10 Events You Need To Know About : NPR
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If the saga of Michael Flynn feels like it’s been hanging over President Trump’s head since Inauguration Day, that’s because it has.
The story of how Trump’s first national security adviser came to plead guilty to lying to FBI investigators and cooperate in the special counsel’s Russia investigation spans two presidential terms and also touches government officials who were subsequently fired by Trump.
Here are 10 key events that explain why Flynn was legally vulnerable in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and why his plea deal addresses one of the central questions in the wider Russia imbroglio.
1. President Obama sanctions Russia
On Dec. 28, 2016, then-President Barack Obama ejects 35 Russian diplomats from the United States and introduces new sanctions against a number of Russian security services and individuals.
The move is retribution for Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, detailed in the unclassified summary of a highly classified report by the intelligence community early in the new year.
2. Flynn confers with transition officials and talks sanctions with Russia
On Dec. 29, Flynn speaks with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, as well as a “senior official” of the presidential transition team, according to court documents in Flynn’s case.
The documents describe how Flynn spoke to his colleague in the administration-in-waiting — identified by some outlets as former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland — about what to tell the Russian ambassador about the sanctions. Then he spoke with Kislyak on the phone.
“Flynn called the Russian ambassador and requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the U.S. sanctions in a reciprocal manner,” say the court documents. The Trump camp wants to offer Moscow the prospect for a better relationship once Trump is inaugurated.
On Dec. 31, Kislyak calls Flynn back and says Russia indeed will not escalate, as he asked. Russian President Vladimir Putin confirms that with a public announcement, which Trump hails on Twitter.
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016
3. Pence denies Flynn talked sanctions
After a Washington Post report alludes to Flynn’s conversation, the administration-in-waiting begins denying they discussed sanctions. Not only is there suspicion about the issue itself; the question is raised about whether Flynn might have violated an obscure law that forbids Americans out of government to negotiate on behalf of the United States.
So on Jan. 15, then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence makes a case to CBS’s Face the Nation.
“What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that 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,” Pence said.
But the FBI, which was monitoring Kislyak’s communications, knew that wasn’t so.
4. FBI investigators interview Flynn
On Jan. 24, Flynn gives a voluntary interview to FBI investigators looking at Russian interference.
In this interview, according to the charging documents, Flynn makes false statements about whether he asked Kislyak to refrain from “escalating the situation.” He also says that he doesn’t remember the follow-up conversation in which Kislyak confirms Russia’s decision regarding a sanctions escalation.
Mueller’s team also now says Flynn gave false statements in the interview about calls he made regarding a United Nations Security Council resolution.
5. Sally Yates warns the White House about Flynn
On Jan. 26, acting Attorney General Sally Yates meets with White House counsel Don McGahn to warn him the Justice Department has evidence, via the FBI surveillance, that what Pence was saying publicly was inaccurate.
“We told him we felt like the vice president and others were entitled to know that the information that they were conveying to the American people wasn’t true,” Yates said in testimony to a Senate Judiciary panel in May.
She adds that because Russian diplomatic and intelligence officials also knew about the content of the conversations — and probably had their own proof of them — Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail.