Michael Flynn’s real prob­lem isn’t the Lo­gan Act

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - — David Ig­natius Ex­cerpted from wash­ing­ton­post.com/blogs/post-par­ti­san

Michael Flynn’s real prob­lem isn’t the Lo­gan Act, an ob­scure and prob­a­bly un­en­force­able 1799 statute that bars pri­vate med­dling in for­eign pol­icy dis­putes. It’s whether Pres­i­dent Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser sought to hide a pre-in­au­gu­ra­tion dis­cus­sion with the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment about sanc­tions the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was im­pos­ing.

“It’s far less sig­nif­i­cant if he vi­o­lated the Lo­gan Act and far more sig­nif­i­cant if he will­fully mis­led this coun­try,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the rank­ing Demo­crat on the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, told me Fri­day. “Why would he con­ceal the na­ture of the call un­less he was con­scious of wrong­do­ing?”

Schiff said the FBI and con­gres­sional in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees should in­ves­ti­gate whether Flynn dis­cussed with Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak in late De­cem­ber the im­mi­nent im­po­si­tion of sanc­tions, and whether he en­crypted any of those com­mu­ni­ca­tions in what might have been an ef­fort to avoid mon­i­tor­ing. Schiff said that if some con­ver­sa­tions were recorded by U.S. in­tel­li­gence, “we should be able to rapidly tell if Gen. Flynn was be­ing truth­ful” when he told Vice Pres­i­dent Pence and oth­ers that sanc­tions weren’t dis­cussed.

Flynn’s con­tacts with Kislyak were first dis­closed in my Jan. 12 Post col­umn. I re­ported that, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior U.S. gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, Flynn had phoned Kislyak sev­eral times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced the ex­pul­sion of 35 Rus­sian diplo­mats in re­tal­i­a­tion for Krem­lin hack­ing dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

“What did Flynn say, and did it un­der­cut the U.S. sanc­tions?” the col­umn asked. We still don’t know the an­swers to those ques­tions. Flynn needs to clar­ify what hap­pened, or risk los­ing cred­i­bil­ity with Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil col­leagues and the pub­lic.

The con­tacts gained new at­ten­tion when the Post re­ported Thurs­day that the FBI was con­tin­u­ing to ex­am­ine Flynn’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the Rus­sian of­fi­cial, and that the two men had dis­cussed U.S. sanc­tions, con­trary to the Trump team’s de­nials.

The pos­si­bil­ity that Flynn vi­o­lated the Lo­gan Act was noted in that Jan­uary col­umn. But Flynn’s de­fend­ers rea­son­ably coun­tered that there were good pub­lic-pol­icy rea­sons why a fu­ture na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser should talk with the am­bas­sador of a ma­jor power about fu­ture poli­cies. That’s one rea­son the Lo­gan Act has never been en­forced.

The harder ques­tion is whether Flynn was open about his con­ver­sa­tions. The White House needs to clar­ify sev­eral anom­alies about the tim­ing and sub­stance of the con­tacts. Per­haps these are just the mis­steps that af­flict any new White House team, but they’re puz­zling, at best.

Var­i­ous Trump team mem­bers said Flynn hadn’t talked to Kislyak about the sanc­tions. That’s ap­par­ently what Flynn told Pence, too. But this de­nial be­came in­op­er­a­tive Thurs­day, when a spokesman said Flynn “in­di­cated that while he had no rec­ol­lec­tion of dis­cussing sanc­tions, he couldn’t be cer­tain that the topic never came up.”

A na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser’s suc­cess de­pends on main­tain­ing trust. Flynn now faces a trust deficit that can only be filled with a full ac­count­ing of what hap­pened.

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