A senior official on President Donald Trump’s transition team suggested that Russia had “thrown” the U.S. presidential election in Trump’s favor in a December 2016 email thread leaked to the New York Times and published Saturday.
The emails contradict White House lawyer Ty Cobb’s claims that Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, acted independently when he reached out to Russian officials during Trump’s transition to presidency.
Hours after the Obama administration imposed sanctions against Russia for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s former Deputy National Security Adviser KT McFarland suggested that the transition team would need to strengthen its relationship with Russia, according to email exchanges obtained by or described by unnamed sources to the Times.
The sanctions, McFarland noted in the email, appeared to be the outgoing administration’s attempt to discredit Trump’s victory in the election and would make it more difficult for the incoming president to improve the U.S.’s relationship with Russia.
“If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him,” McFarland wrote, according to the Times.
““If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him.””
As Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt noted in the story and later on Twitter, it’s not clear if McFarland believed that Russia threw the election in Trump’s favor, but a White House lawyer told the paper on Friday that she was only saying Democrats were trying to make it appear that way.
The leaked emails show how Trump’s transition team worked to ease relations with Russia after former President Barack Obama attempted to punish the country for reportedly interfering in the U.S. election.
These efforts would include Flynn reaching out to Russian ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak to discuss the sanctions hours after they were placed, McFarland wrote in an email, according to the Times. Flynn later resigned from his post in February following revelations that he lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
On Friday, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government, including his conversation with Kislyak about the sanctions. After news of Flynn’s guilty plea spread, Trump tweeted that he had to fire Flynn because he knew Flynn lied to Vice President Michael Pence and the FBI.
On the same day Flynn pleaded guilty, the Associated Press identified McFarland as the unnamed senior official in court papers who is said to have talked to Flynn about what he would say to Russian officials during a discussion on the Obama administration’s sanctions.
Trump has called for friendlier relations with Russia and continuously denies claims that his election campaign colluded with Russia during last year’s presidential election.
Cobbs responded to Flynn’s guilty plea by saying it implicates no one other than Flynn himself.
“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty pleas or the change implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” he said in an official statement.