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Michael Flynn’s involvement with Russia suggests he has an interesting story to tell

The former Trump adviser’s background signals that he has a lot to tell investigators.

Even by the White House's disastrous standards, it’s been a bad week for Donald Trump. First, the news on Friday that Michael Flynn – Trump’s short-lived national security adviser – was now actively co-operating with special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller charged Flynn with lying to the FBI. This was over Flynn's dealings last December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

According to Mueller’s two-page criminal indictment, Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak and then lied about these conversations afterwards to federal agents. Not only that, but Flynn discussed the matter in December 2016 with Moscow's envoy after first talking to a senior Trump official, widely believed to be Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner.  These backdoor manoeuvres by the incoming Trump team took place the day that President Obama expelled Russian diplomats in protest at the Kremlin’s hacking of the US election.

We don’t have the transcripts of what exactly Flynn said (though the FBI was bugging Kislyak, and does.) We do know that Vladimir Putin took the unusual step following Flynn's call of not taking reciprocal action against US diplomats in Moscow. The suspicion is that Flynn may have offered reassurances to the Kremlin that the new Trump White House was minded to drop sanctions against Russia - Putin's chief foreign policy ask. 

For now, Republicans in Congress and the Senate are in no mood to remove the president. Over the weekend his tax-cutting proposals won approval on Capitol Hill in a rare piece of good news for the administration. Still, the scandal is creeping closer to the White House. Kushner is now in the frame and looks like Mueller's next target. Did Kushner brief Flynn following conversations with Trump, and if so what did Trump tell Kushner?

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Trump tweeted that he fired his national security adviser because Flynn lied to the FBI. Trump can only have known this if he talked with Flynn. The tweet looked to many like an inadvertent confession by Trump, the king of self-sabotage, that he obstructed justice. The timeline is damning. In February, a day after Flynn quit, Trump sought out FBI chief James Comey and asked him privately to let the “Flynn thing go”. Comey didn’t. In May Trump sacked Comey to make the "Russia thing" go away, instead triggering Mueller's collusion investigation.

Trump’s lawyer John Down now claims he wrote the damning tweet. Few believe him – the tone, breezy manner, and exclamatory style (“There was nothing to hide!”) all suggest this was the president’s authentic voice. An agitated one: Trump’s unhappy state of mind and repeated rubbishing of the FBI suggests a terror of where Mueller’s investigation might head next.

The question now is what exactly Flynn will tell Mueller. Flynn was an embittered critic of President Obama’s, who met Trump for the first time in August 2015 in New York. This was a few weeks after Trump announced his candidacy. Flynn functioned as an informal foreign policy adviser. He knows a lot. Later Trump picked him for the top national security job despite warnings from US intelligence not to do so.

Its concerns about Flynn were several. As head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn’s behaviour was erratic, various sources told me as I was writing my book Collusion, on the story of Trump and Russia. Flynn was, they said, obsessed with Iran, incapable of “linear thought”, and had a penchant for stupid conspiracy theories. Beyond this was a worry that Moscow appeared to be cultivating Flynn for its own secret purposes.

In 2013, when he was head of the DIA, the Kremlin invited Flynn to visit Russia. Kislyak arranged the visit which included a tour of the ‘Aquarium’ - the top secret headquarters of the GRU, Russia’s powerful military intelligence agency. Flynn pointed out correctly that Washington approved the trip; Flynn gave a lecture to Moscow’s senior military spies on “leadership”.

Still, why did the GRU host Flynn in Moscow? Viktor Suvorov—a former GRU major who defected to the West, and now lives in England — described Flynn’s visit to me as “very strange.”

“Oh my God, I had to eat my tie,” he said, when he learned of Flynn’s Aquarium drop-in. Suvorov added: “There’s something fishy going on. Can you imagine a top Russian adviser being invited inside MI6 or to lecture at the CIA: ‘We don’t know about leadership. Please tell us’?” The GRU was checking Flynn out, Suvorov said. “Maybe the Russians have some kind of material on him, or have him under control,” he speculated.

Flynn vehemently rejects any accusation of treason. He says he is now cooperating fully with Mueller in the interests of his family and his country. Nevertheless, there are further unanswered questions about a second trip to Moscow made by Flynn in December 2015, soon after the joined the Trump campaign. This was for the tenth anniversary dinner of RT, the Kremlin’s English language propaganda channel.

The Kremlin’s favourite personalities were there. Julian Assange—stuck in the Ecuadorian embassy in London— appeared by satellite. RT anchor Sophie Shevardnadze interviewed Flynn on stage, in front of around a hundred guests. There were a few Putin-friendly questions. Flynn sat against a backdrop of the channel’s green logo. According to the dossier by Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer, the Kremlin funded Flynn's trip to Moscow as part of its wide-ranging "anti-Clinton operation". It was seen as "successful in terms of perceived outcomes," Steele wrote. 

The organizers found a special place for Flynn. Right next to him was Vladimir Putin. (Speaking to the Washington Post’s Dana Priest, Flynn said he had nothing to do with the seating arrangement. He hadn’t asked to sit next to Putin. Flynn said they were introduced but didn’t chat. He did learn that Russia’s president had a dim view of Obama and that Putin had “no respect for the United States’ leadership.”)

Flynn declined to say how much he was earning from RT. The answer, it later transpired, was $33,750. The money was compensation from a foreign government. Flynn should have requested permission in advance from the Department of Defense to accept this cash, but he didn’t. He made two further fee-paying speeches in Washington on behalf of Russian interests.

The fact that Mueller has not indicted Flynn over his Moscow visits – or over undeclared lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government – suggests Flynn has an interesting story to tell. He can shed light on the inner workings of the Trump campaign in 2015 and 2016. And on its multiple dealings with Russians. We don't have an answer to the Watergate question yet but are moving closer: what did the president know, and when did he know it? 

Luke Harding is a foreign correspondent for the Guardian. His book, Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win The White House is out now (Guardian Faber, £14.99)

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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.