Law enforcement officials told CNN on Friday that, “barring new information that changes what they know,” charges will not be recommended against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn over his telephone conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Michael Flynn’s pre-inauguration calls to Kislyak became a controversy that ultimately resulted in his resignation, but even the final wave of media reports in the onslaught against him conceded that no illegal behavior occurred in the selected portions of his phone transcripts leaked to the media. Flynn’s defenders suspected the full transcripts were not leaked because they would prove he did nothing illegal. That suspicion appears confirmed by CNN’s report:
Flynn initially told investigators sanctions were not discussed. But FBI agents challenged him, asking if he was certain that was his answer. He said he didn’t remember.
The FBI interviewers believed Flynn was cooperative and provided truthful answers. Although Flynn didn’t remember all of what he talked about, they don’t believe he was intentionally misleading them, the officials say.
However, CNN concludes by noting, “there is still an ongoing, broader FBI review of Flynn and Russia-related dealings.”
The key issue that could have spelled serious legal jeopardy for Flynn was the sanctions imposed against Russia in the last weeks of the Obama administration. The Washington Post noted on Thursday that Flynn denied discussing sanctions with Kislyak in an interview with FBI agents last month, which could have exposed him to felony charges of lying to the FBI.
However, the Post cited “several officials” who said it was “unclear whether procedures would attempt to bring a case, in part because Flynn may parse the definition of the word ‘sanctions,'” and because he told the FBI he couldn’t recall everything said during his conversation with Kislyak.
Eli Lake’s influential story on the “political assassination” of Flynn at Bloomberg View cited a White House official who said Kislyak brought up sanctions during the conversation with Flynn. Flynn reportedly responded by saying that “the Trump team would be taking office in a few weeks and would review Russia policy and sanctions.”
As Lake pointed out, that would be “neither illegal nor improper.” It would also seem like the sort of detail Flynn might forget about when talking to the FBI — and perhaps to Vice President Mike Pence, the omission that seems to have cost him the National Security Adviser position.
Also, when Pence defended Flynn in an interview with CBS News on January 15, he stated Flynn and Kislyak “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
But in an interview with the Daily Caller conducted shortly before his resignation on February 14, Flynn said he did briefly discuss the 35 Russian diplomats expelled from the United States by the Obama administration due to Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
“It wasn’t about sanctions, it was about the 35 guys who were thrown out,” said Flynn. “So that’s what it turned out to be. It was basically, ‘Look, I know this happened. We’ll review everything.’ I never said anything such as, ‘We’re going to review sanctions,’ or anything like that.”
He said this is what he apologized to Pence for failing to make clear in his discussions with the vice president because Pence went on to explicitly state that Flynn did not talk about the diplomats with Kislyak. Accounts of Flynn’s interviews with the FBI suggest he didn’t believe his brief reference to the expelled diplomats counted as “discussing sanctions” with the Russian ambassador. That would seem to clarify the discrepancies between various leak-driven reports about whether Flynn was in serious legal jeopardy with the FBI.
The Senate Judiciary Committee requested full copies of the intercepted calls between Flynn and Kislyak on Wednesday, along with a briefing by knowledgeable officials from the FBI and Justice Department.
Independent watchdog group Judicial Watch has requested records related to the wiretapping of Flynn and Kislyak’s calls, including the warrant authorizing such surveillance. In the absence of such a warrant, it may develop that Michael Flynn is off the hook for federal charges, but the people who recorded his conversations and leaked them to the press are not.