Fact Check: No, Michael Flynn Did Not Try to ‘Neuter’ Sanctions on Russia

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: Sally Yates, former Deputy Attorney General is sworn in to testify during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing to examine the Crossfire Hurricane investigation on Capitol Hill, on August 5, 2020 in Washington D.C. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images)
Carolyn Kaster - Pool / Getty

CLAIM: Michael Flynn tried to “neuter” the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russia over election interference.

VERDICT: FALSE. Flynn merely asked Russia not to respond harshly. He said nothing at all against the sanctions.

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates testified on Wednesday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her recollections regarding the outgoing Obama administration’s investigation of incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn in January 2017.

Yates repeatedly tried to justify the investigation by claiming that Flynn was trying to “neuter” the Obama administration’s sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

But the facts show otherwise. The transcripts of Flynn’s wiretapped conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, declassified by then-Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell in May, show Flynn never opposed the sanctions. Instead, he asked Kislyak to covey the message that Russia should not “escalate” its response because Russia and the U.S. needed to cooperate in the Middle East (presumably against the so-called “Islamic State,” or ISIS).

Flynn: So, depending on what actions they take over this current issue of cyber stuff, where they are looking like they are going to dismiss some number of Russians out of the country. I understand all that and I understand that the information that they have and all that. But I ask Russia to do is to not, if anything, I know you have to have some sort of action, to only make it reciprocal; don’t go any further than you have to because I don’t want us to get into something that have to escalate to tit-for-tat. Do you follow me?

Kislyak says he understands what Flynn is saying, but Flynn might appreciate the sentiments that are raging now in Moscow.

Flynn: I know! Believe me I do! I very much appreciate it! But I really do not want us to get into the situation where we everybody goes back and forth and everybody had to be a tough guy here. We don’t need that right now. We need cool heads to prevail. And we need to be very steady about what we are going to do because we have absolutely a common threat in the Middle East.

Yates testified that Flynn was undercutting or “neutering” deterrence against Russia. But that is simply untrue. Moreover, Flynn was arguably¬†assisting¬†deterrence by making sure that Russia did not “escalate” in a way that created more conflict.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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