What does Michael Flynn, President Trump’s erstwhile national security advisor, think about Russia?
His statements and actions are so contradictory, they could induce whiplash.
In his book, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies, published last July, here is what Flynn thought about working with Russian President Vladimir Putin: “There’s no reason to believe Putin would welcome cooperation with us. Quite the contrary, in fact.”
Seems clear enough: Russia is an adversary. Be wary of Putin. A standard position in the national security community.
Yet Flynn was also busy making contacts with Russia. In December 2015, Flynn sat next to Putin in Moscow at a celebration for RT, the state-run TV network.
Documents show that Flynn was paid $33,000 for a speech he delivered at the event. As a retired Army lieutenant general, he was required to get permission from the military to receive payments from a foreign government, and according to media reports, it’s not clear whether he requested it.
The Pentagon’s inspector general is looking into the matter, which is just one aspect of Flynn’s legal troubles.
In early 2016, Flynn began advising Trump. They seemed to be on the same page, both willing to explore the possibility of better relations with Moscow.
But Flynn the Trump supporter seemed at odds with Flynn the strategist. In his book, he was sharply critical of recent Russian military moves, including plans for new military bases near the country’s western border and an upgrade for their nuclear forces.
“These are not the actions of a country seeking detente with the West,” he said. “They are, rather, indications that Putin fully intends to do the same thing, as, and in tandem with, the Iranians. Pursue the war against us.”
In Flynn’s view, Russia, Iran and several other countries are part of a “global alliance” that seeks to undermine the U.S.
In an interview with NPR last August, he said:
“When we think about countries like Russia, countries like Cuba, countries like Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, I mean, these are – in many cases, these are criminal enterprises that – that have dictatorships and certainly tyrants.”
However, he also said the U.S. and Russia could work together at times, citing the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.
He told the German magazine Der Spiegel: “We have to work constructively with Russia … You can’t say Russia is bad, they have to go home. It’s not going to happen. Get real.”
Compare that with what he wrote in his book about Russia’s role in Syria, where it supports President Bashar Assad: “They are certainly not fighting terrorists in the Middle East. Theirs is a battle to rescue an embattled ally in Damascus.”
So what’s behind these contradictions? Are they just confusing but perfectly legal?
Flynn hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing, but investigators are looking closely at Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials. Here’s a quick recap:
Reuters reported Thursday that Flynn was in touch with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential campaign. These contacts picked up after the election, when Flynn was named national security adviser.
The two met in New York at Trump Tower in early December. They reportedly spoke by phone on Dec. 19. They texted on Christmas and spoke again on Dec. 28 and 29.
Flynn told Vice President Mike Pence they didn’t discuss sanctions against Russia — but it turned out they did.
Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, warned the White House.
“I think this was a serious compromise situation that the Russians had real leverage. He [Flynn] also had lied to the vice president of the United States,” she said in an interview this week with CNN.
Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13, and Flynn has been keeping a low profile since then. But he’s still in the headlines.
As reported by NPR and others, then-FBI director James Comey wrote notes about a meeting with Trump on Feb. 14, saying the president asked if he could “let go” of the Flynn investigation.
The White House disputes this. The investigation continues.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent. Follow him @gregmyre1.