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Kremlin says Flynn didn't influence Putin's decision to not retaliate against U.S. sanctions

by Adam Edelman /  / Updated 
Image: Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his speech attending the World Health Organisation ministerial conference in Moscow, Russia.Ivan Sekretarev / AP file

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Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to not retaliate against the U.S. after Washington levied a new round of sanctions last year was not influenced by Michael Flynn, the Kremlin said Monday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin himself made the decision to not hit back against the U.S. and that he had not been aware of Flynn's communications with Russia asking the Kremlin to hold off on responding, Reuters reported.

"Of course Putin took the decision, it was his decision," Peskov said Monday in a conference call with reporters. "It (the decision) could not have been connected to any requests or recommendations. The president takes his decisions absolutely independently."

Flynn — who worked as a top official for President-elect Donald Trump's transition team before becoming his national security adviser — pleaded guilty on Friday in federal court to a charge of making false statements to the FBI about his communications with Russia.

A two-page charging document filed last week listed two false statements Flynn made about his interactions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016. It said Flynn falsely claimed that he had not asked Kislyak "to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the U.S. had imposed against Russia," and that he didn't recall Kislyak telling him Russia had decided to moderate its response as a result of his request.

Prior to the Dec. 29 call with Kislyak, Flynn called a senior official with the presidential transition team who was with other members of the team at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to discuss what to say to the Russian ambassador regarding sanctions, according to the statement of offense.

Court documents also said Flynn falsely claimed that he didn't ask Kislyak on Dec. 22 to "delay a vote on or defeat" a U.N. Security Council resolution, and then falsely denied that Kislyak had described Russia's response to the request. Before that call, a "very senior member" of the transition team directed Flynn to contact foreign officials, including those from Russia, to learn where they stood and influence the vote, according to the statement of offense. The "very senior member" was Jared Kushner, three people familiar with the matter told NBC News.

According to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s charge, Flynn made the false statements to the FBI on Jan. 24, two days after he was sworn in as national security adviser.

Image: Michael Flynn
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House, in Washington.Carolyn Kaster / AP file

In the Dec. 29 conversation, the sources said, Flynn reassured the Kremlin that the incoming administration, once in office, would reverse the Obama administration's sanctions punishing Russia for its election meddling. At the time, many news organizations reported that it was highly unusual for Putin to refrain from immediately retaliating by expelling American diplomats, in exchange for Obama's expulsion of Russians and the closing of two Russian diplomatic compounds in the U.S.

The following day, Trump tweeted, "Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!"

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