Feb. 10 (UPI) -- Former and current U.S. officials said national security adviser Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak weeks before President Donald Trump was inaugurated.
The New York Times reported that Flynn's message to the ambassador was that the administration of then-outgoing President Barack Obama was Moscow's adversary and that relations with Russia would shift under Trump -- leaving the impression relief of sanctions was possible, the anonymous officials said. The officials said the discussion was unambiguous and highly inappropriate since Flynn was a civilian at the time of the discussion.
The U.S. officials said the conversation occurred one day before Obama's administration placed sanctions on Russia in late December over Moscow's alleged interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
U.S. officials who read the transcript of the phone conversation told The Washington Post Flynn's communications with Kislyak was potentially illegal and that Kislyak could assume the discussion meant Moscow could expect a reprieve from sanctions imposed by Obama's administration. Other U.S. officials said that while sanctions were discussed, they did not see evidence to prove that Flynn had made an explicit promise to take action related to sanctions following the inauguration.
The U.S. officials said Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to Obama's sanctions, suggesting Washington would be in a position to review sanctions after Trump's inauguration.
The FBI is currently investigating Flynn's communication with Kislyak. The conversation may have broken a law against private citizens engaging in diplomacy and contradicts statements made by Trump's advisers, who said the conversation was merely to arrange a phone call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump's administration previously denied Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak. On Jan. 13, Sean Spicer, the White House's press secretary, said Flynn sent Kislyak holiday greetings on Christmas Day and on Dec. 28, as word of Obama's sanctions spread, Kislyak sent a message to Flynn requesting a call.
"Flynn took that call," Spicer said, adding that it "centered on the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and [Trump] after the election."
Flynn on Wednesday denied discussing sanctions with Kislyak, but Flynn's spokesman on Thursday said Flynn was not sure whether sanctions were discussed.
Flynn "indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn't be certain that the topic never came up," the spokesman said.
The Flynn conversation occurred when Trump's incoming administration was accused of having constant communication with the Russian government.
"They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia," then-incoming Vice President Mike Pence told CBS News days before the inauguration, adding that he spoke to Flynn, who said the talk was an informal chat that began over Christmas wishes.
The Kremlin on Friday denied Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions but suggested reporters check with Russia's Foreign Ministry, TASS Russian News Agency reported.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, said "there were certain conversations" between Flynn and Kislyak.
"Other than that the information is not correct," Peskov said, adding that it would be "better to double check the information in the Foreign Ministry."