(…) While the Obama administration ejected the Russian personnel in response to the Kremlin’s interference with the 2016 election, the expulsions were not part of Executive Order 13757 and thus were not “U.S. Sanctions” as defined in the Flynn Statement of Offense. This distinction matters because the recently released transcripts establish that Flynn did not ask Kislyak to do anything — or refrain from doing anything — in response to the sanctions.
What Was Flynn’s Call Really About?
Instead, what Flynn discussed with Kislyak on Dec. 29, 2016, concerned the expulsion of the Russian diplomats.
“So, you know, depending on, depending on what actions they take over this current issue of cyber stuff, you know, where they’re looking like they’re gonna, they’re gonna dismiss some number of Russians out of the country, I understand all that and I understand that, that you know, the information that they have and all that, but what I would ask Russia to do is not — is is — if anything — because I know you have to have some sort of action — to, to only make it reciprocal. Make it reciprocal. Don’t — don’t make it — don’t go any further than you have to. Because I don’t want us to get into something that has to escalate, on a, you know, on a tit for tat. You follow me, Ambassador?”
Kislyak responded that he did but that Flynn needed to “appreciate” that sentiments were raging in Moscow. Flynn noted he appreciated the situation but didn’t want to get into a scenario “where we do this and then you do something bigger, and then you know, everybody’s got to go back and forth and everybody’s got to be the tough guy here.” Flynn stressed, “[W]e need cool heads to prevail … to fight the common threat in the Middle East.”
At that point, Kislyak mentioned “sanctions” for the first time, noting that “one of the problems among the measures that have been announced today is that now FSB and GRU are sanctioned,” and Kislyak said it makes him ask himself if the United States remains willing to work on terrorist threats.
Significantly, Flynn did not respond to Kislyak’s mention of sanctions with a similar plea to moderate any response. Rather, he merely acknowledged Kislyak’s comments with a “yeah, yeah,” and then Kislyak noted “that was something we have to deal with, but I’ve heard what you say, and I certainly will try to get the people in Moscow to understand it.”
Here, Flynn reiterated his request, making clear he was discussing only the expulsion: “If you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis … because if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a — let’s, let’s keep this at a level that is, is even-keeled, okay? Is even-keeled.” (Read more: The Federalist, 7/09/2020) (Archive)