Declassified transcripts: Flynn urged Russia to let 'cool heads prevail' after Obama sanctions

Five conversations with Russian ambassador before inauguration show mostly talking points, minor references to sanctions or expulsions.

Retired General Mike Flynn
Retired General Mike Flynn
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Last Updated:
May 29, 2020 - 9:56pm

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Recently declassified documents released to Congress on Friday show that former national security advisor Michael Flynn, in wide-ranging conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States in late 2016, urged the ambassador not to escalate sanctions wars with the United States following the Obama administration's retaliation against Moscow over election interference that year.

The transcripts, which have long been thought to contain critical proof that Flynn lied to the FBI during an early 2017 interview, show relatively brief discussions between the former Army lieutenant general and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about the sanctions, which have been at the center of the federal government's case against Flynn.

Flynn and Kislyak discussed the sanctions in a December 29, 2016, phone call concerning penalties leveled by the Obama administration against Moscow, in response to Russia's attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

"So, depending on what actions they take over this current issue of cyber stuff, where they are looking like they are going to dismiss some number of Russians out of the country. I understand all that and I understand that the information that they have and all that," Flynn tells Kislyak. 

"But I ask Russia to do is to not, if anything, I know you have to have some sort of action, to only make it reciprocal; don't go any further than you have to because I don't want us to get into something that have to escalate to tit-for-tat. Do you follow me?"

Flynn adds that the two countries need "cool heads to prevail ... because we have absolutely a common threat in the Middle East."

In the first conversation in the transcripts, on Dec. 23, 2016, Flynn says to Kislyak: "You know that the strategic goal is stability in the Middle East. That's the strategic goal. ... We will not achieve stability in the Middle East without working with each other against this radical Islamist crowd. Period."

Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, who made public the 27-pages of transcript after being released by new Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, says in an accompanying statement that the documents show "all of the innuendo about Lt. General Flynn this whole time was totally bunk. There was nothing improper about his call, and the FBI knew it."

Conversation led to FBI interview for Flynn

Obama on Dec. 29, 2016, imposed penalties on Russia for efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election – including economic sanctions and expelling 35 Russians. But Moscow did not immediately retaliate. The next day, President-elect Trump praised Vladimir Putin for holding his fire, tweeting it was a “great move” and “I always knew he was very smart!”

Then-FBI Director James Comey later testify to Congress that the Russians' failure to retaliate for the sanctions perplexed departing Obama national security officials, who ordered an all-out search to find out what happened. The search led to the discovery of the Flynn intercepts, which eventually were shared with Obama.

"The last couple days of December and the first couple days of January, all the intelligence community was trying to figure out, so what is going on here? Why have the Russians reacted the way they did, which confused us?" Comey told Congress. 

"And so we were all tasked to find out: do you have anything [redacted] that might reflect on this and that turned up these calls at the end of December, beginning of January. And then I briefed it to the director of national intelligence and Director Clapper asked for copies [redacted], which I shared with him."

FBI agents would eventually interview Flynn about the exchange between him and Kislyak, during which Flynn reportedly lied about the contents of those conversations. 

Flynn would later plead guilty to giving false information to the FBI, though he withdrew that guilty plea this year. Earlier this month the Justice Department dropped its case against the general, asking the judge overseeing it to do the same. 

The judge in that case, Emmet Sullivan, has so far refused to drop the case, instead inviting an amici curiae from another judge to explain why the court should not close the case. Sullivan has been ordered by an appeals court to explain that decision; he has hired a lawyer to help defend his conduct. 

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