The latest outrage from the Trump White House is that the Justice Department dropped its case against former national security adviser Mike Flynn for lying to the FBI, even though Flynn pleaded guilty to the charges in 2017.
In its coverage of the exoneration, the New York Times notes that Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying about a discussion with the Russian ambassador in December 2016 during the transition between the Obama and Trump administrations. Flynn asked Russia not to overreact to sanctions the Obama administration had placed on Russia for interfering in the election; Trump would be in the White House in another three weeks.
Hmmm. The Times does not mention the other alleged lie– which involves Israel. A week before the sanctions call, Flynn called the Russian ambassador, and a “litany” of other countries, to try to get them to counter the U.S. decision to allow a resolution highly critical of Israeli settlements to pass in the U.N. Security Council. That resolution went through 14-0 with the U.S. abstaining– Obama’s parting shot at Netanyahu.
The FBI interviewed Flynn in January 2017, a month later, as part of the Russia probe. And at that time, Flynn lied about his attempt to block the anti-settlements resolution (according to his own guilty plea).
And former FBI director James Comey speculated that Flynn might have violated the Logan Act– which criminalizes discussions by unauthorized American citizens with foreign governments that are having a dispute with the United States.
The whole affair revealed Israel’s unseemly influence over U.S. politics. Trump’s transition team “colluded with Israel,” as the Intercept put it– even as everyone was so obsessed with Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia.
Back then the New York Times said that the Israel angle was going to become more of an issue:
The possible involvement or knowledge of Israel in the case will be one of many questions that congressional investigators will pursue.
Well, I guess no one wanted that to happen. Certainly the Times doesn’t seem to want it. Two articles today about the Justice Department’s collapse mention Russia repeatedly. Says one, “The [FBI] questioning focused on his [Flynn’s] conversations during the transition after the 2016 election with the Russian ambassador about the Obama administration’s imposition of sanctions on Russia for its interference in the American election.” That’s just half-true.
The Israel angle was also buried in the coverage on MSNBC today by Andrea Mitchell. Her segment on the decision expressed a lot of outrage over Vladimir Putin and Russian influence; but no mention of what else Flynn was up to.
Here’s the original Justice Department charge sheet to which Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017. It tells the story of the settlements resolution.
On or about December 21, 2016, Egypt submitted a resolution to the United Nations Security Council on the issue of Israeli settlements (“resolution”). The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to vote on the resolution the following day.
On or about December 22, 2016, a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team directed FLYNN to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to learn where each government stood on the resolution and to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution…
On or about December 22, 2016, FLYNN contacted the Russian Ambassador about the pending vote. FLYNN informed the Russian Ambassador about the incoming administration’s opposition to the resolution, and requested that Russia vote against or delay the resolution.
That senior member of the team was apparently Jared Kushner, a friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and btw the president’s son in law. Buzzfeed in December 2017:
In the run-up to the vote, both Flynn and [Jared] Kushner called several officials of Security Council member states in order to block or delay the resolution. Flynn personally called foreign ambassadors on the Security Council, including representatives of Uruguay and Malaysia, according to a February report by Foreign Policy.
Trump himself intervened in the matter, getting the Egyptian government to withrdraw its anti-settlements resolution. The resolution was ultimately proposed by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal.
Trump’s biggest donor, Sheldon Adelson, is an ardent supporter of Israel and a friend to Netanyahu. Adelson and other donors’ influence over Middle East policy has been a running theme of the Trump administration.
In dropping the case, even having obtained a guilty plea, the Justice Department now says that the FBI had no business questioning Flynn in January 2017. The issues he was asked about were not “material” to the ongoing investigation.
The Justice Department filing of yesterday takes Flynn at his word in his original interview by the FBI: that the many calls he made to foreign governments were just a “battle drill” by the Trump campaign office in Washington to see how quickly it could get foreign leaders on the phone–Israel, Senegal, Britain, France, Egypt, Russia — and Flynn was just trying to suss out the Russians, not pressure them to block the resolution. “Flynn stated he conducted these calls to attempt to get a sense of where countries
stood on the UN vote…”
But three years ago Comey and some congresspeople were concerned that the lobbying in Israel’s interests against the U.S. would violate the Logan Act. From a hearing by the House Select Committee on Intelligence in March 2017:
Rep. Jackie Speier (of California):
“The fact that he actively was asking the Russians, through the Ambassador, to vote against the United States at the U[N] . . with regard to Israeli settlements, have you
looked further into that issue? Because that clearly involves a private citizen conducting foreign policy.
James Comey said it might be a Logan Act violation, but he wasn’t sure.
That is one of the questions for the Department of Justice, is do you want further investigation. That would be the Logan Act angle, not the false statements to
Federal agents angle… I am not an expert, but I don’t think it is something prosecutors have used. But it is possible. That is one of the reasons we sent it over to them, saying look , here is this old statute. Do you want us to do further investigation?