on Capitol Hill in March 2017 regarding the Trump-Russia collusion investigation, where Flynn’s case was of intense interest after he resigned the previous month after spending just 24 days on the job.
“There were widespread reports that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about telephone conversations that he, Flynn, had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition in late December 2016,” York wrote.
“On Jan. 24, 2017, two of Comey’s FBI agents went to the White House to question Flynn, and there was a lot of speculation later that Flynn lied in that interview, which would be a serious crime.”
“The Jan. 24 interview potentially puts Flynn in legal jeopardy,” the Washington Post reported in February. “Lying to the FBI is a felony offense.”
At least among GOP members, there was a widespread concern in Congress regarding the leak of the Flynn-Kislak conversation because such foreign surveillance intelligence is most often classified at the highest levels. However, someone nevertheless revealed the conversation to the press, and Republicans have long suspected Obama-era appointees in the Department of Justice and Intelligence Community.
As such, lawmakers wanted Comey to get them up to speed as to what was happening when he went to Capitol Hill about a year ago to brief them. But “what they heard from the director did not match what they were hearing in the media,” York wrote.
“According to two sources familiar with the meetings, Comey told lawmakers that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn did not believe that Flynn had lied to them, or that any inaccuracies in his answers were intentional,” he continued. “As a result, some of those in attendance came away with the impression that Flynn would not be charged with a crime pertaining to the Jan. 24 interview.”
However, nine months later — with Comey having been fired by Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller now in charge of the Russia-Trump probe — Flynn wound up pleading guilty to making false statements to the FBI during his Jan. 24 questioning.
And as of yet, there are no answers as to why.
As York noted, Flynn is awaiting sentencing, which has been pushed by back at the request of Mueller’s office until May. In the meantime, some lawmakers are attempting to find out what happened between the time Comey briefed Congress that the FBI did not believe Flynn — who served a three-year stint as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration — lied to the FBI and the time, months later, when he pleaded guilty to doing that very thing.
“None of those congressional investigators has an answer; they’re baffled by the turn of events. But they know they find the Flynn case troubling, from start to finish,” York wrote, adding:
The questioning in that Jan. 24 interview apparently revolved around the Flynn-Kislyak phone conversations. The first thing to remember is that it appears Flynn did nothing wrong in having those talks. As the incoming national security adviser, it was entirely reasonable that he discuss policy with representatives of other governments — and Flynn was getting calls from all around the world.
Even if Flynn discussed a pressing Russian concern — U.S. sanctions against Moscow — that would have been entirely proper. “I don’t have a problem with that,” former Bush national security adviser Stephen Hadley said in February 2017. “I don’t see what would be wrong if [Flynn] simply said, look, don’t retaliate, doesn’t make sense, it hurts my country, it makes it harder for us as an incoming administration to reconsider Russia policy, which is something we said we’d do. So just hold your fire and let us have a shot at this.”
Reports at the time indicated that the FBI found nothing illicit in Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak. On Jan. 23, the Washington Post reported that the FBI had reviewed the Flynn-Kislyak calls and “has not found any evidence of wrongdoing or illicit ties to the Russian government.”
It is customary for the government to monitor all foreign diplomats inside the U.S., especially those from peer and competitor nations like Russia, so that explains why Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak would have been intercepted (something Flynn, as former head of the DIA, would also know).
But some in the Obama administration believed Flynn may have done something wrong. In particular, deputy attorney general Sally Yates thought Flynn had violated the Logan Act, a 218-year-old law under which no one has ever successfully been prosecuted.
“To some Republicans, it appears the Justice Department used a never-enforced law and a convoluted theory as a pretext to question Flynn — and then, when FBI questioners came away believing Flynn had not lied to them, forged ahead with a false-statements prosecution anyway,” York wrote. “The Flynn matter is at the very heart of the Trump-Russia affair, and there is still a lot to learn about it.”
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