Flynn urged Russian ambassador to take 'reciprocal' actions, transcripts show

Source: Politico | May 29, 2020 | Betsy Woodruff Swan and Kyle Cheney

Flynn’s conversations with the ambassador were a key concern to FBI investigators probing Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn told Russia’s ambassador to Washington in late 2016 to take “reciprocal” actions in response to Obama administration sanctions for election interference, rather than escalating the situation into a “tit for tat.”

“You might appreciate the sentiments that are raging in Moscow,” the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, replied to Flynn’s request on the Dec, 29, 2016 call.

“I know, I – believe me, I do appreciate it, I very much appreciate it,” Flynn responded. “But I really don’t want us to get into a situation where we’re going, you know, where we do this and then you do something bigger, and then you know, everybody’s got to go back and forth and everybody’s got to be the tough guy here, you know?”

The next day, the president-elect praised his Russian counterpart for declining to retaliate, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” he tweeted.

When Flynn and Kislyak followed up on Dec. 31, 2016, Kislyak emphasized that Russian President Vladimir Putin opted not to escalate the sanctions battle because of his talk with Flynn — despite “raging” feelings in Moscow. And Kisylak argued that the Obama administration sanctions were aimed at damaging the incoming Trump administration just as much as they were the Kremlin.

“I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect,” Kisylak said.

The exchanges are at the heart of the controversy over the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump campaign aides’ contacts with Russian officials throughout. They were released Friday as part of a batch of declassified transcripts to Congress and obtained by POLITICO, detailing conversations between Flynn, the retired lieutenant general, and Kisylak in the weeks before President Donald Trump took office.

The documents at one point show Flynn engaged in a prolonged discussion with Kislyak over the sanctions the outgoing administration had slapped on Russia hours earlier for its campaign meddling, an apparent effort to convince Moscow not to retaliate and to embrace a new relationship with the incoming Trump team. They show no sign that he condemned Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to Kislyak.

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During the Dec. 29 call with Kislyak, the pair discussed sanctions at length, despite Flynn’s denials later.

“[T]he idea is, be — if you — if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of an even basis,” Flynn said later in the call. “Then that, then that is a good message and we’ll understand that message. And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we — where because if we put out — if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a — let’s, let’s keep this at a level that uh is, is even-keeled, okay?”

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The FBI opened a counterintelligence operation into several Trump campaign aides in the summer of 2016. Flynn was eyed for his visit to Moscow in 2015, part of a Russian-funded dinner at which he was seated next to President Vladimir Putin.

But by early 2017, after Trump had designated him as his national security adviser, the FBI was prepare to close its case against Flynn, according to recently disclosed documents. That changed when top FBI brass learned of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak, which came just as the outgoing Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russian officials for their interference in the election.

Leaked details of the calls suggested that Flynn urged the Russian government not to retaliate against the Obama sanctions, avoiding a tit-for-tat ahead of the inauguration of Trump, who had promised warmer relations with Russia. But Flynn denied that he discussed sanctions with Kislyak at all.

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