President Obama was aware of the details of then-incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn’s intercepted December 2016 phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, apparently shocking then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, according to documents released Thursday as exhibits to the government’s motion to dismiss the Flynn case.
Obama’s unexpectedly intimate knowledge of the details of Flynn’s calls raised eyebrows because of his own history with Flynn. Obama personally had warned the Trump administration against hiring Flynn, and made clear he was “not a fan,” according to multiple officials. Obama fired Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.
Also released Thursday was a head-turning 2-page document outlining why the FBI opened its counterintelligence probe into Flynn in August 2016. The FBI offered only three reasons: that Flynn was “cited as an adviser to the Trump team on foreign policy issues February 2016; he has ties to various state-affiliated entities of the Russian Federation, as reported by open source information; and he traveled to Russia in December 2015, as reported by open source information.”
Anti-Trump ex-FBI agent Peter Strzok approved opening a probe on those grounds, even though Flynn’s interactions with Russia were public knowledge and voluntarily briefed to U.S. officials at the time. Strzok would later push to keep the Flynn probe open, even after the FBI’s Washington office wanted to close it.
The Justice Department on Thursday moved to drop its case against Flynn, in a stunning development that comes after internal memos were released raising serious questions about the nature of the investigation that led to Flynn’s late 2017 guilty plea of lying to the FBI as his legal fees mounted. One of the documents was a top official’s handwritten memo debating whether the FBI’s “goal” was “to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired”; other materials showed Strzok’s efforts to pursue Flynn on increasingly flimsy legal grounds.
The FBI possessed word-for-word transcripts of Flynn’s December 2016 conversations with Kislyak, and publicly admitted to reviewing those transcripts and clearing Flynn of any wrongdoing.
Both during and before the January 24, 2017 White House interview that led to Flynn’s prosecution for one count of lying to the FBI, the bureau acknowledged having those full transcripts, raising the question of why agents would need to ask Flynn about what he said during the calls with Kislyak, except potentially as a pretext to obtain a false statements charge.
Flynn was specifically accused of giving equivocal and evasive answers to FBI agents in the White House during a casual interview concerning those phone calls, but no transcript of the conversation exists. Instead, after-the-fact FBI notes of the interview with Strzok and Joe Pientka were the primary evidence.
Strzok was later removed from Mueller’s team when his anti-Trump text messages surfaced, and Pientka is now under scrutiny for his role in various Trump probes. Pientka has been scrubbed from the FBI website after Fox News asked the bureau about him, and he has largely evaded scrutiny.
On January 5, 2017, Yates attended an Oval Office meeting with then-FBI Director James Comey, then-Vice President Joe Biden, then-CIA Director John Brennan, and then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, according to the newly declassified documents. They were discussing Russian election interference, along with national security adviser Susan Rice and other members of the national security council.
After the briefing, Obama asked Yates and Comey to “stay behind,” and said he had “learned of the information about Flynn” and his conversation with Russia’s ambassador about sanctions. Obama “specified that he did not want any additional information on the matter, but was seeking information on whether the White House should be treating Flynn any differently, given the information.”
At that point, the documents say, “Yates had no idea what the President was talking about, but figured it out based on the conversation. Yates recalled Comey mentioning the Logan Act. …”
The Logan Act is an obscure statute that has never been used in a criminal prosecution; enacted in 1799 in an era before telephones, it was intended to prevent individuals from falsely claiming to represent the United States government abroad. In its motion to dismiss Flynn’s case on Thursday, the DOJ noted that the law was an unserious dead letter.
The FBI’s recently released handwritten notes in advance of the Flynn interview– written by the FBI’s former head of counterintelligence Bill Priestap after a meeting with Comey and then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Fox News is told — suggested that agents planned in the alternative to get Flynn “to admit to breaking the Logan Act” when he spoke to Kislyak during the presidential transition period.
“What is our goal?” one of the notes read. “Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”
Fox News’ Brooke Singman contributed to this report.