MS Risk Blog

Republicans Call for Investigation of Flynn’s Contact with Russia

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Last week, leading members of the United States Republican Party joined calls for a wide investigation into the former national security adviser’s links with Russia.

On 13 February, Michael Flynn resigned from his post over claims that he discussed US sanctions with Russia before President Donald Trump took office. On 14 February, a White House spokesman disclosed that President Trump knew weeks ago that there were problems with the Russia phone calls, however calls for an independent investigation have encountered a cold response from some senior Republicans.

The development came as the New York Times reported that phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Mr Trump’s presidential campaign, as well as other Trump associates, had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election. However, officials spoken to by the newspaper have disclosed that they had not yet seen evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia on the hacking of the Democratic National Committee or to influence the election. As well as an FBI investigation into the matter, both the Senate and House intelligence committees are already examining Russian involvement in the election, though it currently remains unclear whether the latest claims will be included in their scope.

Mr Flynn stood down over allegations that he discussed US sanctions with a Russian envoy in December 2016, before Mr Trump took office. The conversations took place about the time that then-President Barack Obama was imposing retaliatory measures on Russia following reports that it attempted to sway the US election in Mr Trump’s favor. Mr Flynn could have broken the law, known as the Logan Act, by conducting US diplomacy as a private citizen before he was appointed as national security advisers.

Initially, Mr Flynn, who is a retired lieutenant-general, denied having discussed sanctions with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, while Vice President Mike Pence publicly denied the allegations on his behalf. While the White House admitted that it had been warned about the contacts on 26 January, President Trump initially concluded that Mr Flynn had not broken any law. According to White House spokesman Sean Spicer, White House lawyers then conducted a review and questioned Mr Flynn before reaching the same conclusion as the president, however by that point the trust had gone. On 14 February, White House Counsellor Kellyanne Conway disclosed that in the end, it was misleading the vice-president that made the situation unsustainable. According to US media, Mr Flynn was also reportedly questioned by FBI agents in his first days as national security adviser.

In an interview conducted with the conservative website the Daily Caller on 13 February, and published on 14 February, Mr Flynn disclosed that he “crossed no lines” in his conversation with the ambassador, adding that he discussed the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats over alleged hacking ahead of of the lection, but “it wasn’t about sanctions.” He went on to say that he was concerned that the apparently classified information had been linked, adding “in some of these cases, you’re talking about stuff that’s taken off of a classified system nad given to a reporters…That’s a crime.”

On 14 February, US House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes told reporters that he wanted to examine the leaks, stating that the FBI should explain why Mr Flynn’s conversation had been recorded. The Senate’s second-ranking Republican, John Cornyn, and other Republican senators have also called for an investigation into Mr Trump’s connection with Russian officials. Republican John McCain, who is the Chairman of the senate Armed Services Committee, disclosed that Mr Flynn’s resignation was a “troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus,” which raised questions about Mr Trump’s intentions towards Russia.

While Mr Flynn has resigned, Democrat Adam Schiff, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, disclosed that his departure will not end questions about contacts between the president’s campaign and Russia. However there are various ways that these questions could be answered. Two Democratic members of the House of Representatives have demanded a classified briefing to Congress on Michael Flynn by the justice department and FBI. Several House Democrats had already called on Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz to launch an investigation into Mr Flynn’s ties to Russia.