A key aide in the Trump transition appeared to write in an email that Trump should seek to ease sanctions on Russia because that country had helped Trump win the election.
The aide, K. T. McFarland, currently the nominee to be the next United States Ambassador to Singapore, wrote on December 29 that sanctions imposed by the Obama administration were undesirable, according to a report by the New York Times. McFarland explained that Trump was seeking to improve relations with Russia “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him.”
Taken on its face, the email appears to describe a quid pro quo transaction where relaxed sanctions were exchanged for Russia’s help in winning the presidency.
White House lawyers, however, say that the email should not be taken literally. Rather, the lawyers told the New York Times that “she meant only that the Democrats were portraying it that way.” The paper does not appear fully convinced by this explanation: “It is not clear whether Ms. McFarland was saying she believed that the election had in fact been thrown.”
The United State intelligence community concluded in December that Russia was seeking to aide the Trump campaign through the release of hacked emails from Democratic officials.
Overall, the emails obtained by the New York Times show the effort to influence U.S. foreign policy with Russia prior to Trump’s inauguration extended far beyond Gen. Michael Flynn.
On Friday, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak regarding sanctions — the same conversations discussed in the emails reported by the Times. Flynn is reportedly fully cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and his cooperation now takes the investigation directly into the White House: Multiple reports say Jared Kushner was the senior official directing Flynn reach out to Russia.