- Drew Angerer/Getty Images
- KT McFarland, a top official on President Donald Trump’s transition team, said in an email last December that they should reassure Russia, which she said had just “thrown the U.S.A. election” to Trump.
- The email, obtained by The New York Times, sheds new light on McFarland’s role in coordinating the transition team’s attempts to convince Russia not to retaliate against the US after President Barack Obama announced new sanctions and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats last year.
A senior member of President Donald Trump’s transition team said in email to a colleague on December 29, 2016, shortly after the Obama administration had imposed new sanctions on Russia, that the transition team should try to reassure the country that had just “thrown” the election to Trump.
The transition official, KT McFarland, told the unnamed colleague in the email obtained by the New York Times that the sanctions were aimed at delegitimizing Trump’s election victory.
“If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote.
McFarland previously served as deputy national security adviser before she was asked to resign by H.R. McMaster, who became national security adviser after Flynn’s abrupt departure.
It is unclear whether McFarland actually believed that Russia had “thrown” the election to Trump, or whether she was being sarcastic. A White House lawyer told the Times that she was mocking Democrats’ accusation – bolstered at that point by a CIA assessment – that Russia had interfered in the election to help Trump win.
But the email sheds new light on McFarland’s role in coordinating the transition team’s attempts to convince Russia not to retaliate.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn took the lead on those efforts and called Sergei Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the US, on December 29 to request that Russia refrain from escalating the situation further. They spoke again on December 31, when Kislyak called Flynn to tell him that Russia would accomodate his request.
Flynn made false statements about those conversations in an interview with the FBI in January, according to court documents unsealed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office on Friday. He pleaded guilty on Friday to one count of lying to FBI agents, which is a federal crime.
Trump was at Mar-a-Lago on December 29 when McFarland – who was also at Mar-a-Lago – and Flynn spoke by phone about Kislyak.
‘She wasn’t calling the shots’
It is still unclear whether McFarland consulted with Trump before her call with Flynn. But Colin Kahl, a former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, noted that “incoming Deputy National Security Advisors don’t order their incoming boss what to do … unless they were instructed to do so by someone higher in the chain of command.”
Former NSC spokesman Ned Price agreed.
“KT McFarland’s recent foreign policy bona fides consisted of being a Fox News talking head,” he tweeted. “She wasn’t calling the shots, and certainly not giving her own orders to her putative boss.”
McFarland also discussed the sanctions with fellow transition official Thomas Bossert, telling him in an email that the “key will be Russia’s response over the next few days” to the sanctions, which McFarland characterized as an attempt by the Obama administration to “box Trump in diplomatically with Russia.”
Bossert now serves as a homeland security adviser to the president.
“Russia is key that unlocks door,” McFarland wrote, according to the emails obtained by the Times. She said that the sanctions were an effort to “lure Trump in trap of saying something” in Russia’s defense, and were aimed at “discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference.”
Bossert forwarded those emails to Flynn, former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
McFarland is now awaiting confirmation as the US ambassador to Singapore. But there was a time when the White House went to great lengths to keep her in a top national security role even when doing so didn’t make much sense.
Trump’s initial pick to replace Flynn as national security adviser, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, reportedly turned down the job because the White House would not allow him to replace McFarland with his own hand-picked deputy.
“Defending KT McFarland would be a very curious hill to die on,” Politico reporter Michael Crowley said at the time.
“McFarland over Harward makes no sense,” tweeted BBC reporter Katty Kay.
Flynn was eventually replaced by McMaster, and Trump nominated McFarland to serve as the US ambassador to Singapore. McFarland has yet to be confirmed nearly seven months later.