WASHINGTON — When President Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in February, White House officials portrayed him as a renegade who had acted independently in his discussions with a Russian official during the presidential transition and then lied to his colleagues about the interactions.
But emails among top transition officials, provided or described to The New York Times, suggest that Mr. Flynn was far from a rogue actor. In fact, the emails, coupled with interviews and court documents filed on Friday, showed that Mr. Flynn was in close touch with other senior members of the Trump transition team both ahead of and soon after he spoke with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, about American sanctions against Russia.
While Mr. Trump has disparaged as a Democratic “hoax” any claims that he or his aides had unusual interactions with Russian officials, the records recommend that the Trump transition team was intensely focused on improving relations with Moscow and was willing to intervene to pursue that aim despite a request from the Obama administration that it not sow confusion about official American policy before Mr. Trump took office.
On Dec. 29, a transition adviser to Mr. Trump, K. T. McFarland, wrote in an email to a colleague that sanctions announced hours prior to by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling had been aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump’s victory. The sanctions could also make it significantly harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote in the emails obtained by The Instances.
It is not clear whether or not Ms. McFarland was saying she believed that the election had in fact been thrown. A White Home lawyer said on Friday that she meant only that the Democrats were portraying it that way.
But it is evident from the emails — which were obtained from somebody who had access to transition group communications — that following studying that President Barack Obama would expel 35 Russian diplomats, the Trump team swiftly strategized about how to reassure Russia. The Trump advisers feared that a cycle of retaliation in between the United States and Russia would preserve the spotlight on Moscow’s election meddling, tarnishing Mr. Trump’s victory and potentially hobbling his presidency from the commence.
As component of the outreach, Ms. McFarland wrote, Mr. Flynn would be speaking with the Russian ambassador, Mr. Kislyak, hours soon after Mr. Obama’s sanctions had been announced.
“Key will be Russia’s response more than the subsequent few days,” Ms. McFarland wrote in an e mail to yet another transition official, Thomas P. Bossert, now the president’s homeland safety adviser.
In an interview, Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer handling the Russia inquiry, stated there was practically nothing illegal or unethical about the transition team’s actions. “It would have been political malpractice not to go over sanctions,” he mentioned, adding that “the presidential transition guide especially encourages speak to with and outreach to foreign dignitaries.”
The only problem, Mr. Cobb mentioned, was that Mr. Flynn had lied to White Residence officials and to F.B.I. agents about what he had told the Russian ambassador. Mr. Flynn’s misstatements led to his firing in February and his guilty plea on Friday to charges of lying to federal agents.
With Mr. Flynn’s plea and agreement to cooperate with Robert S. Mueller III, the specific counsel investigating the Russian election interference, the inquiry edges closer to Mr. Trump. The president tried to persuade the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to drop the bureau’s criminal investigation of Mr. Flynn, and fired Mr. Comey soon after he failed to comply.
Mr. Trump and his aides have recommended that his concern about Mr. Flynn’s potential legal jeopardy was motivated primarily by the president’s admiration for his former national security adviser’s military service and character.
But the new particulars about Mr. Flynn’s Russia contacts underscore the possibility that the president might have been worried not just about Mr. Flynn but also about whether or not any investigation might attain into the White Home and possibly to the Oval Workplace. That query will be at the center of any consideration by Mr. Mueller of whether or not Mr. Trump’s actions constituted obstruction of justice.
The Trump transition team ignored a pointed request from the Obama administration to stay away from sending conflicting signals to foreign officials prior to the inauguration and to incorporate State Department personnel when contacting them. Apart from the Russian ambassador, Mr. Flynn, at the request of the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, contacted many other foreign officials to urge them to delay or block a United Nations resolution condemning Israel more than its creating of settlements.
Mr. Cobb mentioned the Trump team had by no means agreed to keep away from such interactions. But one particular former White Residence official has disputed that, telling Mr. Mueller’s investigators that Trump transition officials had agreed to honor the Obama administration’s request.
Mr. Bossert forwarded Ms. McFarland’s Dec. 29 e mail exchange about the sanctions to six other Trump advisers, including Mr. Flynn Reince Priebus, who had been named as chief of staff Stephen K. Bannon, the senior strategist and Sean Spicer, who would turn out to be the press secretary.
Mr. Obama, she wrote, was trying to “box Trump in diplomatically with Russia,” which could limit his alternatives with other countries, which includes Iran and Syria. “Russia is crucial that unlocks door,” she wrote.
She also wrote that the sanctions over Russian election meddling have been intended to “lure Trump in trap of saying something” in defense of Russia, and had been aimed at “discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference.”
“If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote.
Mr. Bossert replied by urging all the prime advisers to “defend election legitimacy now.”
Mr. Flynn, who had been fired by Mr. Obama as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was the point individual for the transition team on policy toward Russia and other nations. After Mr. Trump named him as his national security adviser in November, Mr. Flynn began briefing him — some say every day — on foreign policy.
Ms. McFarland, who served till Might as deputy national security adviser and is awaiting confirmation as ambassador to Singapore, was sometimes referred to by other transition officials as “Flynn’s brain.” She could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Flynn’s Dec. 29 get in touch with with Mr. Kislyak was a single of the first formal interactions amongst the incoming administration and a foreign government. On that winter day, Mr. Trump’s closest associates were scattered around numerous warm-climate places.
Mr. Flynn was in the Dominican Republic. Other senior members of Mr. Trump’s transition group, which includes Ms. McFarland, had been at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. Mr. Kushner was vacationing in Hawaii with his family.
Obama administration officials were expecting a “bellicose” response to the expulsions and sanctions, according to the e mail exchange among Ms. McFarland and Mr. Bossert. Lisa Monaco, Mr. Obama’s homeland safety adviser, had told Mr. Bossert that “the Russians have already responded with powerful threats, promising to retaliate,” according to the emails.
In his phone get in touch with with Mr. Kislyak, Mr. Flynn asked that Russia “not escalate the scenario,” according to court documents released on Friday. He later associated the substance of the get in touch with — including the discussion of sanctions — to a senior transition official, believed to be Ms. McFarland. A handful of days later, he briefed other individuals on the transition team.
Mr. Flynn’s intervention appeared to have a dramatic effect. To the surprise of foreign policy professionals, the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, did not instantly respond with retaliatory expulsions of Americans from Moscow.
Mr. Trump praised that decision in a tweet, writing: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) — I always knew he was quite smart.”
It is uncertain how involved Mr. Trump was in the discussions among his employees members of Mr. Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador. Mr. Spicer told reporters on the morning of Dec. 29 that the president-elect would be meeting with his national security team, such as Ms. McFarland, that day. A phone call that incorporated Mr. Trump, Mr. Flynn, Ms. McFarland, Mr. Priebus and Mr. Bannon was scheduled for 5 p.m., shortly following Ms. McFarland’s e mail exchange. It is unclear whether or not the contact took place.
Mr. Cobb mentioned that Mr. Trump did not know that Mr. Flynn had discussed sanctions with Mr. Kislyak in the contact. After the inauguration, “Flynn especially denied it to him, in the presence of witnesses,” he said.
Some legal professionals have speculated that the contacts throughout the transition in between Trump aides and foreign officials may possibly violate the Logan Act, a law that prohibits private American citizens from functioning with a foreign government against the United States. But the act has not been utilized to prosecute anybody since the 19th century. Mr. Cobb said the law “certainly does not apply” to a presidential transition team.
The day soon after the president fired Mr. Flynn, he talked about the F.B.I. inquiry with Mr. Comey, the agency’s director. Mr. Comey has stated the president urged him to drop the inquiry. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump stated, according to a memo that Mr. Comey wrote instantly afterward. The White Property has denied that account. The president fired Mr. Comey in Could.
Testifying before Congress in June, Mr. Comey declined to say no matter whether the president had fired him to impede the investigation. “I do not consider it’s for me to say regardless of whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct,” he mentioned. “I took it as a really disturbing thing, extremely regarding, but that’s a conclusion I’m confident the special counsel will work towards to try and comprehend what the intention was there, and whether or not that’s an offense.”
Published at Sat, 02 Dec 2017 20:45:53 +0000