Exculpatory Russia evidence about Mike Flynn that US intel kept secret

Sometimes public silence can be deafening or, for that matter, misleading.

For nearly two years now, the intelligence community has kept secret evidence in the Russia collusion case that directly undercuts the portrayal of retired Army general and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn as a Russian stooge.

That silence was maintained even when former acting Attorney General Sally YatesSally Caroline YatesTrump: 'Impossible for me to know' extent of Flynn investigation Mueller didn't want Comey memos released out of fear Trump, others would change stories Sally Yates: Trump would be indicted on obstruction of justice if he were not president MORE publicly claimed Flynn was possibly “compromised” by Moscow.

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And when a Democratic senator, Al Franken of Minnesota, suggested the former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) chief posed a “danger to this republic.”

And even when some media outlets opined about whether Flynn’s contacts with Russia were treasonous. 

Yes, the Pentagon did give a classified briefing to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Advocates frustrated over pace of drug price reform Trump drug pricing setbacks put pressure on Congress MORE (R-Iowa) in May 2017, but then it declined the senator’s impassioned plea three months later to make some of that briefing information public.

“It appears the public release of this information would not pose any ongoing risk to national security. Moreover, the declassification would be in the public interest, and is in the interest of fairness to Lt. Gen. Flynn,” Grassley wrote in August 2017.

Were the information Grassley requested made public, America would have learned this, according to my sources:

  • He then attended a “defensive” or “protective” briefing before he ever sat alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Russia Today (RT) dinner, or before he talked with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
  • The briefing educated and sensitized Flynn to possible efforts by his Russian host to compromise the former high-ranking defense official and prepared him for conversations in which he could potentially extract intelligence for U.S. agencies such as the DIA. 
  • When Flynn returned from Moscow, he spent time briefing intelligence officials on what he learned during the Moscow contacts. Between two and nine intelligence officials attended the various meetings with Flynn about the RT event, and the information was moderately useful, about what one would expect from a public event, according to my sources.

DIA spokesman James Kudla on Wednesday declined comment about Flynn.

Rather than a diplomatic embarrassment bordering on treason, Flynn’s conduct at the RT event provided some modest benefit to the U.S. intelligence community, something that many former military and intelligence officers continue to offer their country after retirement when they keep security clearances.

It’s important to wind back many months to where the Russia collusion narrative started and the media frenzy–driven suggestion that Flynn may have been on a mission to compromise America’s security and endanger this great republic when he visited Moscow.

Would the central character in a Russian election hijack plot actually self-disclose his trip in advance? And then sit through a briefing on how to avoid being compromised by his foreign hosts? And then come back to America and be debriefed by U.S. intelligence officers about who and what he saw?

And would a prosecutor recommend little or no prison time for a former general if that former military leader truly had compromised national security?

Highly unlikely.

The gap between the original portrayal of Flynn’s activities and the actual facts likely is one of the reasons a prosecutor working for special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE pointedly rejected a judge’s suggestion at Flynn’s aborted sentencing last month that the general might have engaged in treason.

There’s no sugarcoating the mistakes Flynn did make. By his own admission, he misled the FBI and Vice President Pence about the fact that sanctions did come up in a December 2016 conversation with Kislyak, then Moscow’s ambassador to the United States. He didn’t file proper foreign-lobbying paperwork for money he received from Turkish sources. And he likely did not file the proper paperwork disclosing or seeking permission for the $45,000 in speaking and travel fees he got for the RT event. 

Those are sins for which Flynn has paid, and will pay, dearly.

But there is ample evidence now that the event that many “Russia collusion” cheerleaders have cited as the start of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow was, in fact, something very different.

Flynn’s attendance at the RT event was disclosed in advance to the intelligence community, he took proactive steps to ensure he could not be compromised by attendees and he then came back to the United States and reported intelligence designed to benefit America.

Flynn was never charged with any wrongdoing related to the RT event, so the belated revelations about his pre- and post-event conduct won’t have any effect on his sentencing in the court of law. But in the court of public opinion, they should have a real impact.

On that score, the first accounts of the Russia-Flynn story — like many others in the still-unproven collusion narrative — should be amended to reflect that the retired general acted like a patriot, not a traitor, when he visited Moscow for the RT event.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill’s executive vice president for video.