A senior aide on President Donald Trump’s transition team wrote in a December 29 email that Russia “has just thrown the USA election to him,” according to a report published Saturday.
The New York Times obtained emails showing that then-transition adviser KT McFarland, who later became deputy national security adviser under Michael Flynn, wrote that the Obama administration’s sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2016 election would make it harder to improve relations between the two countries.
“If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown USA election to him,” McFarland wrote, according to the Times.
A White House lawyer told the newspaper Friday that McFarland meant only that Democrats were painting Russia’s role in the election that way.
McFarland also wrote in the emails that the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russia were meant to discredit Trump’s 2016 election victory.
CNN has not independently confirmed the Times report.
The emails reveal Flynn was in close touch with other members of the transition team before and after he spoke with the Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak about US sanctions against Russia, according to the Times.
The emails also directly contradict how the White House tried to portray Flynn — as someone who acted alone. White House special counsel Ty Cobb said after Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Kislyak: “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.”
As part of the outreach to Russia, McFarland wrote that Flynn would speak to Kislyak.
“Key will be Russia’s response over the next few days,” McFarland said in an email to another transition official, Tom Bossert, who is now Trump’s homeland security adviser.
She also wrote that the sanctions against Russia were meant to “lure Trump in trap of saying something” in defense of Russia, and were aimed at “discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference,” the Times reported.
Bossert replied by urging the senior advisers to “defend election legitimacy now.”
According to the report, Bossert forwarded McFarland’s December 29 email exchange to to six other Trump advisers, including Flynn; Reince Priebus, who had been named as as Trump’s chief of staff; Steve Bannon, then-senior strategist; and Sean Spicer, Trump’s future press secretary.
Cobb, who is overseeing the legal and media response to the Russia investigation, told the Times there was nothing illegal or unethical about the actions of the transition team members.
“It would have been political malpractice not to discuss sanctions,” he told the newspaper, adding “the presidential transition guide specifically encourages contact with and outreach to foreign dignitaries.”
Cobb told the Times that the only issue was Flynn lied to White House officials and the FBI about his talks with Kislyak — lies that led to his firing in February and his guilty plea on Friday.
Flynn is the first person in the Trump administration to be reached by special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The developments are a sign that the investigation is intensifying, and details revealed Friday provide the clearest picture yet of coordination between Flynn and other Trump advisers in their contact with Russian officials to influence international policy.