Flynn, Kushner met with Russian envoy in December
Official: White House sought line of communication.
WASHINGTON — Michael Flynn, then Donald Trump’s incoming national security adviser, had a previously undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador in December to “establish a line of communication” between the new administration and the Russian government, the White House said Thursday.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and now a senior adviser, also participated in the meeting at Trump Tower with Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. But among Trump’s inner circle, it is Flynn who appears to have been the main interlocutor with the Russian envoy — the two were in contact during the campaign and the transition, Kislyak and current and former U.S. officials have said.
Though the extent and frequency of their contacts remains unclear, and the disclosure of the meeting at Trump Tower adds to the emerging picture of how the relationship between Trump’s incoming team and Moscow was evolving to include some of the president-elect’s most trusted advisers.
The White House has repeatedly sought to play down any connections with Kislyak. Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledged this week that he had met twice with him during the campaign, despite previous denials.
The New Yorker reported this week that Kushner had met with Kislyak at Trump Tower in December. In response to a reporter’s questions, Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, confirmed Thursday that Flynn was also at the meeting.
It is common and not improper for transition officials to meet with foreign officials. But all meetings between Trump associates and Russians are now significant as the FBI investigates Russian interference in the U.S. election and whether anyone close to Trump’s campaign was involved.
The meeting in December came at a crucial time, just as the Obama White House was preparing to sanction Russia and publicly make its case that Moscow had interfered with the 2016 election.
What is becoming clear is that the incoming Trump administration was simultaneously striking a conciliatory pose toward Moscow in a series of meetings and phone calls involving Kislyak.
The Trump Tower meeting lasted 20 minutes, and Kushner has not met since with Kislyak, she said.
When first asked in January about Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak, the White House said that there had been only a text message and phone call between the men at the end of December, and that both came before the United States imposed sanctions. That was quickly contradicted by news reports.
Flynn’s story then began changing, and the White House eventually acknowledged the two men had discussed the sanctions and how the two countries could move past the acrimony once Trump was in office.
U.S. officials have also said that there were multiple telephone calls between Flynn and Kislyak on Dec. 29, beginning shortly after Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed that, in retaliation for Russian election meddling, the United States was expelling 35 people suspected of being Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other sanctions.
Russian ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak was in contact with Donald Trump’s inner circle as the Obama White House was preparing to sanction Russia.