President Donald Trump wants you to believe that he had no way of knowing about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s shady dealings with Russia before he made him his first national security adviser. In reality, the president is trying to rewrite history.
On Friday, Trump tweeted his lament that nobody warned him about Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who was dismissed from his job as director of national intelligence by then-President Barack Obama in 2014. After his dismissal, Flynn wasted little time cozying up to the Kremlin, and then spent 2016 as one of Trump’s key campaign surrogates.
“It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge,” Trump tweeted. “It would have been impossible for me to know this but, if that was the case, and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?”
It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge. It would have been impossible for me to know this but, if that was the case, and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2019
But news reports indicate otherwise. CNN, citing former Obama administration officials, reported on May 17, 2017, that during a White House meeting days after Trump’s election, Obama told him that “given the importance of the [national security adviser] job, the president through there were better people for it, and that Flynn wasn’t up for the job.” But Trump proceeded with hiring Flynn anyway. Former New Jersey governor and longtime Trump confidant Chris Christie has also said he directly advised Trump against hiring Flynn.
“If I were president-elect of the United States, I wouldn’t let General Flynn into the White House, let alone give him a job,” Christie said in 2017.
Flynn soon illustrated why Obama and Christie had concerns about him. During the presidential transition period, he had phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which he advised Kislyak not to respond to new sanctions the Obama administration placed on Russia for interfering (on Trump’s behalf) in the just-completed presidential election. Not only did Flynn undercut Obama’s foreign policy, but he then lied about it, telling FBI investigators during an interview conducted days after Trump’s inauguration that he and Kislyak did not in fact discuss sanctions.
Flynn’s lies to the FBI prompted officials to warn Trump once again about Flynn. On January 26, 2017, then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates personally informed the White House that Flynn lied to the FBI about his calls with Kislyak, and therefore was at risk of being blackmailed by Russia. But instead of immediately taking action against Flynn, the Trump administration fired Yates three days later, after she refused to implement Trump’s executive order barring people from a number of Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States.
Flynn was finally fired on February 13, after it emerged that he had also misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his phone calls with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition period. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December 2017, agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller, and is still awaiting sentencing.
Trump, however, has repeatedly tried to blame the whole Flynn debacle on Obama.
General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama Administration - but the Fake News seldom likes talking about that.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
Beyond the explicit warnings from Obama and Christie, a number of red flags were raised about Flynn, beginning with his unusual paid trip to Moscow for an RT gala in December 2015 — an event in which he infamously sat directly next to Russian President Vladimir Putin — and continuing throughout 2016.
As the Guardian detailed in March 2017, both US and British intelligence officers were troubled about Flynn’s role in the Trump administration, given his dealings with Russia:
US intelligence officials had serious concerns about Michael Flynn’s appointment as the White House national security adviser because of his history of contacts with Moscow and his encounter with a woman who had trusted access to Russian spy agency records, the Guardian has learned.
US and British intelligence officers discussed Flynn’s “worrisome” behaviour well before his appointment last year by Donald Trump, multiple sources have said.
They raised concerns about Flynn’s ties to Russia and his perceived obsession with Iran. They were also anxious about his capacity for “linear thought” and some actions that were regarded as highly unusual for a three-star general.
Trump, who promised during his campaign to thoroughly vet his appointees, ignored all the red flags and decided to make Flynn his national security adviser anyway. But instead of being accountable for that, he’s now again trying to shift blame.
Trump’s tweet comes amid new revelations that his lawyer tried to dissuade Flynn from cooperating with Mueller
Trump’s tweet comes the day after a federal judge unsealed records suggesting that months after Flynn’s firing, the White House took steps to discourage him from fully cooperating with investigators.
In the filing, members of Mueller’s team write that “[t]he defendant informed the government of multiple instances, both before and after his guilty plea, where either he or his attorneys received communications from persons connected to the Administration or Congress that could’ve affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation.”
The filing doesn’t contain additional information about which members of Congress were involved, but according to the Mueller report, Trump’s then-personal attorney — the Washington Post reports the attorney is John Dowd — left a voicemail for Flynn’s attorney in November 2017 and said, “[I]t wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve gone on to make a deal with ... the government.”
Dowd went on to ask Flynn’s attorney for any information they might have had implicating the president, and also seemingly alluded to the possibility of a pardon.
“[I]f... there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security issue [so] ... we need some kind of heads-up. Just for the sake of protecting all our interests if we can .... [R]emember what we’ve always said about the President and his feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains,” the voicemail said.
The public should learn more about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak and the voicemail Dowd left for Flynn’s lawyer soon. According to the Post, the judge ordered prosecutors to make public a transcript of both, and they will be posted on a court website by May 31.
While Mueller concluded that Dowd’s voicemail didn’t rise to the level of prosecutable obstruction of justice — he cited the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) guidance that a sitting president cannot be indicted — the new revelations suggest the White House was worried about Flynn might tell investigators, and was taking steps to dissuade him from spilling.
So now, ahead of what could end up being more damaging revelations about his relationship with Flynn, Trump is again trying to distance himself from his former national security adviser, and throwing Obama under the bus in the process.
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