- REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn told the FBI in an interview last month that he did not speak to Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, about sanctions, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
That may put Flynn in legal jeopardy because he has said that he couldn’t recall exactly what he and Kislyak discussed during their calls in December, but the issue of US sanctions on Russia may have been touched upon after all.
The Post’s account of Flynn’s interview with the FBI appeared to conflict with CNN’s reporting, however, which said that the bureau’s interviewers “believed Flynn was cooperative and provided truthful answers” and “don’t believe he was intentionally misleading them.”
Even if the FBI recommended charging Flynn with perjury, it is unclear whether a Justice Department led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions would move forward with those charges.
The FBI interviewed Flynn about the calls, which were intercepted by US intelligence agents, two days before Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, told White House counsel Donald McGahn she believed Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail by the Kremlin, which knew about the conversations.
Yates, who along with top US intelligence officials obtained transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak in late December, said she considered Flynn’s comments in at least one of the calls to be “highly significant” and “potentially illegal,” The Post reported, citing a US official close to her.
President Donald Trump said in a press conference on Thursday that Flynn was “just doing his job” when he called Kislyak in December.
While Trump said he did not direct Flynn to discuss sanctions on the calls, he said that he would have if he had known the nature of their discussions.
“I don’t think he did anything wrong – if anything, he was doing something right,” Trump said. “He didn’t just call Russia, he called and spoke to both ways, I think, 30-odd countries. He was just doing his job.”
Flynn resigned on Monday, four days after The Post and The New York Times, together citing nearly a dozen current and former US officials, reported that Flynn had spoken with Kislyak about sanctions, despite repeated denials on both sides that anything sensitive was discussed on the calls.
In an interview with The Daily Caller shortly before resigning, Flynn said he wasn’t trying to “relieve sanctions” on Russia, but that he called the ambassador – at least once on the day President Barack Obama imposed new penalties related to Russia’s election-related meddling – “basically to say, ‘Look, we’re coming into office in a couple of weeks. Give us some time to take a look at everything.'”
A former official told The Post, however, that Flynn gave the ambassador “the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time.”
- REUTERS/Carlos Barria
The Defense Intelligence Agency has suspended Flynn’s security clearance pending a review of his communication with Kislyak, CNN reported.
Trump on Thursday criticized the press for publishing “classified” information, though The Post’s and The Times’ reports did not specify whether the sources came from within the intelligence community.
“The first thing I thought of when I heard about [Flynn] is: How does the press get this information that’s classified?” Trump said on Thursday. “How do they do it? You know why? Because it is an illegal process, and the press should be ashamed of themselves.”
Trump insisted on Thursday, however, that the only reason he asked for Flynn’s resignation was because Flynn “didn’t tell our vice president properly, and then he said he didn’t remember, so either way, it wasn’t very satisfactory to me.”
Vice President Mike Pence was “incensed” at Flynn for misleading him about the calls, The Times reported on Monday. Pence had defended Flynn in an interview with CBS on January 15, saying Flynn “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
Pence wasn’t informed about the investigation into Flynn’s communication with the ambassador until February 9, according to The Post – weeks after Yates first briefed McGahn about the calls.
“For the vice president, I feel terrible,” Flynn told The Daily Caller. “I put him in a position. He’s a man of incredible integrity. I think the world of him. … I should have said, ‘I don’t know. I can’t recall,’ which is the truth. Looking back, that’s what I should have done.”