MTPR

Michael Flynn's Contradictory Line On Russia

9 hours ago
Originally published on May 19, 2017 4:13 pm

What does Michael Flynn, President Trump's erstwhile national security adviser, think about Russia?

His statements and actions are so contradictory, they could induce whiplash.

In his book, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies, published last July, here is what Flynn thought about working with Russian President Vladimir Putin: "There's no reason to believe Putin would welcome cooperation with us. Quite the contrary, in fact."

Seems clear enough: Russia is an adversary. Be wary of Putin. A standard position in the national security community.

Yet Flynn was also busy making contacts with Russia. In December 2015, Flynn sat next to Putin in Moscow at a celebration for RT, the state-run TV network.

Documents show that Flynn was paid $33,000 for a speech he delivered at the event. As a retired Army lieutenant general, he was required to get permission from the military to receive payments from a foreign government, and according to media reports, it's not clear whether he requested it.

The Pentagon's inspector general is looking into the matter, which is just one aspect of Flynn's legal troubles.

In early 2016, Flynn began advising Trump. They seemed to be on the same page, both willing to explore the possibility of better relations with Moscow.

But Flynn the Trump supporter seemed at odds with Flynn the strategist. In his book, he was sharply critical of recent Russian military moves, including plans for new military bases near the country's western border and an upgrade for their nuclear forces.

"These are not the actions of a country seeking detente with the West," he said. "They are, rather, indications that Putin fully intends to do the same thing, as, and in tandem with, the Iranians. Pursue the war against us."

In Flynn's view, Russia, Iran and several other countries are part of a "global alliance" that seeks to undermine the U.S.

In an interview with NPR last August, he said:

"When we think about countries like Russia, countries like Cuba, countries like Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, I mean, these are — in many cases, these are criminal enterprises that — that have dictatorships and certainly tyrants."

However, he also said the U.S. and Russia could work together at times, citing the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.

He told the German magazine Der Spiegel: "We have to work constructively with Russia. ... You can't say Russia is bad, they have to go home. It's not going to happen. Get real."

Compare that with what he wrote in his book about Russia's role in Syria, where it supports President Bashar Assad: "They are certainly not fighting terrorists in the Middle East. Theirs is a battle to rescue an embattled ally in Damascus."

So what's behind these contradictions? Are they just confusing but perfectly legal?

Flynn hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing, but investigators are looking closely at Flynn's contacts with Russian officials. Here's a quick recap:

Reuters reported Thursday that Flynn was in touch with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential campaign. These contacts picked up after the election, when Flynn was named national security adviser.

The two met in New York at Trump Tower in early December. They reportedly spoke by phone on Dec. 19. They texted on Christmas and spoke again on Dec. 28 and 29.

Flynn told Vice President Pence they didn't discuss sanctions against Russia — but it turned out they did.

Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, warned the White House.

"I think this was a serious compromise situation that the Russians had real leverage. He [Flynn] also had lied to the vice president of the United States," she said in an interview this week with CNN.

Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13, and Flynn has been keeping a low profile since then. But he is still in the headlines.

As reported by NPR and others, then-FBI Director James Comey wrote notes about a meeting with Trump on Feb. 14, saying the president asked if he could "let go" of the Flynn investigation.

The White House disputes this. The investigation continues.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent. Follow him @gregmyre1

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The headlines this week about President Trump and his firing of FBI Director James Comey included new details about Michael Flynn. He's Trump's former national security adviser. Flynn's contacts with Russia are a key part of the investigation into whether there was any collusion between that country and Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Here's the irony - Flynn often described Russia as an enemy. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre has his complicated story.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: What does Michael Flynn think about Russia? His statements and actions are so contradictory they could induce whiplash. Here's what Flynn said about Russian President Vladimir Putin in the audiotape version of a book he released last July called "The Field Of Fight."

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIO BOOK, "THE FIELD OF FIGHT")

MICHAEL FLYNN: There is no reason to believe Putin would welcome cooperation with us. Quite the contrary, in fact.

MYRE: Seems clear enough. Russia is an adversary, be wary of Putin - a standard position in the national security community. But wait, Flynn was also busy making contacts with Russia. In December 2015, Flynn sat next to Putin in Moscow at a celebration for RT, the state-run TV network. Document show that Flynn, a retired three-star general, was paid $33,000. And this has prompted the Pentagon to look into the matter.

Shortly afterward, in early 2016, Flynn began advising Trump. They seemed to be on the same page, both willing to explore the possibility of better relations with Moscow. But Flynn the Trump supporter seemed at odds with Flynn the strategist. In his book, this is how he described recent Russian military moves.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIO BOOK, "THE FIELD OF FIGHT")

FLYNN: These are not the actions of a country seeking detente with the West. They are, rather, indications that Putin fully intends to do the same thing as and in tandem with the Iranians - pursue the war against us.

MYRE: In Flynn's view, Russia, Iran and several other countries are part of a global alliance that seeks to undermine the U.S. Here's what he told NPR last August.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

FLYNN: And when we think about countries like Russia, countries like Cuba, countries like Venezuela, Iran, North Korea - I mean, these are - in many cases, these are criminal enterprises that have dictatorships and certainly tyrants.

MYRE: However, he also said the U.S. and Russia could work together at times like fighting the Islamic State in Syria. He told the German magazine Der Spiegel, quote, "we have to work constructively with Russia. You can't say Russia is bad. They have to go home. It's not going to happen. Get real." Compare that with what he said in his book about Russia's role in Syria, where it supports President Bashar al-Assad.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIO BOOK, "THE FIELD OF FIGHT")

FLYNN: They are certainly not fighting terrorists in the Middle East. Theirs is a battle to rescue an embattled ally in Damascus.

MYRE: So what's behind these contradictions? Are they just confusing but perfectly legal or a sign of deception? What's attracted the attention of investigators are Flynn's contacts with Russian officials?

Here's a quick recap. Reuters reported that Flynn was in touch with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential campaign. These contacts picked up after the election when Flynn was named national security adviser. They met in New York at Trump Tower in early December. They reportedly spoke by phone on December 19. They texted on Christmas, spoke again on December 28 and 29.

Flynn told Vice President Mike Pence they didn't discuss sanctions against Russia, but it turns out they did. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House, as she explained to CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SALLY YATES: I think that this was a serious compromise situation that the Russians had real leverage. He also had lied to the vice president of the United States.

MYRE: Trump fired Flynn on February 13, and he's been lying low since then. But he's still in the headlines. As reported by NPR and others, then FBI Director James Comey wrote notes about a meeting with Trump on February 14 saying the president asked if he could let go of the Flynn investigation. The White House disputes this. The investigation continues. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF LITTLE PEOPLE SONG, "MOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.