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Michael Flynn, RussiaGate’s First Layer?

February 12, 2017

flynn_putin_stein

At RT dinner in Moscow, December 2015: Michael Flynn, Vladimir Putin, and Jill Stein [source: DailyKos]

Take a look at this photo, taken at a December 2015 gala dinner for the Russian state-funded news/propaganda organ, RT (formerly known as Russia Today).  There is Michael Flynn seated at Putin’s right hand, and bizarrely also at the table sits Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein (more about her later). Now hold that thought.

On February 9, the Washington Post published an extraordinary (and exceptionally well-sourced) story providing previously unknown details about contacts between Trump’s National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, and Russian officials–particularly Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak.

Most of the commentary since the story appeared has focused on reported conversations between Flynn and Kislyak on December 28, after the Obama administration had imposed sanctions on Russia’s diplomatic mission in the US for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump. Then on December 29, Putin surprisingly announced that Russia would not retaliate for the US sanctions–something they would normally do. This left many analysts wondering why.

Flynn and other senior Trump administration officials, including Mike Pence, had flatly denied that Flynn discussed the sanctions with the Russians. Then last week, Flynn backed off on his denials, saying he didn’t remember and couldn’t be sure.

According to the Post, Flynn did indeed talk with Kislyak about the sanctions. The story cites information from nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple intelligence and law enforcement agencies at the time of the calls, all of whom “said ­Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president.”

Obviously, the implication was that Moscow shouldn’t retaliate because Trump would fix all that after the inauguration. It also seems highly unlikely–even in the midst of Trump’s chaotic transition–that Flynn would tell the Russians this entirely on his own without authorization.

The other part of the Post story which has received less attention, but may be even more damaging, is that the “talks were part of a series of contacts between Flynn and Kislyak that began before the Nov. 8 election and continued during the transition.” In an interview this month, Kislyak said that he had been in contact with Flynn since before the election, but declined to answer questions about the subjects they discussed or to say anything about the origin of his relationship with Flynn.

All of this raises disturbing questions about whether the Trump team (of which Flynn was a key member) had any knowledge of the covert Russian campaign to tilt the election to Trump or might even have been colluding in it. And it should provide further incentive to investigate the nature of the Trump administration’s extensive ties with Russia and the reasons for Trump’s astounding admiration for and deference to Putin. This is only the outer layer of this rotten onion.

At a minimum, Flynn should be fired.  He had no business being on the National Security Council in the first place, much less being in charge of it. He now appears to have been caught lying about arguably colluding with a hostile major power. The extent of his Russian connections are unknown, but the intelligence and law enforcement agencies clearly don’t trust him or they wouldn’t be leaking such derogatory information. Now one of his top aides has reportedly been denied a security clearance by the CIA.  Flynn has lobbied for the Turkish government and has been paid to appear at an RT event. He has a record of erratic and irresponsible behavior, having been dumped as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 reportedly for his chaotic leadership style. He is prone to conspiracy theories and reckless tweeting or retweeting, most famously one just before the election alleging links between Hillary Clinton’s emails and money laundering and sex crimes with children. At the Republican convention, he led chants of “Lock her up”. He shares Bannon’s believe that the West is in a war against Islam.

Flynn may now be seen as a liability even by Trump and his inner circle. But the Democrats can’t allow ditching Flynn to be the end of the inquiry into RussiaGate.  There is clearly much more to this than we yet know.

Now, about Jill Stein.  According to The Daily Beast, Stein has refused to answer questions about who paid for her 2015 Moscow trip and appearance on an RT panel in which she denounced “disastrous militarism” by the US. During her stay in Moscow, she also parroted Russian talking points on incursions into Ukraine and the shoot-down of a Malaysian airliner. RT even hosted the Green Party’s May 2016 presidential debate. (Russian environmental activists opposed to Putin in August 2016 posted an open letter blasting Stein’s support for him.) All of which leads one to wonder what else the Russians might have paid for.

Why, you might ask, would Russia bother with a bit player like Jill Stein? Of course, the Soviets had a long history of subsidizing starry-eyed leftist American naifs of her ilk. But actually in the 2016 election, Stein might not have had such a minor part after all. The votes Stein got in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin were more than Trump’s margin over Clinton in each of those crucial states. Had those votes gone to Clinton, she would have won the electoral college and therefore the presidency.

So it’s not at all inconceivable that helping Stein might have been a little part of the Russian effort to tilt the election to Donald Trump.

 

 

 

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