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Did Obama sanction Russia to set up Michael Flynn?

By Aaron Ames
web posted June 15, 2020

On December 13, 2016, during an interview with Trevor Noah, then-President Barack Obama downplayed the extent to which Russia interfered in the presidential election:

None of this should be a big surprise…Russia trying to influence our elections dates back to the Soviet Union.  What they did here…is not a particularly fancy brand of espionage or propaganda…We were frankly more concerned…to the possibilities of…tampering, which we did not see evidence of…The truth of the matter is that it was fairly routine stuff.

The relatively benign role that Russia played in the election is substantiated by the fact that the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sent an assistant on December 5th to brief the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that, "In terms of favoring one candidate over another, you know, the evidence is a little bit unclear” (see pg. 16-17).  The evidence is “unclear” probably because the threat was never very serious.    

However, just two days later on December 15th, Obama promised to “take action” against Russia for its attempted interference.  Then, on December 29th, Obama announces that the U.S. Government is sanctioning “nine entities and individuals”, shutting down two Russian compounds located in the U.S., and expelling 35 Russian intelligence operatives, all of which seems a bit aggressive for something that was “fairly routine stuff”. 

So, why the sudden change of heart?  After all, Obama had received the intelligence report on Russian interference in October of 2016 and had remained relatively unconcerned through, at least, the middle of December. 

Interestingly, on December 14, 2016, just one day after the Obama interview with Trevor Noah and one day before his promise to take action against Russia, there are at least 10 separate requests from high ranking Obama officials to unmask Flynn.  Additionally, there are another 17 requests to unmask Flynn on the very next day of December 15th, and five more requests on December 16th.  What could have prompted so many unmasking requests for Michael Flynn in the middle of December?

According to the testimony of James Clapper “it was known that Mike Flynn was talking to Kislyak before the 29th of December” (see pg. 54). In fact, James Comey testified that, “…we had an open counterintelligence investigation on Mr. Flynn, and it had been open since the summertime, and we were very close to closing it.”  So, in the summer of 2016, the FBI had opened an investigation into Flynn, which almost certainly provided them with a means to monitor his phone calls.  This is why there was no need to unmask Flynn on that December 29th call.

After Trump won the election the first known contact that Flynn has with Kislyak was on November 30, 2016, when Jared Kushner invites him to join a meeting with he and Kislyak (see Mueller report pg. 168).  Coincidentally, this is the same date of the first unmasking request of Flynn, initiated by Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. 

If the FBI did not have a wiretap on Flynn himself, but were only able to listen in during a phone call, there would be need for a different method for collecting data from the in-person meeting between Kushner, Flynn, and Kislyak.  Hence, an unmasking was necessary because it would need to be obtained through the monitoring of the foreign agent, Kislyak, which would automatically privatize any U.S. persons names. 

What seems to have gone unnoticed is that Samantha Power was serving a dual role as both Ambassador and member of Obama’s National Security Council.  Power further revealed in her testimony to Congress that her specific role on the NSC involved investigating Russian cybersecurity.

While it has been reported that Power testified that she has “no recollection” of making anywhere near the total number of unmasking requests, it actually appears that she eventually admits that it was probably her own staff making many of those requests on her behalf due to her “awesome responsibility” to serve the President and others on the NSC (see pg. 101-104).  Thus, at least one individual of Obama’s inner security circle was keeping tabs on Flynn’s post-election contact with Sergey Kislyak.

After this meeting, Jared Kushner testified that he, Flynn, and Bannon met with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in “mid-December” and that the Obama administration was informed and aware that a meeting was taking place (see pg. 8-11).   Was this the meeting that prompted so many to unmask Flynn on December 14, 15, and 16th of 2016? 

It would be especially important to the Obama administration, considering that the UAE was one of the most significant critics of Obama’s “weak” Middle East policy.  Further, the UAE was actively petitioning the Trump administration immediately after his election in November to change this policy.  It was no secret that UAE was opposed to Obama’s Iran deal, which was considered the centerpiece of his legacy.  And certainly Obama would not forget that Flynn had openly opposed many of his policies regarding the Middle East, especially criticizing the administration’s position on Iran.

Recall that Obama attempted to convince Trump to part ways with Flynn.  As Lee Smith rightly points out, “Of all the important things Obama could have discussed with him, the outgoing commander in chief wanted to talk about Michael Flynn.” 

Flynn had also pushed for the more innovative software program, Palantir, for collecting intelligence. This program is “capable of building comprehensive models of activity to detect suspicious anomalies” and is “the combination of every analytical tool you could ever dream of.”  Would this mean that such a system could also discover “anomalies” with unmasking requests and other abuses under Obama?  If so, that’s a serious “uh-oh” for the whole administration, which has regularly been accused of abusing intelligence data. 

The point is that Flynn was meeting with Russian and Middle Eastern diplomats and working on not only reversing the entirety of Obama’s political tenure but also potentially uncovering all of the Obama era abuses of intelligence.  If Obama had any concern for both his reputation and the advancement of his policies, these conversations would be of top priority.  Hence, this is why so many people inside the Obama White House unmasked Flynn in the middle of December:  They needed a plan to get rid of Flynn. 

But the FBI’s investigation into Flynn hadn’t discovered any wrongdoing. Strike One.  And Trump was not going to heed Obama’s warning to drop Flynn. Strike Two.  Occam’s Razor would suggest that the reason why so many people on Obama’s NSC and in top positions within his administration were unmasking Flynn is not, in spite of, but because of Obama’s directive.  Is it really reasonable to imagine that all of these unmaskings were taking place unbeknownst to Obama?  How coincidental that so many under his tutelage should all decide to unmask the same person at the same time!

This brings everything back to the December 29th sanctions imposed by Obama.  Exactly one day later the intelligence community had been tasked to find out why Russia was not retaliating.  There is already overwhelming evidence that both the FBI and Obama’s inner circle were aware that Flynn was in regular communication with Kislyak.  There is no reason to believe that Obama had not been informed of this, especially given all the unmasking requests and the FBI investigation into Flynn. 

Thus, if we can assume that Obama knew Flynn was in regular contact with Kislyak, we can assume the obvious, that Obama was very confident that Kislyak would call Flynn after he announced the Russian sanctions and expulsions.  Take into account that the only charge leveled against Flynn during this call is that he requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond in a “reciprocal” manner.  And this discussion only involved the expulsions, not the sanctions.  How, in any scenario, this could be conceived as anything other than a sensible request is beyond explanation. 

The better question is why in the world Obama would have been angered that Russia didn’t retaliate and escalate tensions?  Why, after all, would Obama wait until only 21 days before the Trump administration is set to take over to issue such aggressive sanctions and expulsions?  If Russia had retaliated even in-kind, it could have begun a tit-for-tat, that Obama could have further intensified only to leave the Trump administration in a very difficult position.  Maybe this is why Obama was, in fact, so enraged that Flynn had requested Russia not escalate tensions.

Indeed, so alarmed was Obama by such an appropriate request from Flynn that he convened a meeting with FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, DNI head James Clapper, Vice President Biden, Attorney General Sally Yates, and head National Security Advisor Susan Rice.  And a specially-called meeting that includes all the biggest hitters in the White House and in the Intelligence communities could only mean that this was a very important and urgent meeting.

While it is very difficult to believe Susan Rice’s memo that everything be done “by the book,” which was suspiciously written to herself 15 days after this meeting, it is important to note that this memo makes clear that the meeting was convened at Obama’s directive.  Indeed, that something should be done “by the book” admits that Obama was asking that something be done. 

Recall that this meeting came one day after the FBI was going to close the case on Flynn because he hadn’t done anything wrong.  It must be highlighted that even Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak were not alarming to the FBI because these type of diplomatic discussions are always happening with an incoming administration.  But, on the afternoon of Jan. 4th, FBI agent Peter Strzok sent word to keep the case open at the directive of the “7th floor”, meaning at the request of James Comey. 

But if Comey was truly plotting a nefarious set up against Michael Flynn, why would he wait until the day that the case is going to be closed to request it remain open?   After all, the Kislyak call had occurred several days before this.  This means that Comey had not officially decided to keep the Flynn case open until after Obama had requested to meet with him on Jan.  5th.  The simplest explanation is that Obama, along with his NSC and White House staff, had requested that Comey keep the investigation open and further directed him to do so the following day. 

This is further corroborated by the fact that text messages between Peter Stzrok and Lisa Page on January 3rd indicate that Strzok and Bill Priestap were actually concerned that the FBI and intelligence communities were “over sharing” information with the White House, calling it “all political” and suggesting that they had “partisan axes go grind”.  The irony is that the politically-biased Peter Strzok was deeply concerned that the White House was engaging in overtly political intelligence activity.  And these complaints come one day before Strzok was told to reopen the Flynn case! 

This puts the burden on Obama rather than the FBI.  Comey was not unaware of the actions of Flynn after the election, especially considering he made an unmasking request himself on December 15, 2016.  So, even with such knowledge of Flynn, Comey admits in his own words that, “I think I had authorized [The Flynn investigation] to be closed at the…end of December, beginning of January.”  Even after having knowledge of the December 29th call, Comey still made no request to keep the case open until he was informed that Obama wanted to meet with him regarding Flynn. 

The question, then, is whether the mastermind behind the Flynn setup was stationed at the White House rather than the FBI or any other intelligence community.  After all, it is mostly Obama’s inner circle doing all of the unmasking.  At the very least, it appears that Obama had much more to lose from Flynn becoming the National Security Advisor than anyone else. 

Lee Smith summarizes it well: 

Russiagate was not a hoax…Rather, it was a purposeful extension of the Obama administration’s Iran Deal…and…Obama’s efforts to realign American interests with those of a terror state…It’s not hard to see why the previous president went after Flynn: The retired general’s determination to undo the Iran Deal…But why Obama would choose the Islamic Republic as a partner and encourage tactics typically employed by third-world police states remain a mystery. ESR

This is Aaron Ames’ first contribution to Enter Stage Right. © 2020 Aaron Ames

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