Michael Flynn yesterday used a semantic dodge in an attempt to deny that he had discussed “sanctions” with the Russian ambassador prior to Trump’s taking office. But this supposed denial looks a lot more like an admission.
Here’s The Daily Caller’s report on its interview with Flynn yesterday:
Flynn said there was a brief discussion of the 35 Russian diplomats who were being expelled by Obama in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 campaign.
“It wasn’t about sanctions. It was about the 35 guys who were thrown out,” Flynn said. “So that’s what it turned out to be. It was basically, ‘Look, I know this happened. We’ll review everything.’ I never said anything such as, ‘We’re going to review sanctions, or anything like that.”
Flynn is tying himself in verbal knots to make a narrow semantic argument. He seems to be trying to say that, although the expulsions were a major component of the measures taken by Obama in retaliation to Russia’s interference, the “expulsions” weren’t “sanctions.”
Even if this bit of doublespeak were mere pettifogging, as opposed to dishonesty, it still wouldn’t get Flynn off the hook. When he tells the Russians, in a conversation about Obama’s retaliatory measures, that “We’ll review everything,” there’s no doubt what he means. “We’ll review everything” means “we’ll review everything.” It carries exactly the same meaning as “we’ll review sanctions” in the context of this conversation.
Flynn’s semantic quibble is not just a dodge, it distracts from the true significance of his discussion with the Russian ambassador.
Flynn’s semantic quibble is not just a dodge, it distracts from the true significance of his discussion with the Russian ambassador. The important story here is that Flynn, on behalf of the incoming Trump administration, intentionally undermined a sitting president’s foreign policy by telling an adversary, in essence, “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it when we take office.”
It doesn’t matter whether the actions to be reviewed later were called “sanctions,” “expulsions,” or something else. It’s not as if there’s a specific prohibition that applies only to undermining a sitting president’s “sanctions,” but doesn’t apply if you use a different word to describe them.
Flynn’s Nixonian claim that a discussion about sanctions was somehow not really “about sanctions” is only marginally less dishonest than his previous blanket denials. It won’t help Flynn - or Trump - out of this mess.
Philip Rotner is an attorney and an engaged citizen who has spent over 40 years practicing law. His views are his own and do not reflect the views of any organization with which he has been associated.