‘I was aware’: Biden admits he knew about FBI’s Flynn investigation moments after denial
by Spencer Neale & Jerry Dunleavy
After first denying that he knew anything about the FBI investigation into retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Joe Biden corrected himself when pressed during a Tuesday morning interview.
He changed course after host George Stephanopoulos noted his presence at a high-profile Oval Office meeting in the final days of the Obama administration, during which officials discussed intercepted contacts between Flynn and a Russian envoy. Disclosures about that meeting have prompted scrutiny over the former vice president’s role in the eventual ouster of President Trump’s first national security adviser.
Biden audibly scoffed on ABC’s Good Morning America as Stephanopoulos asked what the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee knew about an early 2017 investigation into Flynn and whether there was anything improper done by the Obama administration.
“I know nothing about those moves to investigate Michael Flynn,” Biden said. “This is all about diversion. This is a game this guy plays all the time. The country is in crisis. … He should stop trying to always divert attention from the real concerns of the American people.”
But Stephanopoulos followed up, noting that Biden was reported to be in attendance at a Jan. 5, 2017, meeting where he and former President Barack Obama “were briefed” on the FBI’s plan to interview Flynn about his conversation with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition period.
“I thought you asked me whether or not I had anything to do with him being prosecuted,” Biden replied, after fidgeting with his earpiece. “I was aware that there was, that they asked for an investigation, but that’s all I know about it.”
The Jan. 5 meeting is known to have focused on the Flynn tapes, but it is not known whether officials discussed the FBI’s plan to question Flynn as Stephanopoulos suggested.
Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told Robert Mueller’s special counsel team she first learned of the Flynn recordings from Obama himself following a White House meeting about the intelligence community assessment attended by Yates, Biden, former FBI Director James Comey, then-CIA Director John Brennan, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, then-national security adviser Susan Rice, and others. Obama asked Yates and Comey to stay behind with Rice and Biden when the meeting concluded.
The recently released 2017 interview transcript with Yates shows she told investigators that Comey mentioned the Logan Act in the context of the intercepted Flynn-Kislyak conversations and that he may have used the word “investigation.” She said that a possible “prosecution” was not discussed at that time.
The timeline of events surrounding Flynn has led to a further examination of Biden’s role in the investigation after newly unsealed FBI documents showed former FBI agent Peter Strzok and the FBI’s “seventh floor” leadership stopped the bureau from closing its investigation into Flynn in early January 2017, even though investigators had uncovered “no derogatory information” after the Flynn intercepts emerged. Emails from later that month show Strzok, along with then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page and several others, sought out ways to continue investigating Flynn over the Russian ambassador intercepts, including considering using the Logan Act.
On Jan. 20, 2017, the day of Trump’s inauguration, former national security adviser Susan Rice penned an internal memo detailing the Jan. 5 meeting.
“On January 5, following a briefing by IC [intelligence community] leadership on Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential election, President Obama had a brief follow-on conversation with FBI Director Jim Comey and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in the Oval Office. Vice President Biden and I were also present,” she wrote in an email to herself.
“President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the intelligence and law enforcement communities ‘by the book.’ … The president stressed that he is not asking about, initiating, or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book,” Rice emailed herself.
Biden spoke with reporters about that January 2017 meeting a week later, following BuzzFeed News’s decision to publish British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s anti-Trump dossier. Biden said intelligence officials brought up the dossier because they were preparing to brief Trump on it, but he called it “totally ancillary” to the primary purpose of the meeting.
“As a matter of fact, the president was, like, ‘What does this have anything to do with anything?’” Biden said, adding that intelligence officials responded, “Well, we feel obliged to tell you, Mr. President, because you may hear about it. We’re going to tell [Trump].”
“Neither the president nor I asked for any detail,” Biden claimed at the time.
Biden’s inclusion in Rice’s note has prompted Trump and allies to question what exactly Obama and Biden knew about the Flynn investigation and when they knew it.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has long pursued answers about the Flynn investigation and whose investigation helped turn up the email from Rice, took to the Senate floor Monday evening looking for answers from Obama and Biden about that meeting.
“It’s unclear to what extent they discussed the details of the investigation amongst each other, but given all that we know now regarding the fake foundation for the inquiry, it’s time that we ask: What did Obama and Biden know, and when did they know it?” the Iowa Republican asked.
Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador before Trump entered the White House. The Justice Department filed to dismiss the charges against Flynn on Thursday, agreeing with Flynn’s attorneys that his interview with the FBI should never have taken place because his conversations with the Russian diplomat were “entirely appropriate.”
The federal judge presiding over the case has yet to make a final determination on whether to dismiss it.
“Joe Biden was in the room when one of the greatest abuses of power by an administration in American history was in progress,” said Trump campaign spokesman Matt Wolking after news broke. “The corrupt media will do its best to cover up this scandal and protect him, but Americans deserve to know: What did Joe Biden know, and when did he know it?”