When the names Michael Flynn and John Kerry come to mind, most people don’t see much of a similarity or connection.
Michael Flynn is a decorated U.S. Army Lieutenant General who briefly served as National Security Advisor to President Trump – and who recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. As part of this plea, Flynn acknowledged that he is cooperating with the Mueller’s wide-ranging inquiry into election interference.
John Kerry is President Obama’s former Secretary of State, the Democratic nominee in the 2004 presidential election and served for over 25 years as a U.S. Senator.
What could they possibly have in common? As it turns out both have meetings with representatives of foreign governments during periods when those governments might have been unhappy with the current administration policies. For Flynn it was Russia. For Kerry it was the Palestinian Authority. What remains to be seen is whether these men will face the same consequences for their actions.
Michael Flynn’s Activities
As reported by NBC News, on January 24, 2017, just four days after President Trump was sworn into office, Flynn met privately with FBI investigators. The meeting was reportedly set up by a scheduler for Flynn; the purpose of the meeting was not discussed. “Apparently it was not clear to Flynn that this was about his personal conduct,” another White House official said. So he didn’t think of bringing his own lawyer.” In his plea agreement Flynn admitted that he lied during this meeting. Specifically the facts agreed to are:
On December 28, 2016, President Obama signed an executive order announcing sanctions against Russia in response to Russia’s actions to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. Shortly after that the Russian Ambassador contacted Flynn. Flynn spoke with a senior official of Trump’s transition team regarding this matter. Flynn then called the Russian Ambassador and “requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the sanctions in a reciprocal manner.” After his conversation with the Russian Ambassador, Flynn spoke again to the senior official to report on the substance of his call with the Russian Ambassador. Russian President Putin released a statement on December 30, 2016 that Russia would not take retaliatory measures. The next day the Russian Ambassador called Flynn relaying essentially the same thing. Flynn relayed this second conversation to the senior Trump official.
Some have noted that Flynn’s actions were criminal as a violation of the Logan Act. Briefly, the Logan Act criminalizes negotiation by unauthorized persons with foreign governments having a dispute with the United States. The intent behind the Act is to prevent unauthorized negotiations from undermining the government’s position. Importantly, Flynn was not charged with any such violation. His crime was lying. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI regarding: i) his request to Russia to “refrain from escalating the situation;” ii) his statement that he did not recall that the Russian Ambassador told him that Russia had chosen to “moderate its response;” iii) his asking the Russian Ambassador to delay the vote on a pending UN Security Council resolution; and iv) the Russian Ambassador relaying Russia’s response to his request.
There is also an open question regarding how the FBI knew Flynn was lying. The generally accepted consensus is that, if the conversation was recorded, it was done so under a warrant from the FISA court for reasons related to the surveillance pertaining to foreign intelligence.
John Kerry’s Activities
Turning to Kerry, as first reported by Maariv, a Hebrew-language daily newspaper, and picked up by The Jerusalem Post (along with many other news outlets) John Kerry during a recent visit to London, met with Hussein Agha, a close associate of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. A senior PA official confirmed to Maariv that the meeting took place. John Kerry has not publicly spoken out on this meeting, however, a spokesman, while not denying the meeting, told Fox News that “the original story wasn’t accurate” Maariv reported that Agha preferred not to respond and Kerry’s response could not be obtained. Accordingly to the report some of the matters discussed include:
- Kerry asked Agha to convey a message to Abbas and ask him to “hold on and be strong.” Tell him, he told Agha, “that he should stay strong in his spirit and play for time, that he will not break and will not yield to President [Donald] Trump’s demands.”
- Kerry said that within a year there was a good chance that Trump would not be in the White House.
- Kerry offered his help to the Palestinians in an effort to advance the peace process and recommended that Abbas present his own peace plan.
- Kerry promised to use all his contacts and all his abilities to get support for such a plan.
- Kerry asked Abbas, through Agha, not to attack the US or the Trump administration, but to concentrate on personal attacks on Trump himself.
- Kerry hinted that many in the American establishment, as well as in American intelligence, are dissatisfied with Trump’s performance and the way he leads their country.
- Kerry said he was seriously considering running for president in 2020.
- Kerry explained that even in the Republican Party they do not know what to do with Trump and are very dissatisfied with him.
While much has yet to be confirmed, it is interesting how these two conversations sound surprisingly similar. If there were questions regarding Flynn violating the Logan Act then surely those same questions would surround Kerry’s meeting. Recognizing that we don’t know the substance of the conversation, the mere fact that Kerry, a private citizen, met with a PA representative so closely after President Trump’s Statement on Jerusalem should be enough to raise some questions. It is also important to note that Flynn’s discussion with the Russian Ambassador was when he had an official role as part of an incoming President’s transition team whereas Kerry’s meeting was when he had no official governmental role. Another significant difference is that Flynn’s conversations were presumably recorded; there is no indication that Kerry’s meeting was – and of course Flynn talked with the FBI under oath thus exposing himself to a perjury charge. All in all, it is very interesting to compare and contrast these two encounters.