In an exclusive, Yahoo News obtained audio of former President Barack Obama warning former administration officials that the “rule of law is at risk” after the Justice Department moved to drop its criminal case against Michael Flynn.
By Michael Isikoff – Yahoo News
Former President Barack Obama, talking privately to ex-members of his administration, said Friday that the “rule of law is at risk” in the wake of what he called an unprecedented move by the Justice Department to drop charges against former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
In the same chat, a tape of which was obtained by Yahoo News, Obama also lashed out at the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as “an absolute chaotic disaster.”
“The news over the last 24 hours I think has been somewhat downplayed — about the Justice Department dropping charges against Michael Flynn,” Obama said in a web talk with members of the Obama Alumni Association.
“And the fact that there is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free. That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places.”
The Flynn case was invoked by Obama as a principal reason that his former administration officials needed to make sure former Vice President Joe Biden wins the November election against President Trump. “So I am hoping that all of you feel the same sense of urgency that I do,” he said. “Whenever I campaign, I’ve always said, ‘Ah, this is the most important election.’ Especially obviously when I was on the ballot, that always feels like it’s the most important election. This one — I’m not on the ballot — but I am pretty darn invested. We got to make this happen.”
Obama misstated the charge to which Flynn had previously pleaded guilty. He was charged with false statements to the FBI, not perjury. But the Justice Department, in a filing with a federal judge on Thursday, asked that the case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller be dismissed, arguing that FBI agents did not have a justifiable reason to question the then national security adviser about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak — talks FBI agents and Mueller’s prosecutors concluded he had lied about.
Still, Obama’s unvarnished remarks were some of his sharpest yet about the Trump administration and appeared to forecast a dramatically stepped-up political role he intends to play in this year’s election. The comments came during a lengthy chat in which he also sharply criticized the response to the coronavirus pandemic, blaming it on the “tribal” trends that have been stoked by the president and his allies.
“This election that’s coming up on every level is so important because what we’re going to be battling is not just a particular individual or a political party. What we’re fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy — that has become a stronger impulse in American life. And by the way, we’re seeing that internationally as well. It’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty. It would have been bad even with the best of governments. It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset — of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ — when that mindset is operationalized in our government.
“That’s why, I, by the way, am going to be spending as much time as necessary and campaigning as hard as I can for Joe Biden,” he added.
Fox News reports President Obama was aware of the details of then-incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn’s intercepted December 2016 phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, apparently surprising then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, according to documents released Thursday as exhibits to the government’s motion to dismiss the Flynn case.
Obama’s unexpectedly intimate knowledge of the details of Flynn’s calls, which the FBI acknowledged at the time were not criminal or even improper, raised eyebrows because of his own history with Flynn — and because top FBI officials secretly discussed whether their goal was to “get [Flynn] fired” when they interviewed him in the White House on January 24, 2017.
Obama personally had warned the Trump administration against hiring Flynn, and made clear he was “not a fan,” according to multiple officials. Obama had fired Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014; Obama cited insubordination, while Flynn asserted he was pushed out for his aggressive stance on combating lslamic extremism.
On January 5, 2017, Yates attended an Oval Office meeting with then-FBI Director James Comey, then-Vice President Joe Biden, then-CIA Director John Brennan, and then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, according to the newly declassified documents, including an FD-302 FBI witness report. They were discussing Russian election interference, along with national security adviser Susan Rice and other members of the national security council.
After the briefing, Obama asked Yates and Comey to “stay behind,” and said he had “learned of the information about Flynn” and his conversation with Russia’s ambassador about sanctions. Obama “specified that he did not want any additional information on the matter, but was seeking information on whether the White House should be treating Flynn any differently, given the information.”
A previous memo from Rice stated that Biden also stayed behind after the main briefing had ended.
At that point, the documents showed, “Yates had no idea what the president was talking about, but figured it out based on the conversation. Yates recalled Comey mentioning the Logan Act, but can’t recall if he specified there was an ‘investigation.’ Comey did not talk about prosecution in the meeting.”
The exhibit continues: “It was not clear to Yates from where the President first received the information. Yates did not recall Comey’s response to the President’s question about how to treat Flynn. She was so surprised by the information she was hearing that she was having a hard time processing it and listening to the conversation at the same time.” Yates would later say that she was concerned Flynn would be vulnerable to blackmail because of his interactions with Russia.
The Logan Act, an obscure statute, has never been used successfully in a criminal prosecution; enacted in 1799 in an era before telephones, it was intended to prevent individuals from falsely claiming to represent the United States government abroad. In its motion to dismiss Flynn’s case on Thursday, the DOJ noted that the law was an unserious dead letter.
Also released as an exhibit Thursday was a head-turning two-page document outlining why the FBI opened its counterintelligence probe into Flynn in August 2016. The FBI offered only three reasons: that Flynn was “cited as an adviser to the Trump team on foreign policy issues February 2016; he has ties to various state-affiliated entities of the Russian Federation, as reported by open-source information; and he traveled to Russia in December 2015, as reported by open-source information.”
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