In 2016, Russia conducted a campaign to sway the U.S. election in Donald Trump’s favor, using social media manipulation as well as other tactics including attempts at hacking election systems (this conclusion was endorsed by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee later in 2017 and recently in their final report). President Obama responded by initiating sanctions against Russia during the lame-duck period before Trump took office.

Dan Henry

Dan Henry

Strangely, Russia did not retaliate with its own sanctions. The Obama administration asked the intelligence agencies to analyze the reasons for Russia’s inaction. As part of that investigation, recorded phone calls of Russian officials (including Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak) revealed that Michael Flynn, a member of Trump’s transition team, was engaging in illegal negotiations with the Russians. Flynn was promising the Russians that if they didn’t retaliate, Trump would remove the sanctions when he took office.

That was not the only interaction that Flynn had with Russians. U.S. intelligence agencies recorded him in communications with Russian intelligence officers. Flynn was “masked” in those intercepts, which is standard practice when our foreign intelligence agencies record American participants. However, the Obama administration was concerned about the threat to national security, as it was turning over sensitive intelligence to Trump’s incoming team. They requested that the identity be unmasked — which is a standard procedure. In fact, the Trump administration requested unmasking 27,000 times during his first two years in office. The CIA agreed that it was a valid national security interest to reveal Flynn’s name.

That Trump’s national security advisor was violating national security was disturbing to the Obama administration. In fact, they had fired Flynn in 2014 from the Defense Intelligence Agency because of his foreign entanglements, and Flynn was investigated twice after that. President Obama had warned Trump of Flynn’s sketchy character and advised him not to hire Flynn. Trump had hired him anyway.

Now there was evidence of Flynn violating the law. During the initial months of Trump’s presidency, the FBI began investigating his Russian contacts, as well as his unreported work for Turkish dictator Recep Erdogan. During these investigations, which resulted in charges against several of his associates, Flynn lied to investigators about his promises to the Russians.

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the administration that Flynn was lying in his interviews and was therefore compromised by the Russians. She was fired even before Flynn was.

When the details became public, Trump was forced to fire Flynn, giving the reason that Mike Pence had repeated Flynn’s lies in public interviews. Pence agreed that the firing was justified. Following that, Flynn pled guilty to perjury at least twice in court, under oath.

Trump’s Attorney General William Barr is moving to drop charges against Flynn, even though Flynn pleaded guilty to them, and Trump has said he’d consider rehiring Flynn, even though he fired Flynn for cause before. Barr is making up some nonsense about how Flynn’s lies about his interactions with the Russians were unrelated to the matter being investigated (which was illegal interactions with the Russians, if you recall).

Now Trump is promoting “Obamagate” — a conspiracy theory with no actual basis in fact. Trump is claiming that President Obama initiated an investigation of Flynn as a way to help take down the Trump administration. In fact, it’s a shallow attempt by Trump to invent a scandal to hide his own incompetence.

Watch for many more of these distractions as Trump heads into a reelection campaign with record low approvals, a tanking economy and the specter of a botched national crisis involving over 100,000 deaths.

It’s going to get very ugly with a candidate of Trump’s character. Decent Americans should hold him accountable for his fabrications.

Dan Henry is an INL researcher and a board member of the ACLU of Idaho.