National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russian Ambassador to the United States around a month before President Donald Trump took office, the Washington Post reported Thursday night.
Flynn allegedly told Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that any sanctions put in place under the Obama administration could be reversed. The allegations could put Flynn in hot water, as officials say they were inappropriate at best and possibly even illegal. The situation gets worse for Flynn, as he said on Wednesday he hadn’t discussed sanctions with Kislyak. He backtracked on Thursday.
“While he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up,” Flynn’s spokesman told the Washington Post.
The interaction between Russia’s emissary and Flynn bring up a number of questions over the Trump administration’s relationship to the Kremlin.
What did Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk about on the phone?
During a phone call between Trump and Putin last week, the Russian president reportedly asked about extending New START, an Obama-era treaty that “gives both countries until February 2018 to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550, the lowest level in decades,” according to Reuters.
Sources told Reuters Trump had to ask his advisers what New START was, before proceeding to criticize it as a deal that favored Russia. Trump reportedly went on to talk about his popularity.
But other details of the call weren’t revealed by the White House. Were sanctions discussed?
Did Vice President Mike Pence — or anyone in the administration — know the truth about Flynn’s conversation?
Pence previously denied Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence told CBS a few days before the inauguration.
After the Washington Post contradicted that claim, the Trump administration issued a statement saying Pence had “based on his comments on his conversation with General Flynn.”
Just adding admin comment on Pence/Flynn: "An administration official stressed that VP Pence based his comments on his convo with Gen Flynn"
— Greg Miller (@gregpmiller) February 10, 2017
Did Pence lie or was he lied to? And did anyone else in the administration know about Flynn’s actions? Was Flynn acting on his own?
Why is Steve Bannon on the National Security Council Principal’s Committee?
Shortly after Trump’s election, Bannon began reaching out to key figures in Europe’s radical right wing parties. He’s well-versed in their populist rhetoric, and has steered Trump’s campaign (and administration) toward a similar philosophy.
Bannon wants to build relations with other populist movements in much the same way Russia has bolstered Europe’s insurgent populist parties.
His appointment to the Principal’s Committee is “unprecedented,” according to former acting CIA chief Michael Morell and others. So then what is it aimed at achieving?
Why are White House senior aides reportedly requesting information on Polish incursions into Belarus?
This is an odd one. Belarus and Russia are allies and typically have good relations. Minsk acted as a negotiator for the conflict in Donbas, Ukraine.
But Belarus’ slowly warming relations with the West may be pushing buttons at the Kremlin. Meanwhile, Poland is a NATO member, and in January the Polish government welcomed 4,000 American troops in an effort to strengthen NATO ties and send a signal to Russia. Russia said the troops stationed in Poland, a border country, are a threat to security.
Now the United States government is reportedly looking into claims of “Polish incursions in Belarus, an eyebrow raising request because little evidence of such activities appears to exist,” according to a recent report from the Associated Press.
Polish incursions into Belarus = Bowling Green massacre
Where is this coming from? https://t.co/YrTRKpZpwO
— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) February 4, 2017
Who requested that information?
What was discussed at the meeting between Flynn and Austria’s Freedom Party?
The Freedom Party was founded by a former SS officer and is virulently anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim. As Trump’s administration tries to build ties to Europe’s populist, right-wing parties, what sort of topics were broached during this meeting?
It’s also worth asking whether Flynn’s meeting with Strache had anything to do with Russia, since Russia is known to back numerous Western far-right parties and the Freedom Party leader travels in some of the same circles as a prominent right-wing Russian financier.
In 2014, Strache was seen at a Vienna-based conference for far-right parties. Also in attendance was Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian billionaire who is thought to do the Kremlin’s unofficial bidding throughout Europe. Malofeev is believed to have funded the pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine and has ties to the religious right in the United States.