Key Issue in Flynn Plea Deal


The key question out of the Flynn plea agreement is the identity of the person referenced as a “senior official of the Presidential Transition Team” and another termed a “very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team”.

Here’s why this is important.

The plea deal has Flynn discussing his contacts with Russian Ambassador Kislyak with the first person (“senior official”) and then the second person (“very senior member”) giving him specific direction to Flynn to contact foreign governments, including Russia, about a UN resolution tied to Israel. This is what is behind the headlines about Flynn getting instructions from senior transition officials about his contacts with foreign governments.

The first point to note is that Flynn was the person running the Trump foreign policy operation. That is what a modern National Security Advisor does. From everything we know, it’s what Flynn was doing in the latter months of the campaign and certainly during the transition. In other words, it’s not clear that there was anyone in the campaign who outranked Flynn on foreign policy matters. Other than the President-Elect or conceivably the Vice President-Elect, Flynn is the guy who would do the directing rather than getting direction.

Let’s walk through this again.

The “senior official” is the one who talked with Flynn about how to handle his discussions with Kislyak about the sanctions. It was the “very senior member” of the transition who specifically told Flynn to contact foreign governments about the Israel resolution at the UN. The language is very specific about the direction. “On or about December 22, 2016, a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team directed FLYNN to contact officials from foreign governments…”

The ‘very’ in “very senior member” seems like an almost over the top effort to convey just who it was the prosecutors are talking about. It’s hard to see that that is not either Pence or President Trump, though it also strikes me as perhaps a bit too coy to refer to the incoming President as a member of transition team.

However that may be, Flynn clearly kept the President’s team in Mar-A-Lago fully up to date about his conversations with Kislyak, in more or less real time. There were repeated calls with the “senior official” about Kislyak. Critically, after the full round of calls with Kislyak, Flynn “spoke with senior members [note the plural] of the Presidential Transition Team” about his conversations with Kislyak.

To visualize this, the President is down in Mar-a-Lago with his top advisors, presumably conferring with them very closely as they put together their team. Flynn is repeatedly calling into that team, talking with one of the senior officials and briefing and soliciting input on how to handle Kislyak. As the last quote makes clear, on the last round he talks to multiple (plural) members of the team to brief them on the substance of the calls.

The clear takeaway is that basically all of Trump’s top advisors, including the President and almost certainly Vice President Pence, were in the loop about these calls even if they did not themselves speak to Flynn directly.

Who are these people, the “senior official” and the “very senior official”? I doubt we’ll have to wait long to find out.

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