Much of the sentencing memo that was filed in court for Michael Flynn was redacted. However, what was not redacted should be very worrying for some people in the White House:
Last December, Michael Flynn, the retired general and national security adviser to President Trump, pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his communications with Russia’s ambassador to the United States while he was working for Trump’s transition team. He’s since been cooperating with the special counsel’s office. A lot. On Tuesday night, Robert Mueller’s team filed a memo recommending that Flynn serve no prison time because of how helpful he was to the probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, in addition to two other investigations. In total, Flynn met with investigators a whopping 19 times. “The defendant’s assistance to the government was substantial and merits consideration at sentencing,” the memo says. “His early cooperation was particularly valuable because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight regarding events and issues under investigation.”
Obviously, the fact that Michael Flynn has provided “substantial” cooperation does not bode well for President Donald Trump. But Trump shouldn’t be the only person concerned. The sentencing memo also specifically mentioned members of the transition team.
The rest of the memo is heavily redacted, but it does note that Flynn helped flesh out “a range of issues, including interactions between individuals in the Presidential Transition Team and Russia.” This probably isn’t good news for the “individuals” on the transition team that were in touch with Russia.
Besides being trouble for individuals on the transition team who were in contact with Russia, it could also be trouble for individuals on the transition team who may have been involved with those contacts with Russia. One of the possible individuals could be the Vice-President Mike Pence, who was also the leader of Trump’s transition team.
Central to the crime Michael Flynn committed, lying to federal agents, that ultimately secured his cooperation with Robert Mueller was Michael Flynn’s phone call with the Russian ambassador during the Presidential transition, a call that appears to have involved discussions about Donald Trump dropping sanctions against Russia, sanctions that had been recently imposed by the Obama administration.
According to the Bob Woodward book “Fear”, the transcript of that phone call was reviewed by three people in the White House: Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, White House Counsel Don McGahn, and Vice-President Mike Pence:
After The Washington Post reported in February 2017 that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had discussed sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador – contrary to what Flynn had told Pence – the vice president joined White House Counsel Donald McGahn and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in the Situation Room to review FBI transcripts of Flynn’s communications. But the book doesn’t say how Pence reacted to that revelation.
Two of those three people, Reince Priebus and Don McGahn, have been interviewed by Robert Mueller:
Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff to President Trump, was interviewed for a full day Friday by members of special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s team, Priebus’s lawyer said.
In a statement, William Burck said his client was interviewed voluntarily.
“He was happy to answer all of their questions,” Burck said.
The interview, which took place at the special counsel’s office in Washington, is a sign that Mueller’s investigation is now reaching into the highest levels of Trump’s aides and former aides.
The White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, has cooperated extensively in the special counsel investigation, sharing detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice, including some that investigators would not have learned of otherwise, according to a dozen current and former White House officials and others briefed on the matter.
In at least three voluntary interviews with investigators that totaled 30 hours over the past nine months, Mr. McGahn described the president’s fury toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged Mr. McGahn to respond to it. He provided the investigators examining whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice a clear view of the president’s most intimate moments with his lawyer.
However, the third person who reviewed the transcript of Michael Flynn’s phone call with the Russian ambassador, Mike Pence, does not appear to have been asked to be interviewed by Robert Mueller yet, despite publicly expressing a willingness to be interviewed. From September:
Vice President Mike Pence said he would sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller if asked.
“I would. I would be more than willing to continue to provide any and all support in that,” Pence said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “And we have outside counsel that will advise me accordingly.”
Mueller and his team are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and are probing ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. On Sunday, Pence told interviewer Margaret Brennan that Mueller’s team hasn’t broached the topic of an interview.
“He has not” asked for an interview, Pence said. “Although we’ve provided any and all information, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Now, why would it be that both Reince Priebus and Don McGahn have been asked to sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller, but Mike Pence has not? Is it because Mike Pence wouldn’t know anything of value to the Mueller investigation? That seems unlikely. Mike Pence was the leader of the Trump transition team. And the Flynn sentencing memo looks to show that the Special Counsel places a great deal of value on the importance to the investigation of the contacts that were made with the Russians during the transition. From the sentencing memo:
Is it possible that the Special Counsel believes that Michael Flynn just didn’t know what was going on with members of the transition who were contacting Russians? That also seems unlikely. There has previously been a news report that came out in Dec 2017 that referenced communications which showed that Michael Flynn had contacted the Russian ambassador not as some kind of rogue actor, but rather in coordination and possibly at the direction of top transition officials:
When President Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in February, White House officials portrayed him as a renegade who had acted independently in his discussions with a Russian official during the presidential transition and then lied to his colleagues about the interactions.
But emails among top transition officials, provided or described to The New York Times, suggest that Mr. Flynn was far from a rogue actor. In fact, the emails, coupled with interviews and court documents filed on Friday, showed that Mr. Flynn was in close touch with other senior members of the Trump transition team both before and after he spoke with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, about American sanctions against Russia.
On Dec. 29, a transition adviser to Mr. Trump, K. T. McFarland, wrote in an email to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump’s victory. The sanctions could also make it much harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote in the emails obtained by The Times.
But it is evident from the emails — which were obtained from someone who had access to transition team communications — that after learning that President Barack Obama would expel 35 Russian diplomats, the Trump team quickly strategized about how to reassure Russia. The Trump advisers feared that a cycle of retaliation between the United States and Russia would keep the spotlight on Moscow’s election meddling, tarnishing Mr. Trump’s victory and potentially hobbling his presidency from the start.
As part of the outreach, Ms. McFarland wrote, Mr. Flynn would be speaking with the Russian ambassador, Mr. Kislyak, hours after Mr. Obama’s sanctions were announced.
“Key will be Russia’s response over the next few days,” Ms. McFarland wrote in an email to another transition official, Thomas P. Bossert, now the president’s homeland security adviser.
So, the phone call Michael Flynn made to the Russian ambassador to “reassure” the Russians about sanctions that had been placed on Russia by the Obama administration appears to have been official policy of the Trump transition team. Surely, as leader of the Trump transition team, Mike Pence’s knowledge of such a policy would be important to an investigation that placed such value on those communications. Also of note: the top transition official mentioned in the above article, K.T. McFarland, has also been interviewed by Robert Mueller:
K.T. MCFARLAND served as deputy national security adviser in the Trump White House. McFarland met with the Mueller team for an interview in which, according to sources, the conversation centered on fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. ABC News confirmed as part of Flynn’s cooperation deal, he indicated communicating with two senior officials during the transition period regarding contacts with Russia. One of those officials was McFarland. Most recently, the former Fox News commentator withdrew as President Trump’s nominee to become Ambassador to Singapore.
Yet, despite being the leader of the Trump transition team at a time when direct contacts were made with Russians, contacts that were deemed relevant to the Special Counsel investigation, Mike Pence still has not been interviewed by Robert Mueller. Why is that?