The Obama administration earlier this year said unequivocally that it did not have a problem with the Trump transition team reaching out to foreign officials, contrary to reports suggesting otherwise.
On January 13, 2017, State Department spokesman Mark Toner (pictured) said, “this building doesn’t see anything necessarily inappropriate about contact between members of the incoming administration and foreign officials.”
The remark came in response to a reporter’s question specifically about then-incoming National Security Adviser Ret. Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak.
Yet Trump critics cried foul about those calls, after revelations on Friday that Flynn, during the transition period, had asked Kislyak to ask Moscow not to retaliate to Obama administration sanctions imposed on December 29, 2016, and that he had also asked him to vote down or delay a United Nations vote condemning Israeli settlements.
They said that Flynn potentially violated the Logan Act, a law enacted in 1799 that prohibits negotiation by unauthorized persons with foreign governments having a dispute with the United States.
Since then, no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for violating it.
Here is Toner’s full exchange with a reporter at the State Department briefing:
QUESTION: No, I got just one more. You probably have seen —
MR TONER: Excuse me.
QUESTION: — reports starting yesterday, but then more of them this morning, about contact between the incoming national security advisor and the Russian ambassador. I’m just wondering, from the State Department’s point of view, is this something that’s of concern at all? Or – I’ll just leave it there and then follow up.
MR TONER: Again, not necessarily – I’ve seen the reports. I don’t think they’ve been confirmed or corroborated yet. But that’s – as he’s part of the transition team, that’s really for them to speak to in how they are engaging. I mean —
QUESTION: Right, but —
MR TONER: — the president-elect is also engaged on his own with many world leaders.
MR TONER: So I don’t want to speculate and I don’t want to —
QUESTION: So there’s nothing – this building doesn’t see anything necessarily inappropriate about contact between members of the incoming administration and foreign officials —
MR TONER: No.
QUESTION: — no matter what country they’re from?
MR TONER: No.
MR TONER: No. And again, this has been ongoing. I mean, we stand ready if they want to work through the State Department to contact some of these individuals, but we have no comment or no problem with them doing such on their own. 13 1/13/2017
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR TONER: Yeah.