Before moving to the facts, let us start with the law establishing a felony offense. The Logan Act reads:
“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”
It would be helpful to remember these words as this discussion progresses. So now to the facts.
First, the United States was in a dispute or controversy with the foreign government of Russia. The controversy was over alleged Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee as part of an intentional effort to influence the 2016 Presidential election. Whether you agree with the position of the Obama Administration on this is not relevant, the controversy existed. The controversy led President Obama on December 29, 2016 to impose sanctions on Russia that included expelling 35 Russian diplomats. Many, to include the Obama Administration, expected the Russians to retaliate with sanctions of their own, as typically occurs in such circumstances. But they expected retaliation never comes. Instead, the very next day Putin announced that he will not retaliate as President-elect Trump praises Putin for being “very smart.”
The timing was already suspicious and those suspicions have been largely confirmed. It is now known that, as rumors of sanctions swirled, Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak on December 28th contacted General Michael Flynn requesting a call. Flynn took the call that day, and had at least five more calls with Kislyak the following day, the very day sanctions were announced. The five calls on the 29th were after Russia was advised of the sanctions but before Putin announced there would be no Russian retaliation. American intelligence sources have confirmed the calls included discussions of the sanction and efforts to mute the Russian response until the new administration could unwind them. In short, the calls included the intent to “influence the measures or conduct” of a foreign government as described in the Logan Act. In fact, it appears the calls successfully achieved their intent to influence the conduct of a foreign government.
The still President-elect Trump supported the quid pro quo as he continued to publicly state his skepticism that the Russians did anything wrong. On December 31st, the very day after Putin’s muted response, so carefully coordinated by General Flynn, Trump declared that “it could be somebody else.” As so often is the case, Trump chose to carry the case to Twitter with more lies. In one Tweet Trump cast suspicious aspirations at a supposed delay in a scheduled meeting to brief him on the Russian hacking scandal claiming it had been pushed back to Friday.
In another Trump suggested the hacking could have been done by a 14 year old.
On January 13th Trump tells the Wall Street Journal that he is open to lifting the sanctions on Russia and reaffirms that on January 27th shortly after his inauguration.
Starting on January 12th the enigma of the Russian non-reaction to sanctions began to unravel as the Washington Post first reported on the late December calls between General Flynn and Ambassador Kislyak. What followed was a cover up of lies worthy of Watergate comparisons. The first lie, advanced by now Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer on January 13th, was that there was but one call between Flynn and Kislyak, on the 28th of December, that was merely an exchange of Christmas greetings and logistical coordination for an upcoming call with President-elect Trump. On January 15th Vice President-elect Mike Pence appeared on Face the Nation to strongly deny that sanctions had ever been discussed, in what Pence claimed was the one and only one call between Trump and Kislyak. The transcript is damning in light of currently known facts:
MIKE PENCE: I talked to General Flynn about that conversation and actually was initiated on Christmas Day he had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash that took place. It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.
JOHN DICKERSON: So did they ever have a conversation about sanctions ever on those days or any other day?
MIKE PENCE: They did not have a discussion contemporaneous with U.S. actions on —
JOHN DICKERSON: But what about after —
MIKE PENCE: — my conversation with General Flynn. Well, look. General Flynn has been in touch with diplomatic leaders, security leaders in some 30 countries. That’s exactly what the incoming national security advisor —
JOHN DICKERSON: Absolutely.
MIKE PENCE: — should do. But what I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.
JOHN DICKERSON: But that still leaves open the possibility that there might have been other conversations about the sanctions.
MIKE PENCE: I don’t believe there were more conversations.
JOHN DICKERSON: Okay. Okay. Okay. Let’s move on. Okay. Got it —
MIKE PENCE: I can confirm those elements were not a part of that discussion.
As recently as February 9th Flynn himself twice denied discussing sanctions with the Russian Ambassador. That lie began to unravel the very next day. It has now degenerated to Flynn’s spokesman actually admitting the calls happened while invoking a confusing double negative to weasel word that the General does not remember what was discussed and that “he couldn’t be certain that the topic [of sanctions] never came up.”
With the charade effectively exposed, the only question now is what will Trump do? What will Congress do?
The Logan Act has been violated Mr. President, and the lies to conceal the violation reach all the way to your Vice President. There is considerable evidence your own actions supportive of Russia, and your repeated skepticism regarding Russia’s efforts to influence our (or should I say “your”) election, were related to this violation of the Logan Act. An Administration with already questionably intense and non-transparent business ties to Russia is now tainted by illegal acts to undermine the prior Administration’s policy with that hostile foreign power.
Surely something must be done? But I predict next to nothing will.
EDIT AND UPDATE JANUARY 14, 10:00 AM ET.
General Flynn has resigned. His resignation letter purports to come clean but only amplifies his dishonesty. He disingenuously blames the “fast pace of events” for causing him to “inadvertently” provide “incomplete information” regarding his phone calls to the Russian ambassador when he briefed the President and Vice President. Flynn then, not so humbly asserts, that he has “always performed his duties with the utmost of integrity and honesty.”
General Flynn, with all due respect to your 33 years of honorable military service, that you use to prop up your flagging credibility, not this time. As described above, you flatly lied at least twice when directly asked whether you discussed sanctions with the Russian Ambassador. Further, the context of your discussions with Vice President Pence must have been precisely about whether you discussed sanctions because the timing was in association with that controversy and Pence himself directly stated he spoke to you about it (see transcript above). You must have also deliberately misled Sean Spicer for him to have made the claims he made regarding this on January 13th.
In addition, General, there is another problem. You violated the Logan Act, you now admit to it. You performed your duties in a felonious manner to undermine the authority of the sitting President of the United States. There is nothing honorable about that.
As disturbing as all this is, it gets worse, much worse. Reports now indicate, and the White House has confirmed, that the Department of Justice warned President Trump last month about the phone calls and that they presented a security risk because the Russians could blackmail Flynn about them. In other words, the President Trump, and the White House, have been misleading the American people about this for weeks as they retained a man identified as a security risk as the President’s National Security Advisor. American security owes much to leaks to the media exposing the stink to the American public, and compelling General Flynn’s resignation, even as the Administration worked to sweep it all under the rug.
For one more bit of disturbing dot connecting, guess who delivered the bad news to President Trump that his NSA could be blackmailed by the Russians? It was then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who shortly thereafter Trump fired, supposedly for ordering United States Attorneys to not defend his travel ban.
In the words of Baby Herman from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, “the whole thing stinks like yesterday’s diapers.”