General Michael Flynn was announced as Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor on November 17, 2016. Once he was appointed, he became an official member of the Trump transition team. This meant it was highly likely General Flynn would be engaged in conversations with foreign nationals about changes to be expected with the incoming administration and other matters. Some of these individuals may have been having their communications collected under FISA warrants. Flynn’s name should have been masked in the case that he was speaking to someone under surveillance. We know now it may not have been.
Last week, acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell released the list of Obama officials who requested Flynn’s name be unmasked in collected intelligence. Reviewing the list, it seemed notable that Flynn’s calls were unmasked nearly 50 times by 39 officials.
The really strange part is that the unmasking began on November 30, 2016. That was the first time U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power requested an unmasking. The most interesting part of this list would be the person Flynn was speaking with. However, in the absence of that, there is a logical explanation.
Putting a few pieces of testimony and court filings together, a potential picture starts to emerge. In a filing, Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell disclosed that Flynn had received a letter from the British Embassy regarding their concerns about the veracity of Christopher Steele’s information. This letter was copied to President Obama’s NSA Susan Rice. Assuming the memo had the appropriate cc: field on it, Rice would have been aware Flynn received it. Given that Flynn’s lawyer is requesting Rice’s copy, this appears to be a safe assumption:
Standing Order.1. A letter delivered by the British Embassy to the incoming National Security team after Donald Trump’s election, and to outgoing National Security Advisor Susan Rice (the letter apparently disavows former British Secret Service Agent Christopher Steele, calls his credibility into question, and declares him untrustworthy).
This would have set off alarm bells in the Obama White House. This letter would have made Flynn aware that Steele was providing the U.S. government with information for some purpose. He would also have the authority as incoming NSA to find out what Steele was providing. Given they used the dossier produced by Steele as the predicate to launch investigations into several Trump campaign staff members, including General Flynn, this was problematic, to say the least.
Looking at the list of unmasking requests, it appears staff in the various regions and departments directly connected to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation made requests to unmask Flynn. For example, you might remember that the elusive Maltese professor Josef Mifsud was teaching in Italy.
It appears Flynn’s communications with foreign diplomats and governments could have been monitored to find out what he was learning about Christopher Steele and his activities. Flynn was an experienced intelligence official and the memo must have raised red flags for him. By January 6, 2017, at the Trump Tower briefing, Flynn asked James Comey whether the information in the dossier that had been briefed had been verified. The police-state panic must have been immense. It, of course, had not been.
Flynn Has to Go
If they had any reason to believe that Flynn was beginning to understand the implications of Steele’s work, he had to be silenced. The idea of him being in the administration must have been more than nerve-racking for several members of the F.B.I and intelligence community.
Beginning in summer of 2016, a narrative regarding Flynn and money paid to his consulting firm to do lobbying work on behalf of the Turkish government started to circulate. These charges were eventually dropped against Flynn in exchange for a plea deal and dismissed on appeal against his business partner. However, it is a possible explanation for another set of unmaskings, including ones from Treasury officials and diplomats responsible for Turkey and Syria.
In other words, there was full-court press to try and find something that the government could charge General Flynn for or that would make his continued role in the Trump administration untenable. He was in possession of a significant lead to uncover the Obama administration’s surveillance of the Trump campaign.
Ultimately, they used an unbelievably tenuous pretext, the Logan Act, to question Flynn in late January. Later, the Mueller team would use the Foreign Agent Registration Act, a rarely charged crime, to leverage General Flynn and threaten to prosecute his son. Similar tactics of pressure and investigation were used with Flynn’s Deputy National Security Advisor, K.T. McFarland. Eventually, she resigned.
One question that lingers is what is going on in the diplomatic service. Ambassadors were unmasking General Flynn. If you listen to George Papadopoulos, most of his contacts were made through our embassy and those of our allies. It was the British Embassy that wrote to Flynn and Rice. One might wonder how they were even aware of the activities of a former British spy that was working as a private contractor.
The final Durham report cannot come fast enough.