Much of the recent discussion surrounding Michael Flynn, Russia, and Donald Trump's team have focused on the events that unfolded after the election. It's easy to understand why.Flynn spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition; the two apparently spoke about U.S. sanctions; White House officials spent quite a bit of time telling the nation things about those conversations that weren't true; and the National Security Advisor was forced to resign after three weeks on the job.But let's not overlook what happened before the election.Multiple reports indicated late last week that Michael Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador before Americans cast their ballots. This is consistent with what Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in the fall, when he said "there were contacts" between the Russian government and Trump's campaign team ahead of Nov. 8.The latest Washington Post report, published overnight, includes a rare official confirmation from the Russian ambassador that he did, in fact, speak with Flynn before the U.S. Election Day.
U.S. intelligence reports during the 2016 presidential campaign showed that Kislyak was in touch with Flynn, officials said. Communications between the two continued after Trump's victory on Nov. 8, according to officials with access to intelligence reports on the matter.Kislyak, in a brief interview with The Post, confirmed having contacts with Flynn before and after the election, but he declined to say what was discussed.
That's no small acknowledgement.As we discussed yesterday, Trump World has long insisted there were no pre-election contacts. Kellyanne Conway, asked about the possibility of these communications between the Republican campaign and Putin's government, said, "Absolutely not." She added the conversations "never happened" and any suggestions to the contrary "undermine our democracy."Conway wasn't the only member of Team Trump who emphatically denied the talks. At a pre-inaugural press conference, the president himself said no one from the Trump campaign was in contact with Putin's government during the campaign.Those denials are now in conflict with the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and the on-the-record confirmation from the Russian ambassador.Why is this so important? Because of what else was going on during the campaign: all available evidence says Russian officials, acting on Vladimir Putin's orders, launched an espionage operation to undermine the U.S. presidential election in 2016, at least in part to help put Trump in the White House.We don't know whether Team Trump colluded with Moscow during these election crimes, but if Trump aides were communicating at the time with Putin's government, and the Republican operation then lied about this repeatedly, it's a serious problem.Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, said this morning that Flynn "was secretly communicating with Russian officials at the same time that Russia was attacking our democracy." Based on what we now know, this assessment isn't hyperbole.