In an op-ed published by The New York Times Sunday, Mary B. McCord, the former acting assistant attorney general for national security at the Department of Justice, accuses Attorney General William Barr of having “twisted my words” in dropping the case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
At the direction of Barr, Timothy Shea, acting U.S. attorney in Washington, recently filed a motion to drop the case amid increased evidence that the interview with Flynn was a “set up,” as Barr put it. The motion repeatedly cites a July 2017 interview with McCord to support its decision, but McCord says her comments have been distorted.
The controversy surrounds what McCord describes as “disagreements between leadership of the Justice Department and the F.B.I. about how to handle the information we had learned about Mr. Flynn’s calls with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and, more specifically, Mr. Flynn’s apparent lies about those calls to incoming Vice President Mike Pence.”
“[T]he [302 report] of my interview is no support for Mr. Barr’s dismissal of the Flynn case,” McCord insists. “It does not suggest that the F.B.I. had no counterintelligence reason for investigating Mr. Flynn. It does not suggest that the F.B.I.’s interview of Mr. Flynn — which led to the false-statements charge — was unlawful or unjustified. It does not support that Mr. Flynn’s false statements were not material. And it does not support the Justice Department’s assertion that the continued prosecution of the case against Mr. Flynn, who pleaded guilty to knowingly making material false statements to the FBI, ‘would not serve the interests of justice.’”
McCord goes on to argue against the DOJ’s contention that Flynn’s “false statements and omissions” to the FBI were not “material” because, ultimately, the entire investigation was premised on the Robert Mueller-debunked conspiracy theory that the Trump campaign was “colluding” with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election in Trump’s favor:
The department concocts its materiality theory by arguing that the F.B.I. should not have been investigating Mr. Flynn at the time they interviewed him. The Justice Department notes that the F.B.I. had opened a counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Flynn in 2016 as part of a larger investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to interfere with the presidential election. And the department notes that the F.B.I. had intended to close the investigation of Mr. Flynn in early January 2017 until it learned of the conversations between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak around the same time.
Discounting the broader investigation and the possibility of Russian direction or control over Mr. Flynn, the department’s motion myopically hones in on the calls alone, and because it views those calls as “entirely appropriate,” it concludes the investigation should not have been extended and the interview should not have taken place.
McCord claims that her 2017 interview does not support that conclusion; instead, the account of her interview describes “a difference of opinion” about the significance of Flynn apparently lying about what he discussed with Kislyak. McCord argues that his statements were “material” because once Vice President Pence denied publicly that Flynn asked Russia not to escalate its response to the Obama administration’s sanctions, Flynn was then supposedly vulnerable to “the potential for blackmail” by the Russians.
But while McCord maintains that the DOJ is “twisting” her words, she admits that she did find the FBI’s decision to conduct the interview with Flynn without consulting with the DOJ to be a break with protocol and evidence of “rogueness” in James Comey’s FBI:
The account of my July 2017 interview describes my department’s frustration with the F.B.I.’s conduct, sometimes using colorful adjectives like “flabbergasted” to describe our reactions. We weren’t necessarily opposed to an interview — our focus had been on notification — but any such interview should have been coordinated with the Justice Department. There were protocols for engaging with White House officials and protocols for interviews, and this was, of course, a sensitive situation. We objected to the rogueness of the decision by the F.B.I. director, Jim Comey, made without notice or opportunity to weigh in.
The Barr-Shea motion to dismiss refers to my descriptions of the F.B.I.’s justification for not wanting to notify the new administration about the potential Flynn compromise as “vacillating from the potential compromise of a ‘counterintelligence’ investigation to the protection of a purported ‘criminal’ investigation.” But that “vacillation” has no bearing on whether the F.B.I. was justified in engaging in a voluntary interview with Mr. Flynn.
Even though she clearly calls into question the FBI’s conducting of the interview in a “rogue” manner, McCord says that the FBI’s conduct “has no bearing” on whether Mr. Flynn’s false statements gave Russia “leverage” over him. (Read the full op-ed here.)