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Time Machine: Back On Russia

As you may have seen, there was a bit more news about the various investigations into the Trump Administration. I would say they were into the Trump-Russia-Election Meddling connection, but it seems clear that the findings of the investigation would cause the scope to widen. Which you would expect when a core-corrupt organization is put under the spotlight.


The global press is unable to keep up with the scope of the investigation as it continues to widen. Major events – the kind that would have created political tsunamis not two years ago – receive little scrutiny, at least for now. I’m in no place to do better than large organizations in investigative reporting. But I also want to try to think about the topic from angles not being covered, maybe I pick up on something small that others have missed.

You probably don’t remember, but three months ago I put out a list of questions resulting from the departure of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. I thought it would be a good exercise to go through them again, see what has been answered and what no; what is still relevant and what not. The news has been so momentous, this might be a way to think about the high-level progress (as well as to check my prescience as to what would prove critical).

Michael Flynn:

Q1: Did Flynn talk to the Russian ambassador before the election?

A1: We know that the Trump Campaign (i.e., before the election) had at least 18 undisclosed calls with Russians. Safe to say at least some of these were with Mr. Flynn. Now – nothing so strange about a campaign talking to a foreign government. But eighteen times? To a hostile government? And then not disclosing them despite the investigation? What happened on these calls?

Q2: For the talks during the transition, did he have permission to have these talks? Was he ordered to have them?

A2: Given the large volume of calls, it seems clear that contact with the Russians was “part of the campaign” rather than the actions of a rogue operative. We don’t know yet where the strategy vis-à-vis Russian interaction was coming from – this remains a key question.

Q3: If so, did he have permission to discuss sanctions?

A3: I have not seen any reporting on this either way. I am not aware of what the Trump Campaign says it needed to discuss on this large volume of calls with our chief global adversary.

Q4: Did he report the results of the calls to Trump (or write a memo etc)?

A4: Again, I haven’t seen anything on this topic. We don’t know what Trump knew and when he knew it about these conversations.

Q5: What was Flynn's testimony to the FBI in the immediate aftermath of the call?

A5: We had the answer to this several months ago: seems his FBI testimony was far from truthful.

Flynn cover-up and dismissal:

Q6: Did Flynn resign, was he asked to resign, or was he fired?

A6: Amazingly, this still isn’t 100% clear to me. The administration has not been consistent (to put it mildly) about why Flynn is no longer our President’s top White House security advisor.

Q7: During the period when the WH was aware that he was a security risk, was Flynn's access to Trump/confidential material/meetings etc curtailed?

A7: A resounding No. Well after the WH was aware of Flynn’s Russia and Turkey ties, he was still central to the decision-making process. He took specific action to veto a plan that Turkey was against, while he was on Turkey’s payroll, while he was National Security Advisor. Let that one sink in.

Q8a: What was the decision-making process behind such curtailment/lack thereof?

Q8b: If Flynn's firing/resignation was due to steady loss of confidence, why was he on the Mar-a-Lago trip less than 48 hours previous?

A8: There is no evidence that the WH had any issue with their National Security Advisor being a foreign agent. Only with him getting caught. We know that the White House was warned about Flynn by at least:

In other words, the Trump Administration knowingly named an undeclared foreign agent to be the top White House national security post.

Q9: Were the leaks fake or is the news real?

A9: By many accounts, Trump still supports Flynn and thinks he was treated unfairly.

Trump Campaign:

Q10a: With the awareness that the campaign was a large organization, so it is difficult to account for everybody, what is a list of senior campaign officials who are confirmed to have no contact with Russian nationals?

Q10b: If there is any senior official not on this list, who are the Russian nationals they spoke to?

Q10c: What topics did they speak about?

A10: It would be easier to take the Trump Administration’s word on any of these topics if the goalposts did not switch so rapidly. Every day brings new revelations of more contacts and dealings between his inner circle and the Russians. If there is no fire, isn’t it time to disclose rather than stick to the provably-false no contact story?

Q11: What is the official view of the Trump Campaign (and WH, if different) as to the sources of the hacking of the DNC/Podesta emails?

A11: The Trump Organization still frequently casts doubt on the source of the hacking of the DNC. This doubt appears to be strategic: sometimes they admit the truth about Russia’s aim, sometimes they say it might have been something else.

Q12: Was the RNC or any Trump Campaign entity or staff member hacked?

A12: It seems that some RNC/Trump services were hacked, but not as extensively as the DNC. I have not seen a full accounting of the potential kompromat that Russia does have on these groups.

Trump Administration:

Q13: Is it appropriate for a Presidential Transition to discuss policy with other countries during the transition phase?

A13: I think we can synthesize this view as: the undisclosed contacts on undisclosed topics that we don’t agree happened were all proper and for the good of the country.

Q14: The Trump Campaign pushed to soften language about Russian intervention in Ukraine. What is the Administration's view of said Russian intervention?

A14: We’ve gotten more information that Trump-aligned persons pushed for the GOP platform to be softer on Russia. In office, Trump has taken only steps to “normalize” the behavior of Putin’s Russia, including the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine invasions. He also continues to encourage Putin to involve himself in US and European election campaigns by utilizing Russian propaganda.

Q15: Recently, Sec. Mattis made comments about the US commitment to NATO members. Was this intended to signify a change in US policy with respect to NATO Article 5 (collective defense)? If so, what is the new policy?

A15: It seems as though Trump has begun to understand some of the purpose of NATO; learning is a good thing. We’ll probably know significantly more about this after the NATO meeting in Brussels this week.