EXCLUSIVE: Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe has transmitted declassified transcripts of phone conversations between then-incoming White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016 to Capitol Hill on Friday, Fox News has learned.
The transcripts have long been sought by lawmakers because they reveal the contents of the phone calls between Flynn and Kislyak during the presidential transition period. Flynn pleaded guilty for making false statements to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak, a plea he later sought to withdraw.
“As I stated throughout the confirmation process, transparency is vital to allowing the American people to have confidence in the Intelligence Community,” Ratcliffe said in a statement. “As the Director of National Intelligence, it is my obligation to review declassification requests with the overarching priority of protecting sources and methods, while also providing transparency whenever possible. Accordingly, today the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified transcripts concerning Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.”
The transcripts were declassified by Richard Grenell on his way out as acting director of national intelligence, leaving the decision on whether to make those documents public up to Ratcliffe, who was officially sworn in as director on Tuesday.
Ratcliffe, in his first major move as DNI, sent the declassified transcripts of phone conversations between Flynn and Kislyak to Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., on Friday. The Flynn-Kislyak phone calls took place in 2016 on Dec. 22 and Dec. 29.
“In response to bipartisan requests regarding the LTG Michael Flynn (Retired) transcripts, please find the enclosed declassified documents,” Ratcliffe wrote to Johnson and Grassley on Friday, copying Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Mark Warner, D-Va., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Devin Nunes, R-Calif.
Grassley first requested the Flynn-Kislyak transcripts in February 2017, when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and again pressed the Justice Department to release the files in May 2018.
The transcript of the Flynn-Kislyak call on Dec. 22, 2016, which was picked up in surveillance and later leaked to the Washington Post, was also declassified by Grenell and shared with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
A congressional source familiar with the surveillance told Fox News earlier this month that Flynn’s name was not redacted in the initial report about his calls with Kislyak, and that his name from the unredacted transcript of the calls was then leaked to the press.
The timeline of that activity already strongly suggested that the numerous, recently revealed requests to “unmask” Flynn pertained to other reports. The source noted that Flynn’s calls with Kislyak took place during the presidential transition period on Dec. 22, 2016 and Dec. 29, 2016. The source then noted that a majority of the known Flynn unmasking requests from top Obama officials came prior to Flynn’s calls with Kislyak on those dates.
According to the list of officials involved in requests to unmask Flynn’s name, which was declassified by acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell last week and made public by GOP senators, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power made five unmasking requests prior to Flynn’s first call with Kislyak — spanning Nov. 30, 2016 and Dec. 14, 2016. Power later made requests on Dec. 23, 2016 and Jan. 17, 2017.
Then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also made an unmasking request for Flynn on Dec. 2, 2016, which also was prior to the Kislyak conversations; then-CIA Director John Brennan made requests on Dec. 14 and Dec. 15, 2016; and then-FBI Director James Comey made a request on Dec. 15, 2016.
The list shows that more than two-dozen Obama administration officials made such unmasking requests prior to his calls with Kislyak on Dec. 22, 2016.
Unmasking occurs after U.S. citizens’ conversations are incidentally picked up in conversations with foreign officials who are being monitored by the intelligence community. The U.S. citizens’ identities are supposed to be protected if their participation is incidental and no wrongdoing is suspected. However, officials can determine the U.S. citizens’ names through a process that is supposed to safeguard their rights.
Meanwhile, last week before leaving DNI, Grenell moved to declassify an email that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice sent to herself on President Trump’s Inauguration Day, documenting a Jan. 5, 2017, Oval Office meeting with Obama and others, during which the former president provided guidance on how law enforcement needed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.
The declassified email revealed that Comey suggested to Obama that the National Security Council might not want to pass “sensitive information related to Russia” to Flynn, due to the fact that he had been “speaking frequently” with the Russian ambassador.
The transcripts of Flynn’s and Kislyak’s conversations released Friday are what Comey was referring to in that now-infamous Jan. 5, 2017 Oval Office meeting.
Flynn’s case returned to the national spotlight after the DOJ moved to dismiss charges against him of lying to the FBI about those conversations with Kislyak, despite a guilty plea that he later sought to withdraw.
Flynn was fired from his prominent post as national security adviser in February 2017. The resignation came as he was accused of misleading Vice President Pence and other senior White House officials about his communications with Kislyak.
Flynn’s communications with Kislyak in December 2016 had been picked up in wiretapped discussions, apparently unbeknownst to him. FBI agents in January 2017 questioned him on the communications and later used his answers to form the basis for the false-statement charge and his guilty plea in Mueller’s probe.
Attorney General Bill Barr tapped Jeff Jensen, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, in February to review the Flynn case specifically. Sources told Fox News that Jensen is now working alongside U.S. Attorney from Connecticut John Durham in his review of the origins of the Russia investigation through the appointment of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The DOJ moved to drop its case against Flynn earlier this month.
The announcement came in a court filing “after a considered review of all the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information,” as the department put it. DOJ officials said they concluded that Flynn’s interview by the FBI was “untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn” and that the interview was “conducted without any legitimate investigative basis.”
The federal judge overseeing the case would have to make the final determination to dismiss it.
Last week, FBI Director Chris Wray ordered an internal review of the handling of the bureau’s investigation into Flynn, which will include examining whether current FBI employees “engaged in misconduct.”
Meanwhile, Barr tapped U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas John Bash, to review the practice of “unmasking” before and after the 2016 presidential election. Durham is also reviewing unmasking as it relates to the origins of the Russia probe.
“Unmasking inherently isn’t wrong, but certainly, the frequency, the motivation and the reasoning behind unmasking can be problematic, and when you’re looking at unmasking as part of a broader investigation — like John Durham’s investigation — looking specifically at who was unmasking whom, can add a lot to our understanding about motivation and big picture events,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told “Hannity” this week.
Kupec also affirmed that the D.C. Court of Appeals has invited the DOJ to weigh in on the Flynn case, “and we will.”
Kupec maintained that the DOJ had the ability to drop the case against Flynn. “We have the prosecutorial discretion to make that decision.”
Meanwhile, Fox News reported earlier this week that Grenell also completed the declassification review of other documents related to the origins of the Russia probe—including one that a senior intelligence official told Fox News was “very significant in understanding how intelligence was manipulated to support launching the Russia investigation.”
A source on Friday told Fox News that document has not yet been transmitted to Capitol Hill. It is unclear, at this point, whether Ratcliffe will share that document with lawmakers.
Fox News’ Gillian Turner contributed to this report.