During the frenzy yesterday over the Flynn plea deal, ABC dropped a bombshell report that Michael Flynn told Special Counsel Bob Mueller that he was prepared to testify that it was Trump who told him to contact the Russians. ABC News later not only retracted that statement but corrected it with information supporting Trump’s account and contacts with Russians. With the story today of an FBI special agent removed from the Russian investigation due to anti-Trump tweets, the “clarification” by ABC plays into the narrative by Trump supporters that the Russian investigation is politically motivated.
Here is the ABC “clarification”:
During a live Special Report, ABC News reported that a confidant of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said Flynn was prepared to testify that then-candidate Donald Trump instructed him to contact Russian officials during the campaign.
That source later clarified that during the campaign, Trump assigned Flynn and a small circle of other senior advisers to find ways to repair relations with Russia and other hot spots.
It was shortly after the election, that President-elect Trump directed Flynn to contact Russian officials on topics that included working jointly against ISIS.
As I mentioned in my column yesterday, the meetings described in the Flynn plea were notably directed at pressing foreign conflicts and United Nations votes. Trump had an interest in repairing relations with Russia and striking a new path in foreign policy. He stated that on the campaign trail. The ABC report and Flynn account seems to support that account as the motivation of the meetings to address issues including ISIS, Israel, and sanctions against Russia.
Such accounts can raise issues relation to the Logan Act (1 Stat. 613, 18 U.S.C. § 953, enacted January 30, 1799) barring unauthorized citizens who negotiate with foreign governments having a dispute with the United States. However, the interpretation of that Act as it relates to the incoming National Security Adviser is uncertain. More importantly the Act is widely and correctly viewed as unconstitutional and should be eliminated by Congress.
The ironic element of the ABC correction is that it highlights a developing picture of these meetings as tracking Trump’s public statements. Trump openly called for a closer relationship with Russia (which Hillary Clinton once called for) and promised to be an ardent advocate for Israel. Moreover, as I mentioned on NPR this morning, these meetings are a curious part of a conspiracy when they were discussed openly in meetings at Mar-a-Lago. While the discussions do raise serious questions over the denials of any contacts with Russians, it seems to follow a pattern of pursing the very policy changes that Trump pledged to pursue on the campaign trail.