Could this be part of the “mystery” that Allahpundit was talking about yesterday? There could be any number of things which the FBI might have been looking into in terms of the Trump transition team and the Russians, but this one can’t really be tied into anything which would have been under scrutiny before the election. The new subject of discussion is Trump’s national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, and his contacts with Russian entities, which have been described as “frequent.”
This probably wouldn’t have been a big deal – or at least not as big of a deal – if Trump’s transition team hadn’t previously denied the story and are now having to walk it back. (Associated Press)
President-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. have been in frequent contact in recent weeks, including on the day the Obama administration hit Moscow with sanctions in retaliation for election-related hacking, a senior U.S. official said Friday.
After initially denying that Michael Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak spoke Dec. 29, a Trump official said late Friday that the transition team was aware of one call on the day President Barack Obama imposed sanctions.
It’s not unusual for incoming administrations to have discussions with foreign governments before taking office. But repeated contacts just as Obama imposed sanctions would raise questions about whether Trump’s team discussed — or even helped shape — Russia’s response.
On the surface this doesn’t look as if there’s anything illegal going on, but there will be annoyance among Trump’s critics over the way it was handled under the covers. We now know that somebody has been monitoring Russian communications (as if it was ever in question) because we’ve got a couple of text messages exchanged between Flynn and the Russian ambassador. One was just a Merry Christmas, looking forward to working with you type greeting and the other was a request from the ambassador for a phone call shortly after Christmas. The problem with the phone call is that it took place right when Obama was announcing the new sanctions on Russian agents from the GRU and FSB as well as the expulsion of a few dozen diplomats / spies.
The Trump team is denying that Flynn talked about the sanctions, but it’s not unfair to say that the statement strains credulity. It took almost no time for Trump to come out in opposition to the sanctions and Putin almost immediately announced that he wasn’t going to be retaliating and would take a wait and see approach to find out what Trump planned to do. That’s far enough out of character for Vlad to make anyone wonder what was going on behind the scenes.
Of course, this gave the Democrats one more thing to freak out about. Chris Coons went on CNN as soon as the news broke to declare that the call was “very suspicious” and more of his colleagues quickly followed suit. But if we’re going to turn this into a food fight I suppose the first question to ask is, what exactly are Trump and Flynn being accused of here?
It’s not as if anyone is suggesting that there’s any dirty pool going on. The incoming president has one of his advisors talking to a foreign government about laying the groundwork for how diplomatic relations will be handled after the inauguration. That may be seen as as a foul in terms of the accepted “one president at a time” rule, but it’s unrealistic to expect that a major shift in policy wasn’t going to need some prep work to soften the ground in advance. If we weren’t already knee deep in all of the Russian spying accusations and questions about whether or not they’ve got something hanging over Trump’s head this probably wouldn’t have been much of a story at all. But Flynn was known to be in Trump’s inner circle for quite a while and was one of his first official appointments, not even two weeks after the election. (Also keep in mind that the national security adviser doesn’t require Senate confirmation.)
Flynn has always been a colorful character and he gets around quite a bit in diplomatic circles. For some more background on the man behind the story you can go back and listen to an interview that Ed Morrissey did with him last summer when they talked about his recently published book.