If you blinked, you might have missed the most important Trump-Russia story of last week: Former top Trump adviser K. T. McFarland “revised” her prior statement to federal investigators. McFarland’s revision — acknowledging a prior misstatement only after Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn revealed her earlier lie — could have landed many people in prison. For now, she may have dodged that bullet.
But remember this caveat applicable to any news report about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation: The underlying leaks aren’t coming from Mueller’s team. In other words, the latest report about McFarland’s “revision” — which suggests that she is not a target of Mueller’s investigation — merits just a bit of skepticism.
The Flynn/McFarland Timeline
McFarland’s situation proves that flipping Flynn posed a very big problem for Trump. Here’s a brief summary of highlights that emerge when applying the McFarland and Flynn name filters simultaneously to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
Nov. 25, 2016: Trump names McFarland — a senior member of his transition team — to become deputy national security adviser, reporting to NSA-designate Mike Flynn.
Dec. 28-29, 2016: President Obama imposes new sanctions against Russia for election interference, and Flynn has a series of communications about them with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn tells Kislyak that he hopes Russia will not escalate the situation.
Dec. 30, 2016: Putin announces that he will not retaliate in response to the new sanctions.
Dec. 31, 2016: After speaking with Kislyak, Flynn transmits the good news about Russia’s restraint to “senior members” of Trump’s transition team, most of whom are meeting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago. At the center of those Flynn-transition team communications is K. T. McFarland. McFarland’s contemporaneous email exchanges on the subject go to chief of staff-designate Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Sean Spicer.
Jan. 4, 2017: Flynn and his attorney inform transition team counsel and White House counsel-designate Don McGahn that Flynn is under federal investigation.
Jan. 13, 2017: McFarland calls The Washington Post to rebut its story that Flynn had multiple conversations with Kislyak on Dec. 29, 2016 — the day President Obama had announced new sanctions against Russia for interfering with the US election. Her memory of her interactions with Flynn around that time were vivid, she says. And, McFarland insists, Flynn did not discuss the subject of sanctions with Kislyak.
Jan. 13, 2017: Responding to questions about Flynn’s December 28-29, 2016 communications with Kislyak, press secretary-designate Spicer says that Flynn had only one conversation with Kislyak and it related to logistics for a Trump-Putin call after the inauguration.
Jan. 15, 2017: Mike Pence, who chaired Trump’s transition team, tells a national television audience that Mike Flynn’s communications with Kislyak had nothing to do with sanctions.
Jan. 22, 2017: Spicer reiterates that none of Flynn’s December 28-29, 2016 conversations with Kislayk touched on sanctions against Russia.
Jan. 24, 2017: In an interview with the FBI, Flynn denies discussing sanctions with Kislyak on December 28-29, 2016.
Jan. 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informs White House counsel McGahn that Flynn lied to the FBI about his December 2016 conversations with Kislyak.
Feb. 8, 2017: Flynn again denies talking to Kislyak about sanctions on Dec. 28-29, 2016.
Feb. 9, 2017: Flynn now says he can’t be sure that the subject of sanctions did not come up in his December conversations with Kislyak.
Feb. 13, 2017: Flynn resigns.
Feb. 14, 2017: Trump tells FBI director James Comey that he hopes Comey can see his way clear to “letting Flynn go.”
Now Focus On McFarland
Summer 2017: FBI agents question McFarland about her knowledge of Flynn’s Dec. 28-29, 2016 communications with Kislyak concerning the new sanctions against Russia. McFarland denies ever talking to Flynn about sanctions.
Dec. 1, 2017: Flynn pleads guilty to lying to federal investigators about his conversations with Kislyak regarding sanctions. Not only does Flynn admit to having such discussions on Dec. 28-29, 2016, but he also says that he spoke with a “senior official of the presidential transition team” about them. Reports identify McFarland as that senior official.
Shortly after Dec. 1, 2017: Federal investigators circle back to McFarland about her knowledge of the Flynn-Kislyak sanctions discussions on Dec. 28-29, 2016. This time, rather than reassert her earlier denial of any awareness of such discussions, she says that Flynn’s general statement to her that things were going to be okay could have been a reference to sanctions.
Feb. 2, 2018: After Trump nominates McFarland to become US ambassador to Singapore, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that she must resolve the discrepancies between her earlier statements denying any awareness of the Flynn-Kislyak discussions with her emails and other facts set forth in Flynn’s guilty plea — all of which suggest she knew that Flynn and Kislyak were discussing sanctions on Dec. 28-29, 2016. McFarland withdraws her nomination.
Potentially prominent catches in McFarland’s tangled web: Reince Priebus, Don McGahn, Steve Bannon (who received copies of forwarded McFarland emails), Mike Pence.
Here’s a complete list of this week’s updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
JULY 5, 2016: Steele Contacts FBI About His Trump Findings; They Languish in FBI NY Office for Weeks (revision of previous entry)
JAN. 13, 2017: K. T. McFarland Calls WaPo to Rebut Column on Flynn
SUMMER 2017: FBI Agents Question K.T. McFarland
SHORTLY AFTER DEC. 1, 2017: K.T. McFarland Walks Back Denial
FEB. 2, 2018: McFarland Withdraws Nomination
THROUGHOUT SEPTEMBER 2018: Cohen Talks to Mueller, NY State Authorities
NEW: SEPT. 7, 2018: Credico Appears Before Mueller’s Grand Jury; Corsi Initially Bows Out, But Appears Two Weeks Later (revision of previous entry)
SEPT. 17, 2018: Trump Orders Russia Investigation Material Declassified; Warner Concerned About Trump Pursuing Vendettas, Undermining Russia Investigation, Compromising Intelligence Sources
SEPT. 17, 2018: Flynn Ready for Sentencing Hearing
SEPT. 17, 2018: Trump Tweets About Strzok and Lisa Page
SEPT. 18, 2018: Trump Tweets About FISA Warrants
SEPT. 18, 2018: Trump Blasts Mueller’s Team and Sessions: ‘I Don’t Have an Attorney General’
SEPT. 19, 2018: Stone Associate Declines to Testify Before Senate Intelligence Committee
SEPT. 21, 2018: Trump Tweets Soften His Earlier Declassification Order
SEPT. 21, 2018: NY Times: Rosenstein Wanted To ‘Tape’ Trump; Washington Post,Politico, ABC, NBC, CBS: Rosenstein Was Joking