WASHINGTON (CN) — Transcripts of calls Michael Flynn made to Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States in 2016 surfaced publicly Friday as a legal battle raged in Washington over the Justice Department abruptly abandoning the case against the former national security adviser.
Flynn twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in 2017 about the communications, before reversing course and withdrawing the plea over allegations of “egregious government misconduct.”
The 21 pages of call transcripts now reveal new details on Flynn discussing U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama White House over 2016 election interference with then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak, just weeks before President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
After three years prosecuting the case, the Justice Department recently filed a motion to dismiss that raised a wave of criticism over political interference on the part of Attorney General William Barr in the case first brought by former special counsel Robert Mueller.
U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, a Bill Clinton appointee, opened the door for outside parties to file briefs to weigh in on the shocking reversal and assigned a retired federal judge to argue against the government dropping the case. Looking to force the judge’s hand, Flynn has petitioned to the D.C. Circuit to order Sullivan to grant the Justice Department’s motion.
Flynn had told investigators in a January 2017 interview that he did not ask Kislyak to refrain from escalating the situation and denied remembering a follow-up call that the diplomat later said led Russia to moderate its response on Flynn’s request.
But the transcripts show the then-national security adviser for the Trump campaign reasoning with the ambassador on a Dec. 29, 2016, call to keep things “even-keeled” after Kislyak raised concerns over the sanctions.
“And please make sure that its [sic] uh — the idea is, be — if you, if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of an even basis. Then that, then that is a good message and we’ll understand that message,” Flynn said.
“And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we, where because if we put out — if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a — let’s keep this at a level that uh is, is even-keeled, okay?” he continued.
In the discussion, Flynn repeatedly reassures Kislyak of the incoming administration’s desire to cooperate with Russia as the diplomat reminds him of the sentiments raging in Moscow.
“But I ask Russia to do is to not, if anything, I know you have to have some sort of action, to only make it reciprocal; don’t go any further than you have to because I don’t want us to get into something that have to escalate to tit-for-tat. Do you follow me?” Flynn asked, and the ambassador said he understood.
Proceeding along those lines, Flynn tells Kislyak that Russia and the U.S. have common enemies in the Middle East, adding: “And we have to, we have to do something about it.” Kislyak, in response, said: “General, I completely agree with you.”
Flynn then goes on to express that he “certainly will relay” the conversation.
“And then uh, I appreciate very much the uh, reservations about the current administration’s position on the Middle East. That — that does not do anybody any good right now, with — I mean, you know, you know Ambassador, the situation with Hamas, and the Palestinian situation, I mean, we’ll come up with a solution that’s good for everybody. We will,” he said.
In a call just days later on Dec. 31, 2016, Flynn agreed with Kislyak that the Obama administration had targeted the incoming Trump team as well as Russia by imposing sanctions.
“And I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president-elect,” Kislyak said.
The Russian official then goes on to explain that he hopes that “within two weeks” after the Trump administration moved into the White House, he could work in a “more constructive way” with Flynn.
“And with all our rights to responds we have decided not to act now because, its because people are dissatisfied with the lost of elections and, and its very deplorable. So, so I just wanted to let you know that our conversation was taken with weight [sic],” Kislyak said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Flynn said in response.
On the same call, the two men, Flynn at the time a private citizen, discuss Trump being aware of the communications between the incoming administration and the Russian government.
“I haven’t gotten, I haven’t gotten a, uh, confirmation on the, on the, uh, secure VTC yet, but the, but the boss is aware and so please convey that,” Flynn told Kislyak.
Senator Chuck Grassley, then-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with ranking member Dianne Feinstein of California first requested the records back in February 2017 after Flynn was fired from the White House for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the communications with Kislyak.
The Iowa Republican argued that the records released Friday make clear there was nothing improper about the calls, accusing Mueller and former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein of going to great lengths to keep the transcripts hidden.
“Our justice system doesn’t work when one side holds all the cards. But this isn’t just about safeguarding access to justice; it’s also about exposing shenanigans and abuses of power by those entrusted to uphold and defend the law,” Grassley said.