President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, told a former business partner that economic sanctions against Russia would be “ripped up” as soon as Donald Trump took office, according to an anonymous whistleblower.
The revelation is the latest evidence suggesting the Trump campaign may have agreed to help Russia in exchange for Russia’s help getting Trump elected president, experts say.
Special counsel Robert Mueller had already secured Flynn's cooperation in his investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, and Wednesday's revelation provides the public with new evidence that will embolden Trump critics, experts say.
“It won’t come as a surprise to the special counsel, but it reveals to the public that there was something in the nature of an exchange or quid pro quo,” Lisa Griffin, a law professor at Duke University, told Newsweek.
“There are at least four potential avenues of criminality that the special counsel and others are exploring, and this provides more circumstantial evidence. This might be relevant to the possibility of a bribery case, or assistance with the campaign that was done in exchange for what the Russian’s want most, the easing of sanctions,” Griffin continued.
Flynn, who pleaded guilty last week to lying to the FBI about his contacts with foreign entities, including speaking with the former Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions, is known to have maintained close business ties with people in Russia and Turkey.
According to the whistleblower, Flynn also wanted U.S. sanctions against Russia to be lifted in order to complete an international energy project he was working on. The whistleblower said Flynn texted his former business associate on the day of Trump’s inauguration to say that the project was “good to go.”
The information was given to Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, who published an open letter on Wednesday to the committee chairman Trey Gowdy explaining the revelations.
“General Michael Flynn—within minutes of Donald Trump being sworn in as president—was communicating directly with his former business colleagues about their plans to work with Russia to build nuclear reactors in the Middle East,” the letter reads.
"Our committee has credible allegations that President Trump's national security advisor sought to manipulate the course of international nuclear policy for the financial gain of his former business partners,” Cummings continued. “These grave allegations compel a full, credible and bipartisan congressional investigation.”
The revelation is one of the strongest pieces of evidence to date that the Trump administration wanted to cancel U.S. sanctions against Russia, and sheds light on why Flynn originally lied about his conversation with the Russian ambassador, experts say.
“This just confirms the materiality of Flynn’s lies about what happened during the elections. This confirms that there is a quid pro quo for Russian help with winning the elections,” Nick Akerman, an assistant special prosecutor during the Watergate investigation, told Newsweek.
The whistleblower first approached Cummings after Newsweek published an account of Flynn's role in pursuing a joint U.S.-Russian plan to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East, according to the letter.
Cummings allegedly chose not to go public with the information because Mueller asked him to delay acting on it until the special counsel completed the investigation. Cummings decided to go public with the information after Flynn agreed to cooperate with Mueller.
President Obama first imposed economic sanctions on Russia in 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea and began supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine. New sanctions were levied in December 2016 to punish Russia for its attempts to disrupt the elections.
Russia directly lobbied the Trump campaign during the elections, sending a Russian lawyer to meet with Donald Trump Jr. and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to discuss lifting sanctions.
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