Ad­viser and Rus­sian en­voy’s con­tacts raise eye­brows

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NATION - By Julie Pace ——— CQ Roll Call con­trib­uted to this re­port.

WASHINGTON >> Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser and Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to the U.S. have been in fre­quent con­tact in re­cent weeks, in­clud­ing on the day the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion hit Moscow with sanc­tions in re­tal­i­a­tion for elec­tion-re­lated hack­ing, a se­nior of­fi­cial said Fri­day.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer ac­knowl­edged con­tacts be­tween Michael Flynn and Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak but said a phone con­ver­sa­tion oc­curred Dec. 28, one day be­fore the sanc­tions were levied. Spicer said the men did not dis­cuss sanc­tions. He did not specif­i­cally deny ad­di­tional con­tacts the fol­low­ing day.

It’s not un­usual for in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tions to have dis­cus­sions with for­eign gov­ern­ments be­fore tak­ing of­fice. But the re­peated con­tacts just as Pres­i­dent Barack Obama im­posed sanc­tions would raise ques­tions about whether

Trump’s team dis­cussed — or even helped shape — Rus­sia’s re­sponse to the penal­ties.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin un­ex­pect­edly did not re­tal­i­ate against the U.S. for the move, a de­ci­sion Trump quickly praised.

More broadly, Flynn’s con­tact with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador sug­gests the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion has al­ready be­gun to lay the ground­work for its promised, new closer re­la­tion­ship with Moscow. That ef­fort ap­pears to be mov­ing ahead, even as many in Washington, in­clud­ing Repub­li­cans, have ex­pressed out­rage over in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials’ as­sess­ment that Putin launched a hack­ing op­er­a­tion aimed at med­dling in the U.S. elec­tion to ben­e­fit Trump.

The sanc­tions tar­geted the GRU and FSB, lead­ing Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence agen­cies that the U.S. said were in­volved in the hack­ing of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and other groups. The U.S. also kicked out 35 Rus­sian diplo­mats who it said were ac­tu­ally in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives.

Trump has been will­ing to in­sert him­self into ma­jor for­eign pol­icy is­sues dur­ing the tran­si­tion, at times con­tra­dict­ing the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion and diplo­matic pro­to­col. He ac­cepted a call from Tai­wan’s pres­i­dent, ig­nor­ing the long-stand­ing “One China” pol­icy that does not rec­og­nize the is­land’s sovereignty. He also pub­licly urged the U.S. to veto a United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing Is­raeli set­tle­ments, then slammed the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for ab­stain­ing and al­low­ing the mea­sure to pass.

Ques­tions about Trump’s friendly pos­ture to­ward Rus­sia have deep­ened since the elec­tion, as he has dis­missed U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies’ as­ser­tions about Rus­sia’s role in the hack­ing of Demo­cratic groups. In brief­ing Trump on their find­ings, in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials also pre­sented the pres­i­dent-elect with un­sub­stan­ti­ated claims that Rus­sia had amassed com­pro­mis­ing per­sonal and fi­nan­cial al­le­ga­tions about him, ac­cord­ing to a sep­a­rate U.S. of­fi­cial.

Flynn’s own ties with Rus­sia have wor­ried some Repub­li­cans who are more skep­ti­cal of the Krem­lin than Trump ap­pears to be. Af­ter leav­ing his po­si­tion as di­rec­tor of the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency in 2014, Flynn made ap­pear­ances on RT, a state-run Rus­sian tele­vi­sion net­work. In 2015 he was paid to at­tend an RT gala in Moscow, where he sat next to Putin.

As na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Flynn will work in the West Wing close to the Oval Of­fice and have fre­quent ac­cess to Trump. Un­like Trump’s nom­i­nees to lead the Pen­tagon, State Depart­ment and other na­tional se­cu­rity agen­cies, Flynn’s post does not re­quire Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion.

Flynn’s con­tacts with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador were first re­ported by Washington Post colum­nist David Ig­natius. The U.S. of­fi­cial who spoke to the As­so­ci­ated Press was not au­tho­rized to con­firm the con­tacts pub­licly and in­sisted on anonymity.

On Capi­tol Hill on Fri­day, the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee said its in­quiry into Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions against the United States will in­ves­ti­gate any pos­si­ble links be­tween Rus­sia and Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

The bi­par­ti­san in­ves­ti­ga­tion will also in­clude a re­view of the Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence agen­cies’ as­sess­ment of what they say was Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion, in­clud­ing cy­ber­at­tacks and other so­called ac­tive mea­sures.


Michael Flynn


Sergey Kislyak

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