Michael Flynn asked Russia’s ambassador in late 2016 to not escalate a diplomat standoff with the United States after the Obama administration ordered 35 Russian diplomats to leave the country because of cyber attacks during the 2016 campaign, according to declassified transcripts of phone calls released Friday.
Flynn urged the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, to respond on a “reciprocal basis” to the Obama administration’s order, according to a transcript of the call, which occurred on Dec. 29, 2016.
“We need cool heads to prevail,” said Flynn, saying that the U.S. and Russia faced “a common…threat in the Middle East right now.”
“Do not…allow this administration to box us in right now, okay?” Flynn said.
John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, gave the declassified transcripts to Congress on Friday.
Flynn’s phone calls with Kislyak touched off a series of events that eventually led to the retired general pleading guilty in the special counsel’s probe to making false statements to the FBI.
FBI agents interviewed Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017, regarding his contacts with Kislyak.
Flynn pleaded guilty on Dec. 1, 2017, to making false statements during the White House interview. He retracted his admission of guilty on Jan. 29, and the Justice Department filed a motion to withdraw the charges on May 7.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying when he told FBI agents that he did not ask Kislyak to refrain from retaliating against sanctions that the Obama administration imposed against Russia for cyber attacks during the 2016 campaign.
The plea deal also said that Flynn acknowledged that he lied when he said that he did not recall whether Kislyak told him that Russia “had chosen to moderate its response” to the sanctions because of Flynn’s request. (RELATED: FBI Official Questioned Whether Goal Of Flynn Interview Was ‘To Get Him To Lie’)
The transcripts of Flynn’s call with Kislyak show that he did talk to the ambassador about Russia moderating a response to the Obama administration’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats.
“I really don’t want us to get into a situation…where we do this and then you do something bigger, and then you know, everybody’s going to go back and forth and everybody’s got to be the tough guy here, you know?” Flynn said, according to the transcript.
The FBI reportedly recorded the phone call during surveillance of Kislyak.
According to an FBI summary of the White House interview with Flynn, the retired general said he did not remember whether he spoke with Kislyak about the expulsion of diplomats.
“FLYNN stated it was possible that he talked to KISLYAK on the issue, but if he did, he did not remember doing so,” Peter Strzok, one of the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn, wrote in a summary on Feb. 15, 2017.
“FLYNN reflected and stated he did not think he would have had a conversation with KISLYAK about the matter, as he did not know the expulsions were coming. FLYNN stated he did not have a long drawn out discussion with KISLYAK where he would have asked him to ‘don’t do something.'”
Former FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on March 2, 2017, that he was unsure whether Flynn lied to the FBI agents regarding his interactions with Kislyak.
Richard Grenell, who is Ratcliffe’s predecessor, began the declassification process for the transcripts last week.
Grenell declassified footnotes from the Justice Department inspector general’s report on the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign which showed that the FBI had evidence of possible Russian disinformation in the Steele dossier.
Grenell also declassified a list of Obama administration officials who submitted requests for intelligence reports that identified Flynn.
One mystery that the transcript release does not settle is who in the Obama administration leaked details of the Flynn-Kislyak phone call to the media. On Jan. 12, 2017, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported that a senior U.S. government official provided details of Flynn’s call with the Russian diplomat.
Ratcliffe also released transcripts of phone calls that Flynn had with Kislyak on Jan. 5, 2016, Dec. 23, 2016, Dec. 31, 2016, and Jan. 12, 2017.
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