Shortly after noon on Saturday, President Donald Trump logged on to Twitter and inadvertently posted what seemed an awful lot like an admission he obstructed justice by admitting he knew former national security adviser and now-government witness Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. Later in the day, the New York Times reported that pre-inaugural emails from transition team staff indicate pretty much everyone was aware Flynn was in contact with the Russian ambassador and that the team was “intensely focused on improving relations with Moscow.”
Trump’s team has portrayed Flynn as a rogue actor over his contacts with the Russians, in which he apparently promised that the new administration would ease sanctions imposed by Barack Obama on Russia in connection to its alleged online meddling in the 2016 elections. But emails seen by the Times show senior transition official K.T. McFarland had notified other staff that Flynn would be reaching out to Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak as part of an effort to repair U.S.-Russian relations, “which has just handed the U.S.A. election to him [Trump].”
Transition officials worried that if the U.S. and Russia got sucked into a new Cold War, allegations Trump colluded with Russia’s election interference efforts would never end; it’s unclear whether McFarland believed the Russians genuinely did throw the election for Trump or was referring to a possible line of attack from Democrats.
In an email to another transition official, now-homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert, McFarland wrote that “Russia’s response over the next few days” to Flynn’s outreach would be crucial. Per the Times, Bossert then forwarded that December 29th email exchange to at least six other officials including Flynn, Reince Priebus, Stephen Bannon, and Sean Spicer. He added that everyone needed to “defend election legitimacy now.”
If that wasn’t clear enough, Flynn briefed everyone after the call, freely admitting he had discussed the sanctions:
In his phone call with Mr. Kislyak, Mr. Flynn asked that Russia “not escalate the situation,” according to court documents released on Friday. He later related the substance of the call—including the discussion of sanctions—to a senior transition official, believed to be Ms. McFarland. A few days later, he briefed others on the transition team.
Also, the president-elect was scheduled to talk with Flynn, McFarland, Priebus and Bannon on national security issues the same day the emails were sent.
So that’s pretty much everyone now, huh.
Trump’s original side of the story—that Flynn acted on his own and that the later firing of FBI director James Comey was unrelated to his investigation of Flynn for lying about it—is completely falling apart. Here’s a tip for the brain trust: Maybe if you’re all caught up in something sketchy, don’t send emails about it, and don’t send tweets about it. At least when Richard Nixon set up that recording system, he didn’t hit CC to the entire internet. Come on, people.