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Flynn's Russia Contact in Spotlight -- WSJ

14 Jan 2017 7:32 am
By Paul Sonne and Shane Harris 

WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump's incoming national security adviser is facing new scrutiny over his ties to Russia after the president-elect's aides confirmed he communicated with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. as the White House prepared new sanctions on Russia.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump's pick for national security adviser, exchanged calls and text messages with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak as the White House planned to announce the new sanctions on Dec. 29, said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for Mr. Trump's transition team. The sanctions were in response to Moscow's alleged cyberattacks in the 2016 election.

Whether Gen. Flynn spoke to Mr. Kislyak on the same day the White House announced the sanctions is a matter of dispute. Mr. Spicer said early Friday that the phone call took place Dec. 28, before the sanctions were made public, and came after a number of text-message exchanges. But a different transition official later identified the date of the call as Dec. 29.

That day, the White House made public the new sanctions against Russia's main intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, and Russia's military intelligence agency, the Main Intelligence Directorate, as well as four top Russian intelligence officials.

Mr. Spicer said Gen. Flynn didn't discuss the sanctions with Mr. Kislyak.

"The call centered around the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and the president-elect after he was sworn in," Mr. Spicer said. "And they exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and schedule that call."

"That was it," Mr. Spicer said, "plain and simple."

Another transition official said Gen. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak also discussed whether the U.S. would send a representative to peace talks on Syria slated to take place in Kazakhstan's capital later this month.

That official also said the two communicated separately in the wake of the Dec. 19 assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey, so Gen. Flynn could express his condolences.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington declined to comment on the communications.

"In accordance with diplomatic practice, the embassy does not comment on multiple contacts, which are carried out on a daily basis with local interlocutors," Nikolai Lakhonin, the embassy's press secretary, said in a statement.

Russia has previously denied involvement in election-related hacking.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said basic contact with a representative of a foreign country wasn't wrong on principle for someone in Gen. Flynn's position. Whether or not the White House would have objections "depends on what he said," Mr. Earnest said.

Administration officials questioned whether Gen. Flynn discussed the impending sanctions announcement in light of the fact that the administration briefed Mr. Trump's transition officials beforehand on Dec. 29.

It wasn't the first time the incoming national security adviser and the Russian diplomat communicated. Gen. Flynn sent Mr. Kislyak a holiday-greeting text message on Dec. 25, and the Russian ambassador responded with similar greetings, Mr. Spicer said.

Three days later, on Dec. 28, the Russian ambassador sent a text message to Gen. Flynn requesting a phone call, Mr. Spicer said. Gen. Flynn agreed.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported Thursday night the phone call between Gen. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak, citing a senior U.S. government official.

Gen. Flynn has drawn attention for his contacts with Russia before. In late 2015, amid the standoff between the White House and the Kremlin over Ukraine, Gen. Flynn, a former Defense Intelligence Agency chief, traveled to Moscow for a gala celebration in honor of Russian state television network RT. He sat beside Russian President Vladimir Putin.

--Michael C. Bender and Carol E. Lee contributed to this article.

Write to Paul Sonne at paul.sonne@wsj.com and Shane Harris at share.harris@wsj.com
 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 14, 2017 02:32 ET (07:32 GMT)

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