David Frum writes: Stop talking about the Logan Act.
It was not the violation of this antique and ignored piece of anti-Jacobin legislation that has touched off the biggest foreign-policy scandal since Watergate.
Nobody would care if an incoming national security adviser had confidential conversations with an ambassador of a hostile foreign government before Inauguration Day, if it were believed that the conversations served a legitimate and disinterested public purpose.
But that is exactly what is doubted in this case.
To put the story in simplest terms:
1) Russian spies hacked Democratic Party communications in order to help elect Donald Trump.
2) Donald Trump welcomed the help, used it, publicly solicited more of it—and was then elected president of the United States.
3) President Obama sanctioned Russia for its pro-Trump espionage.
4) While Russia considered its response, its ambassador spoke with the national security adviser-designate about the sanctions
5) The adviser, Flynn, reportedly asked Russia not to overreact, signaling that the new administration would review the sanctions; Russia did not respond.
6) As president-elect and then president, Donald Trump has indicated that he seeks to lift precisely those sanctions caused by Russia’s espionage work on his behalf.
All of this takes place against the background of Donald Trump’s seeming determination to align U.S. foreign policy ever closer to Russia’s: endorsing the annexation of Crimea, supporting Russia’s war aims in Syria, casting doubt on the U.S. guarantee to NATO allies, cheering on the breakup of the European Union. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: President Trump was aware for “weeks” that his national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled White House officials and Vice President Pence about his talks with the Russian ambassador before Flynn was forced to resign on Monday night.
During a briefing with White House Counsel Don McGahn late last month, Trump learned that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak despite his claims to the contrary. The briefing came “immediately” after McGahn was informed about the discrepancy by the Department of Justice, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday.
Sally Yates, the acting attorney general at the time, and a senior career national security official at the Justice Department had informed McGahn at his office about their concerns on Jan. 26, according to a person familiar with the briefing. Spicer said that the president and a small group of senior aides were briefed by McGahn about Flynn that same day. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Top Republican senators said Tuesday that Congress should probe the circumstances leading up to the resignation of Michael Flynn as President Trump’s national security adviser, opening a new and potentially uncomfortable chapter in the uneasy relationship between Trump and congressional Republicans.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), vice chairman of the Senate GOP Conference and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said lawmakers ought to look at the matter as part of an existing probe into Russian meddling in the United States political system — a sensitive topic that has lingered over Republicans since Trump’s election win.
“I think in all likelihood it should be part of the intel committee’s review of what’s happened with Russia, yes,” said Blunt. He added that he “certainly wasn’t kept informed” about the situation surrounding Flynn.
Blunt’s comments came at a tense moment when congressional Republicans are finding it increasingly difficult to defend Trump after a tempestuous start to his term has stoked frustration, fatigue and fear on Capitol Hill. [Continue reading…]
Trump kept Flynn close even after warning that his national security adviser was vulnerable to blackmail
The Washington Post reports: The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials said.
The message, delivered by Sally Q. Yates and a senior career national security official to the White House counsel, was prompted by concerns that Flynn, when asked about his calls and texts with the Russian diplomat, had told Vice President-elect Mike Pence and others that he had not discussed the Obama administration sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, the officials said. It is unclear what the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, did with the information.
Flynn resigned Monday night in the wake of revelations about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
In the waning days of the Obama administration, James R. Clapper Jr., who was the director of national intelligence, and John Brennan, the CIA director at the time, shared Yates’s concerns and concurred with her recommendation to inform the Trump White House. They feared that “Flynn had put himself in a compromising position” and thought that Pence had a right to know that he had been misled, according to one of the officials, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
A senior Trump administration official said before Flynn’s resignation that the White House was aware of the matter, adding that “we’ve been working on this for weeks.”
The current and former officials said that although they believed that Pence was misled about the contents of Flynn’s communications with the Russian ambassador, they couldn’t rule out that Flynn was acting with the knowledge of others in the transition. [Continue reading…]
Flynn's resignation is a good start, but to quote the Watergate hearings, "What did the president know, and when did he know it?"
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) February 14, 2017
IBT reports: The resignation of President Trump’s pro-Russia National Security Adviser has sent a shudder through Russia’s political class who are commenting that the move will damage already fragile US-Russia relations further.
“This is kind of a negative signal for the establishment of the Russian-American dialogue,” said Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the lower committee on international affairs in Russia’s parliament. Trump’s adviser, retired general Michael Flynn resigned late on Monday just three weeks into the new administration.
“It’s obvious that Flynn was forced to write the letter of resignation under a certain amount of pressure,” Slutsky told Russian state newswire TASS.
Slutsky called the forced resignation “provocative” and that Flynn had been targeted to harm “Russia-US relations, undermining confidence in the new US administration,” he said. [Continue reading…]
RT reports: The GOP elite, the Democrats and mainstream media couldn’t stop Donald Trump from becoming president, so now they have a coup, says lawyer and filmmaker Mike Cernovich. Michael Flynn’s resignation is a huge victory for them, he adds. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: These are chaotic and anxious days inside the National Security Council, the traditional center of management for a president’s dealings with an uncertain world.
Three weeks into the Trump administration, council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump’s Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them. Most are kept in the dark about what Mr. Trump tells foreign leaders in his phone calls. Some staff members have turned to encrypted communications to talk with their colleagues, after hearing that Mr. Trump’s top advisers are considering an “insider threat” program that could result in monitoring cellphones and emails for leaks.
The national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, has hunkered down since investigators began looking into what, exactly, he told the Russian ambassador to the United States about the lifting of sanctions imposed in the last days of the Obama administration, and whether he misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations. His survival in the job may hang in the balance.
Although Mr. Trump suggested to reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday that he was unaware of the latest questions swirling around Mr. Flynn’s dealings with Russia, aides said over the weekend in Florida — where Mr. Flynn accompanied the president and Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe — that Mr. Trump was closely monitoring the reaction to Mr. Flynn’s conversations. There are transcripts of a conversation in at least one phone call, recorded by American intelligence agencies that wiretap foreign diplomats, which may determine Mr. Flynn’s future. [Continue reading…]
Increasingly, the question seems not to be if Flynn will go, but how he will go?
As a top official dumped by two administrations, he’s quite likely to feel victimized and thus bitter — and perhaps therefore sooner or later willing to go public with a damning and detailed portrait of the dysfunctionality of the Trump administration.
The Washington Post reports: White House national security adviser Michael Flynn is under increasing political pressure and risks losing the confidence of some colleagues following reports that he misled senior administration officials about his discussion of sanctions with a Russian envoy shortly before President Trump took office.
As White House aides scramble to get their stories straight about the exact nature of those communications and as Democrats call for Flynn’s security clearance to be suspended or revoked, neither Trump nor his advisers have publicly defended Flynn or stated unequivocally that he has the president’s confidence.
Privately, some administration officials said that Flynn’s position has weakened and support for him has eroded largely because of a belief that he was disingenuous about Russia and therefore could not be fully trusted going forward.
“The knives are out for Flynn,” said one administration official who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly.
On Sunday, the top White House aide dispatched to represent the administration on the political talk shows pointedly declined to defend Flynn. [Continue reading…]
David Ignatius writes: Michael Flynn’s real problem isn’t the Logan Act, an obscure and probably unenforceable 1799 statute that bars private meddling in foreign policy disputes. It’s whether President Trump’s national security adviser sought to hide from his colleagues and the nation a pre-inauguration discussion with the Russian government about sanctions that the Obama administration was imposing.
“It’s far less significant if he violated the Logan Act and far more significant if he willfully misled this country,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, in a telephone interview late Friday. “Why would he conceal the nature of the call unless he was conscious of wrongdoing?”
Schiff said the FBI and congressional intelligence committees should investigate whether Flynn discussed with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December the imminent imposition of sanctions, and whether he encrypted any of those communications in what might have been an effort to avoid monitoring. Schiff said that if some conversations were recorded by U.S. intelligence agencies, “we should be able to rapidly tell if Gen. Flynn was being truthful” when he told Vice President Pence and other colleagues that sanctions weren’t discussed. [Continue reading…]
Flynn’s ongoing obfuscation around the content of his conversations would appear to be a delaying tactic driven by the fact that he doesn’t know how much more detail in his exchanges might soon be leaked.
It’s also, no doubt, a product of the reliable expectation that in a political climate flooded with too many controversies for the media to closely track, the Flynn story is likely to get overshadowed by yet another drama.
The 24/7 Trump soap opera is effective in both sickening and exhausting an audience that will soon transition from interminable distraction to mass catatonia.
Foreign Policy reports: Bombshell revelations about National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s potentially illegal conversations with the Russian ambassador have sullied his credibility, jeopardized his status in the White House, and fueled suspicions that the Trump administration is intent on appeasing a resurgent Moscow.
The episode — in which Flynn reportedly chatted with the Russian ambassador about the possibility of lifting sanctions on Moscow before President Donald Trump took office — reinforces growing concerns among lawmakers in Congress and European allies about Trump’s apparently unshakable affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
With Flynn already mired in a power struggle with the president’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, and other officials, the embarrassing incident threatens to further undercut his influence and bolster Bannon’s role. [Continue reading…]
Politico reports: A top deputy to National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was rejected for a critical security clearance, effectively ending his tenure on the National Security Council and escalating tensions between Flynn and the intelligence community.
The move came as Flynn’s already tense relationships with others in the Trump administration and the intelligence community were growing more fraught after reports that Flynn had breached diplomatic protocols in his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
On Friday, one of Flynn’s closest deputies on the National Security Council, senior director for Africa Robin Townley, was informed that the Central Intelligence Agency had rejected his request for an elite security clearance required for service on the NSC, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.
That forced Townley, a former Marine intelligence officer who had long maintained a top secret-level security clearance, out of his NSC post, explained the sources, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel matters.
One of the sources said that the rejection was approved by Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo and that it infuriated Flynn and his allies. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: National security adviser Michael Flynn spoke privately with Vice President Pence on Friday in an apparent attempt to contain the fallout from the disclosure that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with that country’s ambassador and then allowed Pence and other White House officials to publicly deny that he had done so, an administration official said.
The conversations took place as senior Democrats in Congress called for existing investigations of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to expand in scope to scrutinize Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak weeks before the Trump administration took office.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that if the allegations are proved, Flynn should step down. [Continue reading…]
Trump didn’t know about Flynn’s conversations about sanctions with Russia’s ambassador and neither did Pence. Flynn himself can’t remember, and the FBI and intelligence agencies listening in couldn’t decipher the true significance of what may or may not have been said. It’s all a deep, deep, mystery.
It’s Friday. Surely by Monday the media will also have forgotten about this story.
CNN reports: President Donald Trump said Friday afternoon he was unaware of reports that his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, may have spoken about sanctions with the Russian ambassador before the inauguration.
Trump, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, said he will “look into that.”
A US official confirmed to CNN late Friday afternoon that Flynn and the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, did speak about sanctions, among other matters, during the call.
The context of Flynn’s side of the conversation wasn’t clear, even to the FBI and intelligence agencies that reviewed the content, and there’s nothing to indicate that Flynn made any promises or acted improperly in the discussion.
Flynn cannot rule out that he spoke to Kislyak about sanctions, an aide close to the national security adviser said earlier Friday.
Flynn, the aide said, has “no recollection of discussing sanctions,” but added that the national security adviser “couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
Earlier Friday, a senior White House adviser told CNN that Vice President Mike Pence did not know that Flynn may have discussed sanctions in the December conversation and believes “it’s a problem.”
Three administration officials said Pence only knew what Flynn told him — that he had not talked about sanctions — before Pence stood before cameras last month and vouched for Flynn. One official said Pence was trying to “get to the bottom of it,” and two senior administration officials said Pence was “very intentional” in asking Flynn about his communication with the Russians before speaking to the media.
A source with knowledge of the situation told CNN the only reason Flynn hasn’t been fired is that the White House doesn’t want to look bad. Adding to Flynn’s problems, the source said, is that this latest revelation reflects poorly on Pence. [Continue reading…]
Indeed, it is of the utmost importance that Trump and those around him maintain their flawless reputations.
The Associated Press reports: For several years a group of hackers have been posting letters and documents stolen from senior Russian officials with impunity. And then the nation’s spy agency tracked them down and offered them a deal.
A member of the Shaltai Boltai (Humpty Dumpty) group said in an interview broadcast Thursday that the hackers accepted the offer from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the top KGB successor agency: show their spoils before publishing in exchange for protection.
But somehow the things went wrong for the group, and its leader and two other men have ended up behind bars.
Alexander Glazastikov, who spoke to the independent Dozhd TV from Tallinn, Estonia, where he’s seeking political asylum, said his group had no connection to the hacking of Democratic Party emails during the 2016 U.S. election campaign. Former President Barack Obama’s administration had accused Russia of launching the hacking campaign to help Republican Donald Trump win, accusations that the Kremlin has denied.
“Our group has never attacked targets outside Russia,” Glazastikov told Dozhd. “We weren’t interested in the Democrats or the Republicans.”
He didn’t say if the FSB officers who approached the group were those who were arrested in December on charges of spying for the United States. The arrests reported by Russian media outlets fueled speculation that the officers could have been connected to hacking the Democrats. [Continue reading…]
RFE/RL reports: The murky investigation of Russian intelligence officers reportedly facing treason charges has taken a fresh turn, with the Interfax news agency quoting unnamed sources as saying that two suspects are accused of collaborating with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The news, unverified and uncorroborated, is the latest in a growing number of remarkable leaks that hint at possible struggles and hidden agendas inside Russia’s formidable security apparatus.
To date, not a single Russian official or law enforcement agency has commented on the record about the reported case against the Federal Security Service (FSB) officers, identified as Sergei Mikhailov and Dmitry Dokuchayev, and other alleged accomplices.
Instead, numerous Russian media citing anonymous sources have reported the suspects may be tied to hackers targeting the Russian elite and may have disclosed information related to cyberattacks targeting the U.S. election system.
These reports come on the heels of an assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies in early January concluding that Russia orchestrated a hacking campaign aimed at helping President Donald Trump defeat his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in the election.
The anonymous sources have not expressly linked the reported accusations against Mikhailov and Dokuchayev to the breaches of Democratic Party servers, though the Novaya Gazeta newspaper has reported there may be links to attacks on U.S. state-electoral systems. [Continue reading…]
USA Today reports: A senior Russian intelligence officer and cybersecurity investigator arrested last month on treason charges allegedly was passing information to U.S. intelligence services, according to Russian media outlets.
Sergei Mikhailov, who worked for the FSB, the successor to the KGB, was arrested in December, along with Ruslan Stoyanov, a top manager for Russia’s largest cybersecurity firm, according to the economic newspaper Kommersant. Stoyanov was also charged with suspicion of treason.
In addition, two other people, including Major Dmitry Dokuchaev, also an FSB officer, were arrested in connection with the case, according to Russia’s REN-TV. The fourth person was not identified.
Stoyanov allegedly developed a program introduced into a prominent bank’s computer system to gather privileged information on customers, REN-TV reports. That information, it reports, was then sold to the West.
In another twist, Russian media says the FSB believes Mikhailov tipped U.S. intelligence about Vladimir Fomenko and his server rental company “King Servers.” The U.S. cybersecurity company Threat Connect identified King Servers last year as an “information nexus” used by hackers suspected of working for Russian intelligence in cyberattacks on electoral systems in Arizona and Illinois.
The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta says Mikhailov was arrested during an FSB meeting in early December when officers came into the room, put a bag over his head and took him away.
The cause of the arrests was not clear. The newspaper said only that the FSB discovered Mikhailov’s alleged involvement in the purported plot after the U.S. accused King Servers of the cyberattacks on the U.S. [Continue reading…]