In December, Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn spoke at length with the Russian ambassador to the United States about changes in America’s Russia policy that could come about during the Trump presidency, the Washington Post reported Thursday, citing anonymous U.S. officials. Among the matters discussed: sanctions imposed by President Obama over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. This contradicts Flynn’s flat denials and the Trump administration’s characterizations of the nature of the call. From the Post:
Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
All of those officials said Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president.
“Kislyak was left with the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time,” said a former official.
Trump’s circle strenuously denied that sanctions had been discussed during the call after reports of it first surfaced shortly before the inauguration. “[W]hat I can confirm having spoken to him about it,” Vice President Mike Pence told Face the Nation on Jan. 15, “is those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.”
The New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Matt Apuzzo additionally report that Flynn and the Russian ambassador discussed not only sanctions but also the possibility of military cooperation against ISIS. Notably, the Times says there are transcripts of the call. “Federal officials who have read the transcript of the call were surprised by Mr. Flynn’s comments,” they write, ”since he would have known that American eavesdroppers closely monitor such calls. They were even more surprised that Mr. Trump’s team publicly denied that the topics of conversation included sanctions.”
Per the Logan Act, private citizens are prohibited from negotiating with foreign governments in disputes with the United States. When the call was first reported, Slate’s Joshua Keating wrote that, despite the Logan Act, “Meetings between the president-elect’s team and foreign officials are Normal. Negotiations that undermine a sitting president’s foreign policy are not unprecedented, but remain highly controversial and Not Normal.”