I’m hesitant to write anything more about the situation unfolding right now in D.C., as things are happening so quickly. I did, however, want to share this timeline with you from today’s Washington Post, as I think it might be something that we return to in the future as we try to determine what Trump knew, and when he knew it.
Dec. 29: Flynn, a former lieutenant general who had been selected as Trump’s national security adviser, speaks to Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. Despite Flynn’s later denial and the White House’s later comments, he and Kislyak discuss sanctions and the possibility of relieving them once Trump is president — even as the Obama administration was announcing new sanctions for Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election.
Jan. 12: For the first time, Flynn’s talks with the Russian ambassador are reported by Post columnist David Ignatius. Few details are known, but Ignatius notes that if the two discussed the sanctions, this could violate an obscure law known as the Logan Act, which prohibits unauthorized citizens from dealing in disputes with foreign governments.
Jan. 13: In his first comments on the matter, White House press secretary Sean Spicer says Flynn told him that he had exchanged text messages with Kislyak before they spoke on Dec. 28. (The date was later corrected to Dec. 29.) But Spicer said it was only to discuss logistics for a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump after Trump was sworn in as president. “That was it, plain and simple,” Spicer said.
Jan. 14: Flynn assures Pence, who was then the vice president-elect, that the two of them didn’t discuss sanctions, according to Pence.
Jan. 15: Pence says on the Sunday shows that Flynn and Kislyak didn’t discuss sanctions. “I talked to General Flynn yesterday, and the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to the new U.S. sanctions against Russia or the expulsion of diplomats,” Pence says on “Fox News Sunday.”
Jan. 26: The Justice Department, then headed by Acting Attorney General Sally Yates (whom Trump would later dismiss for not defending his travel ban), informs White House counsel Don McGahn of Flynn’s misleading statements. It also warns that they were so egregious that he could open himself up to Russian blackmail, given Russia knew he had mischaracterized the call to his superiors, according to Washington Post reporting. White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed the specific date on Tuesday. “The first day that the Department of Justice … sought to notify White House counsel was January 26,” Spicer said. “The president was immediately informed of the situation.” Spicer said the White House didn’t believe Flynn had violated the law. None of this was disclosed publicly at the time.
Feb. 8: In an interview with The Post that would be published the following day, Flynn categorically denies having discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
Feb. 9: The Post reports that Flynn did, in fact, discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador. In response, a spokesperson amends Flynn’s denial, saying that he “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
Feb. 10: Trump says in brief comments aboard Air Force One that he is unaware of The Post’s report but that he will “look into” it.
Around 5 p.m. Monday: Conway says the White House has “full confidence” in Flynn and seems to excuse him for having forgotten that he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
Also around 5 p.m. Monday: Spicer issues a contradictory statement. “The president is evaluating the situation,” he said. “He’s speaking to the vice president relative to the conversation the vice president had with Gen. Flynn, and also speaking to various other people about what he considers the single most important subject there is: our national security.”
8 p.m. Monday: The Post reports that the Justice Department had told the White House last month “that Flynn had so mischaracterized his communications with the Russian diplomat that he might be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.”
Shortly before 11 p.m. Monday: Flynn resigns.
Tuesday morning: Conway says Flynn resigned voluntarily.
Tuesday afternoon: Spicer, again contradicting Conway, says Trump requested the resignation: “Whether or not he actually misled the vice president was the issue, and that was ultimately what led to the president asking for and accepting the resignation of General Flynn. That’s it. Pure and simple, it was a matter of trust.”
So, just a few unfocused thoughts on what we know thus far.
1. Flynn, who was, for the past several weeks, the head of the National Security Council, apparently did not know that our intelligence agencies were in the practice of monitoring the communications Russian diplomats. I know I mentioned it yesterday, but I still can’t believe that he, as a career military officer, and Trump’s chief intelligence advisor, he didn’t understand that his calls to a Russian diplomat might have been recorded. The ineptitude of this administration is absolutely dumbfounding, and it will ultimately be their undoing. I take some comfort in that.
2. According to the above timeline, White House counsel Don McGahn, on January 26, was told by acting Attorney General Sally Yates (as well as former national intelligence director James Clapper Jr. and CIA director John Brennan) not only that Flynn had been lying, but that the Russians were in a position to blackmail him, as they knew that he had been lying about the content of his calls to Kislyak, and had violated the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from engaging in such discussions with foreign governments. I would have thought that Trump, in order to protect himself, would have said that he hadn’t been made aware of this report made to McGahn. Apparently, though, the White House has decided to acknowledge the fact that he knew. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on the record this afternoon that Trump has known for “weeks” that Flynn lied to Pence and others about the content of his calls. In fact, according to Spicer, Trump heard the news the very same day that Yates told McGahn. Trump was briefed “immediately,” Spicer said today.
3. So, today Spicer said that Flynn was asked for his resignation on Monday because it had been determined that he’d lied to the Vice President about his calls to Kislyak. “Whether or not he actually misled the vice president was the issue,” Spicer said, “and that was ultimately what led to the president asking for and accepting the resignation of General Flynn. That’s it. Pure and simple, it was a matter of trust.” But the thing is, we’ve already established that Trump was made aware of Flynn’s lying on January 26, “immediately” after Yates shared the information with McGahn. So, if he was fired for lying to the Vice President, why did Trump wait until February 13 to ask for Flynn’s resignation, when he had the evidence against him on January 26?
4. So, at 5:00 on Monday, Kellyanne Conway assured the press that Flynn had the “full confidence” of Trump. Then, just six hours later, it was reported that Flynn had resigned. I’d be interested to know what changed over that period of time? Why did the administration decide to jettison Flynn? Did Pence, who maybe really had been lied to, demand that he be forced out? Or did it perhaps have something to do with the news that broke at 8:00 PM that the administration has also been told on January 26 that, because of Flynn’s lie, he “might be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow”? [And you have to respect the intelligence community for how they played this. They told the press, when the President declined to take action against Flynn on his own, that the White House had been told of Flynn’s lying. And, when that still didn’t produce the desired result, they added that the White House had also been warned that Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail.]
5. It’s being reported now that, not only did Flynn lie to White House staff about these calls to discuss the Russian sanctions levied by the Obama administration, but that he also lied to the FBI, an offense which could bring with it a felony charge… And, if that should happen, one wonders what Flynn might tell prosecutors in order to protect himself… Might he, in order to save his own hide, say that Trump had asked him to contact the Russians, which seems like the most plausible scenario here? [Why else would Trump have kept him after the 26th, when he first learned of the calls?]
6. Regardless of how all of this went down, I hope you’ll agree that we need hearings. Democrats in the House have been demanding a Russia investigation for some time now, but Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has been denying them at every turn, choosing instead, if you can believe it, to investigate the funding of an episode of the PBS cartoon “Sid the Science Kid” about he Zika virus. Thankfully, it looks as though things have begun to turn. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said this evening that an investigation was “highly likely.” And other Republicans are jumping on the bandwagon. Republican Senator Roy Blunt, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told KTRS radio the evening, “I think everybody needs that investigation to happen.” And Senator John Cornyn, the Senate’s second ranking Republican leader, and newly appointed member of the Senate intelligence panel, agreed, saying that an investigation would be “appropriate.” But the House, it seems, could still use some convincing. Chaffetz, the last I heard, was still saying, “I think that situation has taken care of itself.” So, if you’re anywhere near a phone today, call your Congressperson. And, if you have time after that, call Jason Chaffetz and tell him to do his job.
7. Assuming we’re right and all of this is happening because America’s intelligence community feels as though the Trump administration is a danger to the country, one wonders if they’ll be satisfied with Flynn’s resignation. Based on this new news item in the New York Times, I’m guessing not. Here’s how it begins… “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials. American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.” So now, it would appear, we have at least four members of the intelligence community telling the New York Times that there are more intercepted calls… calls made between members of the Trump team and Russian officials during the general election, at the time that we know the Russians were actively hacking the Clinton campaign in order to assist Trump. So, stay tuned. More dominos may be falling.
8. If I were a betting man, I’d say, in the next few days, we’ll be hearing more people talking about the role of oil in all this, and that mysterious 19% ownership stake in the Russian oil company Rosneft that we were discussing back in January… Just wait.
There’s so much more I want to say, but my weighted blanket is calling.