EXCLUSIVE: Transcripts of phone conversations that took place in December 2016 between then-national security adviser designate Michael Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were released Friday, detailing the discussions that would later lead to Flynn’s FBI interview and subsequent charges.
Fox News first obtained the transcripts and summaries of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak. The transcripts were transmitted to Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe. Johnson and Grassley later released the documents publicly.
The documents include a key Dec. 29, 2016 conversation in which Flynn repeatedly urged Russia not to dramatically escalate tensions in response to sanctions imposed by the outgoing Obama Administration over election interference.
It has been known that Flynn made such appeals to Russia during the transition period ever since the FBI pressed him for details about that discussion in early 2017. Flynn pleaded guilty in December of that year to a single count of lying to investigators.
Since that charge, Flynn has fought to withdraw his plea and the Justice Department earlier this month moved to drop the prosecution entirely, maintaining that the FBI’s interview was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis.”
Flynn was supposedly scrutinized at the time for potentially violating the Logan Act, an obscure law dealing with conversations with foreign adversaries.
But Flynn’s allies have long maintained that his conversations were legitimate and he was lured into a “perjury trap” by the FBI.
The transcript of the Dec. 29, 2016 call, first obtained by Fox News, offers a clear window into those talks.
The call starts off with the two men discussing the Middle East.
Kislyak tells Flynn that Russia “wanted to convey to” him and then-President-Elect Trump that they had “significant reservations about the idea of adopting new principles for the Middle East that our American colleagues are pushing for.” Kislyak says that Russia is “not going to support it.”
Flynn says: “Okay.”
Kislyak goes on to say that “U.S. policy might, uh, be changing or not, we want to understand what is going to be your policy when and if we are to implement things that we are working on.”
Kislyak then requests that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump have a video meeting on a “secure video line,” so that Putin can “congratulate” Trump and “discuss a small number, briefly, of issues that are on his agenda,” for Jan. 21, 2017.
Flynn says: “OK,” before telling Kislyak: .“What I would ask you guys to do — and make sure you, make sure that you convey this, okay? Do not, do not uh, allow this administration to box us in right now, okay?”
Flynn is referring to the Obama administration’s move to sanction Russia and expel dozens of Russian diplomats due to what he calls “cyber stuff,” and urges Kislyak not to escalate further.
“What I would ask Russia to do is to not—is—is—if anything—because I know you have to have some sort of action—to, to only make it reciprocal,” Flynn said. “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 says: “I understand what you’re saying, but you know, you might appreciate the sentiments that are raging now in Moscow.”
Flynn says he does “appreciate it, but I really don’t want us to get into a situation where we’re going, you know, 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, you know?”
Flynn adds: “We don’t need to, we don’t need that right now, we need to—we need cool heads to prevail, and uh, and we need to be very steady about what we’re going to do because we have absolutely a common uh, threat, in the Middle East right now.”
Kislyak says he agrees, and Flynn says: “We have to eliminate this common threat.”
Kislyak goes on to discuss sanctions, saying that “one of the problems among the measures that have been announced today is that now FSB and GRU are sanctions, are sanctioned, and I ask myself, uh, does it mean that the United States isn't willing to work on terrorist threats?”
Flynn dismisses the comments, by saying: “Yeah, yeah ... yep ... yeah.” He then urges Kislyak: “If you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on sort of an even basis. Then that, then that is a good message and we’ll understand that message.
“And then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we, where because if we put out--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 keep this at a level that uh, is even-keeled, okay? And then what we can do is, when we come in, we can then have a better conversation about where we're gonna go uh, regarding, uh, regarding our relationship.”
Flynn added: “And also, basically we have to take these, these enemies on that we have. And we definitely have a common enemy. You have a problem with it, we have a problem with it in this country, and we definitely have a problem with it in the Middle East.”
Later in the call, Flynn tells Kislyak to “remember ... Ambassador, you're not talking to a diplomat, you're talking to a soldier, so l'm a very practical guy, and it's about solutions. It's about very practical solutions that we're - that we need to come up with here.”
He added: “And we have to stop talking past each other on - and so that means that we have to understand exactly what it is that we want to try to achieve, okay?"
Kislyak replies by saying he agrees "fully."
The transcripts were declassified, in part, over the weekend by Richard Grenell, in one of his last moves as acting director of National Intelligence. Ratcliffe was sworn into his post as DNI on Tuesday, and completed the declassification of the transcripts this week.
Ratcliffe transmitted the declassified files to Johnson and Grassley on Friday.
"In response to bipartisan requests regarding the LTG Michael Flynn (Retired) transcripts, please find the enclosed declassified documents," Ratcliffe wrote to Johnson and Grassley on Friday, copying Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Mark Warner, D-Va., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Devin Nunes, R-Calif.
“As I stated throughout the confirmation process, transparency is vital to allowing the American people to have confidence in the Intelligence Community," Ratcliffe said in a statement Friday. "As the Director of National Intelligence, it is my obligation to review declassification requests with the overarching priority of protecting sources and methods, while also providing transparency whenever possible. Accordingly, today the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified transcripts concerning Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.”
Grassley first requested the Flynn-Kislyak transcripts in February 2017, when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and again pressed the Justice Department to release the files in May 2018.
“Lt. General Flynn, his legal team, the judge and the American people can now see with their own eyes – for the first time – that all of the innuendo about Lt. General Flynn this whole time was totally bunk," Grassley said in a statement Friday. "There was nothing improper about his call, and the FBI knew it."
Johnson said he released the transcripts to the public because "for too long, the investigation of Lt. Gen. Flynn and others has been fueled by pernicious leaks, likely for political purposes, instead of the facts."
Democrats, like House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Mark Warner, D-Va., had also called for the Flynn-Kislyak transcripts to be released.
“These transcripts clearly demonstrate that Lt. General Michael Flynn. lied to the FBI and the Vice President when he denied discussing sanctions in a then-secret set of conversations with the Russian Ambassador,” Schiff said in a statement Friday. “Flynn posed a severe counterintelligence risk because the Russians knew the real contents of Flynn’s communications and that he lied about them to the some of the most senior officials in the U.S. government.”
Schiff added that the transcripts “fully affirm” that “Flynn in fact lied about his interactions with the Russian Ambassador.” “It should be no surprise that the President and his allies wish to promote conspiracy theories to distract and re-write history, as the true facts and history are so damning,” he said.
Six days before the discussion of sanctions, on Dec. 23, 2016, Flynn and Kislyak discuss a United Nations vote.
Flynn says the U.S.'s "strategic goal is stability in the Middle East."
"That's the strategic goal, and ... and, you know, between you and I, and you know this, and we know this, and you know...and between Moscow and Washington, we will not achieve stability in the Middle East without working with each other against this radical Islamist crowd. Period," Flynn says.
Flynn adds: “So, I’m adamant about that and I want to make sure that you know that, and in conversations that we have in the future, if there’s a common, en..a common threat that we face…”
Kislyak cuts him off and says: “I agree with you.”
Flynn goes on to tell Kislyak he is “sickened” by the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey.
The two wish one another a “happy Christmas and New Years,” and Flynn tells Kislyak to “please call me anytime, okay?” Kislyak says: “Ah, the same here.”
Meanwhile, last week Grenell moved to declassify an email that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice sent to herself on President Trump’s Inauguration Day documenting a Jan. 5, 2017, Oval Office meeting with Obama and others, during which the former president provided guidance on how law enforcement needed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.
The declassified email revealed that Comey suggested to Obama that the National Security Council might not want to pass “sensitive information related to Russia” to Flynn, due to the fact that he had been “speaking frequently” with the Russian ambassador.
The transcripts of Flynn's and Kislyak's conversations released Friday are what Comey was referring to in that now-infamous Jan. 5, 2017 Oval Office meeting.
Earlier this month, a congressional source familiar with the surveillance told Fox News that Flynn’s name was not redacted in the initial report about his calls with Kislyak, and that his name from the unredacted transcript of the calls was then leaked to the press.
The timeline of that activity already strongly suggested that the numerous, recently revealed requests to "unmask" Flynn pertained to other reports. The source noted that Flynn’s calls with Kislyak took place during the presidential transition period on Dec. 22, 2016 and Dec. 29, 2016. The source then noted that a majority of the known Flynn unmasking requests from top Obama officials came prior to Flynn’s calls with Kislyak on those dates.
According to the list of officials involved in requests to unmask Flynn's name, which was declassified by Grenell earlier this month and made public by GOP senators, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power made five unmasking requests prior to Flynn’s first call with Kislyak — spanning Nov. 30, 2016 and Dec. 14, 2016. Power later made requests on Dec. 23, 2016 and Jan. 17, 2017.
Then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also made an unmasking request for Flynn on Dec. 2, 2016, which also was prior to the Kislyak conversations; then-CIA Director John Brennan made requests on Dec. 14 and Dec. 15, 2016; and then-FBI Director James Comey made a request on Dec. 15, 2016.
The list shows that more than two-dozen Obama administration officials made such unmasking requests prior to his calls with Kislyak on Dec. 22, 2016.
Unmasking occurs after U.S. citizens' conversations are incidentally picked up in conversations with foreign officials who are being monitored by the intelligence community. The U.S. citizens' identities are supposed to be protected if their participation is incidental and no wrongdoing is suspected. However, officials can determine the U.S. citizens' names through a process that is supposed to safeguard their rights.
Flynn’s case returned to the national spotlight after the DOJ moved to dismiss charges against him of lying to the FBI about those conversations with Kislyak, despite a guilty plea that he later sought to withdraw.
Flynn was fired as national security adviser in February 2017. The resignation came as he was accused of misleading Vice President Pence and other senior White House officials about his communications with Kislyak.
Flynn's communications with Kislyak in December 2016 had been picked up in wiretapped discussions, apparently unbeknownst to him. FBI agents in January 2017 questioned him on the communications and later used his answers to form the basis for the false-statement charge and his guilty plea in Mueller's probe.
Attorney General Bill Barr tapped Jeff Jensen, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, in February to review the Flynn case specifically. Sources told Fox News that Jensen is now working alongside U.S. Attorney from Connecticut John Durham in his review of the origins of the Russia investigation through the appointment of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The DOJ moved to drop its case against Flynn earlier this month.
The announcement came in a court filing "after a considered review of all the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information," as the department put it. DOJ officials said they concluded that Flynn's interview by the FBI was "untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn" and that the interview was "conducted without any legitimate investigative basis."
Last week, FBI Director Chris Wray ordered an internal review of the handling of the bureau’s investigation into Flynn, which will include examining whether current FBI employees "engaged in misconduct."
Meanwhile, Barr tapped U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas John Bash, to review the practice of "unmasking" before and after the 2016 presidential election. Durham is also reviewing unmasking as it relates to the origins of the Russia probe.
“Unmasking inherently isn't wrong, but certainly, the frequency, the motivation and the reasoning behind unmasking can be problematic, and when you're looking at unmasking as part of a broader investigation -- like John Durham's investigation -- looking specifically at who was unmasking whom, can add a lot to our understanding about motivation and big picture events," DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told “Hannity” this week.
Kupec also affirmed that the D.C. Court of Appeals has invited the DOJ to weigh in on the Flynn case, "and we will.”
Kupec maintained that the DOJ had the ability to drop the case against Flynn. "We have the prosecutorial discretion to make that decision."
Meanwhile, Fox News reported earlier this week that Grenell also completed the declassification review of other documents related to the origins of the Russia probe—including one that a senior intelligence official told Fox News was “very significant in understanding how intelligence was manipulated to support launching the Russia investigation.”
A source on Friday told Fox News that document has not yet been transmitted to Capitol Hill. It is unclear, at this point, whether Ratcliffe will share that document with lawmakers.