For background on Mike Flynn, see part 1.
Before Trump could take office, John Schindler, an unofficial mouthpiece for the IC sent out a warning to Trump on social media:
The IC dislikes you intensely and they hate Flynn. The spooks have much more on you than they had on Hillary. This is a #YUGE mistake.
The message was dated December 10, 2016 at 7:53 am. Schindler is the national security reporter for the National Observer, an anti-Trump website, and a former NSA analyst. We can see that very early into the Trump transition, there was a concerted effort to discredit Flynn and even some direct, dire warnings.
It is hard to say when Flynn became a concern and what piqued the interests of the FBI to open a probe into him. We know from a memo dated October 3rd, 2016 that the FBI met with Steele at an undisclosed city in Europe (London? Rome?) and offered to pay Steele for any dirt on Flynn. This attempt was based on the unsubstantiated rumor of Flynn’s alleged affair with Lokhova which Steele likely heard from Halper. Steele also hawked the story to the John McCain associate and adviser, David Kramer who also relayed the rumor to the FBI.
Yet the origins of the probe of Flynn actually predates that meeting between Steele and the FBI, although the effort was part of the umbrella Crossfire Hurricane investigation. In fact, the FBI had targeted Flynn as early as August 16, 2016- about two weeks after the launch of the investigation by the FBI and the operation against Flynn was even code named “Crossfire Razor.” The stated purpose was to determine whether Flynn:
…was directed and controlled by and/or coordinated activities with the Russian Federation in a manner which is a threat to the national securityand/or possibly a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The Crossfire Razor investigation was based on three predicates: (1) his position as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, (2) his publicly documented ties to Russian-affiliated entities, and (3) his December 2015 visit to Russia.
After four months of probing Flynn, the FBI determined that there was nothing there and no derogatory information had been uncovered. In their closing memo on the Flynn case, the memo stated: “If new information is identified or reported to the FBI regarding the activities of CROSSFIRE RAZOR, the FBI will consider reopening the investigation if warranted.”
Although the FBI essentially stopped investigating Flynn, they left themselves the option of reopening any investigation on him if new evidence emerged and as of January 4, 2017 the “closing memo” was never signed. Despite the FBI noting “no derogatory information,” Flynn remained on the radar and it is believed that the government began electronic surveillance of him no earlier than December 2, 2016. Starting around that time, Clapper and Samantha Power, Obama’s UN ambassador, began to “unmask” Flynn’s name in intercepted communications of Russians in the United States. Of particular interest was a meeting in Trump Tower between Jared Kushner, Flynn, and the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. The day after that meeting, Kislyak had relayed the results of that meeting to Moscow where Flynn was mentioned by name.
Then on December 22, 2016 Kislyak and Flynn again communicated by phone over the impending UN Security Council vote on Israeli settlements. That same day, Trump convinced the Egyptian president, the resolution’s sponsor, to withdraw the resolution, but Flynn knew that although Egypt agreed, another Security Council member could step forward and sponsor it. Flynn and company also knew that it took five abstentions to kill the resolution and that the math did not favor them. Flynn called leaders from the countries on the Security Council despite knowing that it would ultimately be useless, but did so anyway.
One person he called was Kislyak which Flynn later said was not a call to persuade Russia against the resolution, but to determine where the Russians stood on the issue. The resolution passed 14-0 with the US abstaining, not using their veto to kill the anti-Israeli resolution as they had done in the past thus breaking a 40-year history of support for Israel on the Security Council.
A few weeks later, Obama expelled several Russians from the US and closed some buildings in response to accusations that Russia interfered in the 2016 election which had taken root in the media. However, Putin did not respond in kind and the Obama administration wanted to know why. The FBI said they had the reason from an intercepted call between Flynn and Kislyak.
Supposedly, McCabe was alerted to the phone call and then relayed it to Comey who told Clapper who then told Obama. Clapper denied under oath he briefed Obama. Clapper may be telling the truth since no fewer than 30 Obama administration officials had unmasked Flynn in this time period so it could have been any number of people. Sally Yates testified that Obama was aware of the intercepted communication no later than January 4, 2017 since it was the subject of an important meeting held on January 5th in the Oval Office.
That phone call in question occurred on December 29, 2016 while Flynn was on vacation in the Dominican Republic. It was Kislyak who initiated the call and it regarded Obama’s action earlier that day to expel the Russians. The Russian ambassador was asking Flynn what was going on. Flynn likely knew the call was being monitored and he would be on guard against saying anything incriminating if there was anything to be secretive about in the first place. The two discussed the recent sanctions Obama had announced (the expulsions) and Kislyak said Russia did not intend to respond in kind.
There was no exchange of classified information and no arm-twisting, just Flynn expressing the belief that if Putin decided to retaliate, it would do nothing for improving relations between the two countries. There was nothing nefarious in the phone call and no promises made- just an agreement that Russian retaliation would have been counterproductive.
However, the content of the call was misinterpreted by Sally Yates as a possible violation of the Logan Act. The law forbids US citizens from corresponding with foreign governments and it would have been ridiculous to charge Flynn given his position. If it was enforced, then private citizens like Dennis Rodman in North Korea or Jimmy Carter’s many post-presidential peace efforts would have been more blatant violations.
The intercepted calls are considered “raw intelligence” whose distribution is highly restricted. However, a few days after the call, outgoing attorney general Loretta Lynch signed off on a memo removing many of those restrictions allowing for the greater sharing of raw NSA intelligence. This led to the unprecedented number of “unmaskings” that occurred in Obama’s last three weeks of his Presidency. The substance of the Flynn-Kislyak conversation eventually made its way into the IC assessment presented to Obama and Trump a few days later which alleged evidence of Russian interference in the election.
As a result of the intercepted conversations, the FBI reopened their investigation of Flynn since no one ever signed the “closing memo” from December. It was around January 4th that the FBI, along with the IC, determined to re-examine Flynn and his ties to Russia. They found this mistake “amazing” and “serendipitously good” and further stated: “our utter incompetence actually helps us.” This was revealed in the text messages between Lisa Page and Peter Strozk which also indicated that reopening the probe of Flynn came from the “7th floor,” suggesting that it was Comey who made the decision. Other internal FBI communications later proved that the FBI shared these sentiments and it was on January 4th that the FBI started to consider interviewing Flynn about the phone calls.
Next: That infamous Oval Office meeting