Could NSA Flynn face Criminal Charges over Russia Ties?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn (Ret.) is the National Security Adviser of President Trump. Very serious questions continue to swirl around his relationship with the government of the Russian Federation. These questions take on special significance given the alleged Russian role in interfering in the 2016 presidential election. By now, two possible criminal charges could be lodged against Flynn, both related to Russia. The first is that he took money from the Russian government, a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. The other is that he called the Russian Embassy on Christmas Day last year and discussed the sanctions imposed on that country by President Obama over the hacking of the RNC and DNC during the election. Such a conversation would be a violation of the Logan Act.

The Washington Post reports that conversations with no less than nine intelligence officials confirm that Flynn did talk with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about Obama’s sanctions on the Russian Federation. Flynn apparently urged the Russians not to be too upset about the new sanctions suggesting that the Trump administration would revisit them. Flynn at the time was not in any government office and had no right to negotiate with a foreign power, an act prohibited to civilians by the Logan Act. Flynn must have known that the Russian ambassador’s telephone is under NSA surveillance and so it is weird to the extreme that he would risk breaking the law in public, so to speak.

Wall Street Journal: ” Michael Flynn’s Ties to Russia Under Investigation”

It is bad enough that Flynn may have committed this breach of the law. On top of that, when questioned about these allegations he lied and said he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak. He not only lied himself but he told Vice President Mike Pence this lie and so arranged for Pence to go on television and repeat Flynn’s lie. Flynn wasn’t under oath, so I suppose this is just a lie and not perjury. But surely lying to your boss and embarrassing him would be a firing offense?

Wochit News: “Aides Claim Flynn Told Pence He Didn’t Discuss Russia Sanctions”

In 2015, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, having been fired by the Obama administration as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and then having retired from the military, flew to Moscow and attended a banquet in celebration of the “Russia Today” network, the Russian state-owned television channel. RT does some good work, but you have to keep in mind that its editorial line is set by the Kremlin. The connection to the state is even closer than in the case of the Voice of America. Flynn appears to have been paid for his appearance in Moscow, and it is possible that he was paid quite a lot.

Trump Security Adviser Mike Flynn Gives Putin Standing Ovation at Celebration of Propaganda Network

Retired officers can be recalled and are cautioned when they retire that they should avoid such payments by a foreign government, since it violates the Emoluments clause of the Constitution (1.9:)

“No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

Retired officers of the US military, inasmuch as they are subject to recall to service, are considered to be a “person holding any office of profit or trust” under the United States. Ranking Democratic members of six Congressional committees have asked the Pentagon for an explanation. So far none has been forthcoming.

Flynn is widely thought to be somewhat unbalanced, inasmuch has he has retweeted bizarre conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and has said that it is rational to be afraid of Islam. (Islam is the religion of 1/5 of humankind, so this is like being afraid of Chinese food or of Indian languages). Note that Flynn served alongside Afghan and Pakistani Muslim officers and if anything appears to have been overly cozy with them (he leaked classified intelligence on terrorists in Afghanistan to Pakistani officers), so the fear-mongering is for political and maybe financial benefit. If you thought the Muslim Pakistani officers were people you should be afraid of or that they were intent on killing 80% of the world, as Flynn has alleged in other contexts, then why would you give them classified intelligence on Afghan terrorists? Flynn’s private consulting firm also took a contract from a business in Turkey with links to President Tayyip Erdogan; no rational fear there.

Surely this is the first time since the Reagan Iran-Contra scandal that National Security Council personnel have been on such legal thin ice, such that criminal charges could be filed.

20 Responses

  1. Good thing you are keeping us focused on the Russians, simpler minds like my own would have investigated James Comey and Trumps relationship with Bibi Netanjahu.

  2. I’m sure others besides myself have been praying for this result since this stuff really started to break in December.

    And European security agencies are reported to be on the case too, it seems thick enough that there may be evidence of even more serious charges that the little-used and disputable Logan Act ? IANAL, surely there must be some charges possible, somewhere short of outright treason — but that’s possible maybe too ! — of cooperating with or being suborned by foreign powers/agents ?

  3. Until relatively recently ‘multi-nationalism’ was a province of European aristocracy as it largely is for many billionaires and major corporations today. It embraced areas of common interest like hunting, and often extended to intermarriage. Such people could exercise considerable informal influence and often did, either off their own bat or at the behest of government ministers. Talleyrand, who Logan talked with on his visit to France, had taken refuge in North America during the worst excesses of the French Revolution, as had many French aristocrats who later returned when things settled (and their estates were to be taken over by the state if they didn’t!) It’s therefore reasonable to assume Logan had useful contacts and was inclined to explore them with a view to lowering tensions between nations which shouldn’t have been at cross purposes anyway considering they had England as a common enemy, and the extent to which French notions of liberté, égalité, fraternité had contributed to the American constitution; a reality confirmed by the iconic statue gifted a century later. Logan’s personal intervention appeared to have a positive result. and that aroused the political jealousy that gave birth to the Act. Only those who relish confrontation and war can object to a citizen’s, historically established, efforts to avert conflict. If Flynn had a purpose similar to Logan’s 200 and some odd years ago it seems disingenuous to contemplate indicting him over it.

  4. Nice thought, Juan, but who is there to investigate, charge and prosecute: I’m betting against a Justice Department headed by Jefferson [Davis] Beauregard Sessions.

    • The Clinton e-mail fluff answers your question. A pertinent Congressional entity can ask the FBI (in this case possibly the CIA too) to investigate. The FBI can but does not have to send the results to the DoJ which then can but does not have to prosecute.
      The great difference of the cases is that the Director FBI knew from the onset that Ms. Clinton had not violated any US law. Flynn may have. A very old one.
      You and I can send a letter to the FBI asking to investigate Flynn. I doubt that these letters will even elicit a chuckle.

  5. Push comes anywhere near shove, Trump simply pardons any questionable actions of family, friends or others, preemptively, a la Ford with Nixon. He may even do it for money: Trump has stated on the record that he, as President, is above the emoluments clause. Cases closed, and I believe with prejudice.

    Question begging now is just how extensively will he use this very handy power once he gets the hang of it. In fact, the real question is how far will he exercise all of his various prerogatives once he gets a feel for them and finds himself under pressure. The pressure he’ll feel most urgently will be to effect the sweeping changes and greatness he sees as his due, given his breathtakingly large sense of entitlement and ego.

    Can anyone show where he has ever, ever shown any sense of forbearance? Can any one expect he will ever show ANY of it in the future?

    In responding to one of my earlier posts of what to expect and the need to mobilize effectively, in ways appropriate to the times and circumstances, one usually thoughtful responder told me to relax (essentially to go take a nap).

    There’s no way of guessing precisely how things are going to unfold. But, baring an Act of God (a heart attack?), things are bound to get ugly in ways unimaginable, due to a subliminal sense of American Exceptionalism amongst those, even reading here, who should know better.

    My thinking is that anyone with any ability to blow a whistle should do so to a source prepared for the times and the circumstances, like theintercept.com

    The streets are an anachronism and the state security systems are so highly evolved that any street demonstrations that threaten to become effectual will be be suicidal. (Ineffectual venting, like the Occupy movement, will be permitted, but stand to be followed and infiltrated). Even a million-person turnout stands to be surveilled by facial recognition software and the leadership patiently and discretely intimidated or otherwise neutered.

    Don’t kid yourself. Of course, Trump could have a Road-To-Damascus experience, avail himself of the collective wisdom of society and work to serve its needs as a whole, but who out there wants to bet on that?

  6. Does the SEAL TEAM 6 raid in Yemen not qualify as a war crime? If so, why are people getting so excited about Ms. Conway’s plugging Ivanka’s rags instead?

  7. While the media was distracted by trump antics and tantrums throughout all of the campaign it was obvious since at least last summer that there was a smoldering fire in the Russian connection. Too many telltale signs were surfacing but no one in the media was paying attention. The fire is now blazing. You simply cannot be cynical enough when it comes to the trump tribe. Watergate and Iran-Contra were invaluable learning experiences.

  8. Since there has never been a successful prosecution of the Logan Act, it is highly unlikely that anything will come of this. However, this is just another nail in the coffin of Trump and his minions. When elected he was the most unpopular person to ever assume the office and it has only gotten worse. We are seeing spontaneous demonstrations, angry crowds at town halls (even in Chaffetz’s Republican district in Utah, for example), and other wide spread anti-Trump demonstrations. I have never seen anything like this in my 71 years and can’t think of anything comparable in US history. Only thing close might be the unhappiness toward Hoover after 3 years of Depression, but that was at the end of his disastrous term, not the beginning. What could be the crusher would be if it is established that Flynn, acting for the Trump campaign, was in consultation with the Russians during the campaign and discussed hackks and strategy. I think it is likely that it occurred, but uncovering it will be very difficult. One heartening thing is that the recent Washington Post expose on flynn claimed it had information from 9 different sources. That makes it obvious to me that the intelligence community is very unhappy with this administration and ready to leak to sabotage it. I think the question is two fold. Eventually there will certainly be enough to justify an impeachment (emoluments clause, for example). Will it be enough for the Republicans to act against Trump? I think the answer is only if their re-elections are in danger. If the Republicans lose badly in 2018, then we could see real danger to the administration. Otherwise, Trump could tough it out and survive his first term as I doubt the Republicans have the political courage to do anything to check him. Direct action is having some effect, however, as the repeal of Obamacare seems to have receded in importance among Congressional Republicans as they meet widespread public resistance.

    • Republican reluctance to indict Trump for various illegalities and sheer ineptitude and ignorance would stand as proof that: 1) they will use Trump as their stooge as long as possible; and 2) that Republicans have a near complete lack of empathy and conscience, traits which if applied to an individual are markers for mental illness and sociopathy. But given Trump’s obvious deficiencies, Republican delay to enable Trump to keep on happily signing decrees he doesn’t read and probably can’t understand will thankfully do much to cripple a subsequent Pence administration. With Trump’s ‘presidency’ less than a month old and already wobbling, 2018 seems very far away. To keep an eye on reality, consult the big money, the London bookies.

  9. Just out of curiosity, who is so fucking stupid as to *call* the Russian embassy to negotiate something like that?

    Does he not know that the lines are tapped? Even the writer of “Burn after reading” knows that intelligence agency watch the embassies in DC.

  10. I am haunted by a comment in Hannah Arendt these days, one with which I tend to agree:

    “‘When everyone is dead the Great Game is finished. Not before.’ And the only reason his prophecy did not come true was the constitutional restraint of the nation-state, while today our only hope that it will not come true in the future is based on the constitutional restraints of the American republic plus the technological restraints of the nuclear age.”

    Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

    Let’s absorb that, which I happen to think is true: the American republic was one of the few restraints that helped to ensure our species survival – for all its hideous imperfections.

  11. So, is he just a cynic who thinks himself above the law, and/or a malevolent supremacist seeking some sort of “racial holy war” while profiting from a Russian connection?

    Conspiracy theories seem essential to apocalyptic lunacy.

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