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Reporting from NBC News indicates special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team has focused questions about possible obstruction of justice by President Trump during an 18-day period earlier this year.
Those 18 days are from Jan. 26 to Feb. 13. The first day is the one on which acting attorney general Sally Yates informed the White House that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn might have misled Vice President Pence, making him susceptible to blackmail by Russia. The second day is the one on which Flynn ultimately resigned for what he told Pence.
At its heart, NBC reports, is a key question: Mueller “appears to be interested in whether Trump directed [Flynn] to lie to senior officials, including Pence, or the FBI, and if so why.”
Based on various reports and acknowledgments from those involved in the issue, we already have some sense of who knew what about Flynn’s misrepresentations. Below, a timeline of what is public.
The key individuals
Vice President Pence
Former national security adviser MichaelFlynn
Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak
Former FBI director James B. Comey
Former acting attorney general Sally Yates
White House counsel Don McGahn
Transition team member and former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland
Transition team member and current homeland security adviser Tom Bossert
Transition team member and former senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon
Transition team member and former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus
Transition team member and former press secretary Sean Spicer
The key dates
Our timeline extends beyond the 18-day period to include discussion of who knew what about Flynn’s actions before the White House was informed. Dates that are included are derived from a Washington Post timeline of the Trump-Russia investigation and this timeline of the events that led to Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.
Dec. 28. News breaks that the Obama administration plans to levy sanctions against Russia for its meddling in the 2016 election. Ambassador Kislyak contacts Flynn.
Dec. 29. The sanctions are announced. Flynn and Kislyak talk in phone calls. Flynn asks Kislyak to have the Russian government withhold a strong diplomatic response.
Before and after the calls, Flynn speaks with McFarland. At one point, she emails Bossert, according to the New York Times, discussing sanctions and noting Flynn and Kislyak were speaking. Bossert then forwards that email to six people on transition team, including Bannon, Priebus and Spicer.
At this point, then, all of the people named above are aware (or should be, had they read the email) Flynn and Kislyak spoke and spoke about sanctions.
American intelligence agencies were tracking the calls, given Kislyak’s status as an agent of a hostile foreign power. The FBI, conducting a counterintelligence investigation that began in July, at some point becomes aware of Flynn and Kislyak’s conversation.
When Trump and Pence learn about the conversation is not clear.
Jan. 12. The Post’s David Ignatius reports Flynn and Kislyak had a conversation in late December that might have included discussion of sanctions.
Jan. 13. Spicer denies sanctions were discussed, claiming the conversation focused on “logistics” of a Trump-Putin call. The Times reporting suggests Spicer should have known this was inaccurate.
Jan. 14. Flynn tells Pence the conversation he had with Kislyak did not include discussion of sanctions. (This is according to Pence.)
At this point, Flynn is aware he has misled Pence — assuming Pence’s representations about what he knew when are accurate.
Jan. 15. Pence goes on “Meet the Press” and denies Flynn discussed sanctions.
At this point, McFarland, Bossert, Bannon, Spicer and Preibus should know Flynn misled Pence. This is also presumably the moment at which Kislyak and the Russians know that what Pence said happened does not match with reality.
Jan. 20. Trump is inaugurated.
Jan. 22. Flynn is sworn in as national security adviser.
Jan. 24. Flynn is interviewed by the FBI. During that conversation, he lies about the conversations with Kislyak, according to the agreement he reached with Mueller’s team.
At this point, Flynn and the FBI (which, remember, was aware of the conversations with Kislyak) know Flynn lied to them.
Jan. 25. According to her later congressional testimony, Yates is briefed on the FBI’s interview with Flynn.
Jan. 26. Yates reaches out to the White House and meets with McGahn. She informs him Flynn is in a position to be blackmailed by Russia because he gave Pence untrue information. Asked by McGahn how Flynn did in his interview with the FBI, Yates testifies she “declined to give him an answer to that.”
Jan. 27. McGahn asks Yates to return to the White House, and she does so. He asks to see the underlying evidence.
Later, Spicer is asked when McGahn briefed Trump. “The president was immediately informed of the situation,” Spicer says. Trump’s attorney acknowledged this month the president was aware by the end of January Flynn had misled the FBI. It is possible he knew this by Jan. 27.
That same day, Trump invites FBI director Comey to the White House for dinner. It is at this dinner on a Friday night that Trump asks Comey for his loyalty, according to Comey.
Jan. 30. The following Monday, Yates invites McGahn to the Department of Justice to review the Flynn evidence. Later that day she is fired after refusing to uphold Trump’s travel ban.
By this point, Trump, McGahn, Flynn and the Justice Department (including the FBI and, presumably, Comey) are all aware Flynn lied to the FBI.
Feb. 9. The Post reports Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak. This is reportedly the first time Pence becomes aware he has been misled by Flynn.
Feb. 13. Flynn is fired.
Feb. 14. Trump and Comey meet again. This is the meeting during which Trump allegedly asks Comey to go easy on Flynn, intimating (as Comey understood it) he wanted the investigation of Flynn to end. Trump denies this.
Feb. 16. Trump is asked if he told Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak. He says he didn’t.
“I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it.”
Assuming that is true, it is still not clear how early Trump knew Kislyak and Flynn had discussed sanctions — and why Pence never did.