Michael Flynn: Illicit Communication with Russia?

Claim:  Michael Flynn conducted illicit communications with Russians that violated the Logan act.

Rank: DebatableMichael Flynn, National Security Advisor, has found himself at the center of a controversy concerning illicit contact with Russia.  It has been alleged that on the day that Barrack Obama placed sanctions on Russia for alleged meddling in the presidential election that he had a phone call with Russia’s ambassador Sergey Kislyak where he had discussed the sanctions and that Donald Trump could roll them back.  On the day after, Vladimir Putin stated that Russia will not retaliate for the sanctions.

If these allegations are proven to be true, they may constitute a violation of the Logan Act which forbids private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments.  At the time, Flynn was retired and was not authorized in any official capacity.  The Logan act may not be a major concern as there are questions concerning its enforceability.  More importantly, the allegations raise a number of questions such as what did Donald Trump know of these communications and did the members of the administration lie to the public?

The first reports that Flynn of these communications with Russia came in the middle of January in a series of questions by The Washington Post about how Obama handled the hacking allegations.  The initial response from Flynn and Trump’s transition team was that the communications happened before the sanctions and that there was no discussion of sanctions with Russia. This argument is plausible as Flynn has maintained ties with some members of the Russian government. Michael Pence, Vice President, made a statement that the communications were coincidental and did not have anything to do with Obama’s sanctions.

Shortly after the initial denial, the Justice Department alerted the Trump administration that Flynn could be blackmailed by Russia.  It is known that there is a transcript for at least one of the phone calls.  It is standard operating procedure among rival nations to eavesdrop on calls made to foreign officials such as Kislyak.  A fact that Flynn should know based on his experience in the intelligence community.  This transcript has not been made public.

Flynn has revised his statement in regards to these communications.  He has claimed, through a spokesman, “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”  Flynn has also stated that he did not talk specifically about the sanctions just that they would be reviewing everything.  The investigation by the FBI seems support this statement as they do not see evidence of an explicit promise about the sanctions.  The Kremlin has denied that there was any discussion about sanctions and the Russian government continues to deny the accusation.

On February 13, Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor after apologizing Pence earlier in the day.  In his letter of resignation, he states that he inadvertently misled Pence about the matter.  In all likelihood, he was asked to resign due to the fact that he was not completely truthful about his communications.

Without seeing the transcript of the call in question, it is impossible to ascertain the true context of the conversation.  Additionally, due to the fact that there are questions concerning the enforceability and constitutionality of the Logan act, it is quite possible that these communications might not have been illegal.  For these reasons, whether or not Flynn conducted illegal communications is debatable.

References

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