From Trump’s transition, his demands for loyalty, to his recent unhinged tweets, Mike Flynn’s plea deal brings things into focus.
The news that former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn plead guilty to lying to the FBI is a bombshell that opens up uncertainties and rumors to clearer interpretations.
The one single charge appears small when compared to news reports detailing Michael Flynn’s alleged actions as a foreign influence-peddler, his failures to disclosure Russian-sourced income, and even his possible consideration of a scheme to kidnap a Turkish disident living in America and send him to Erdogan in exchange for $5 million dollars. As others have pointed out, including David French, Lawfare’s team, and David A. Graham, intense prosecutors, like the one who threw the books at Manafort, don’t give away sweet plea deals for nothing (Flynn is recommended to face no more than 6 months). This points to Flynn likely cooperating nicely with Mueller and offering useful testimony.
Lawfare noted that Flynn’s deal doesn’t absolve him from all potential charges. Again, another reasonable interpretation is that if Flynn doesn’t deliver he might be facing much worse.
What could the promised testimony be? Already there is a flood of articles reporting that high-level Trump administration officials directed him to communicate with the Russian government, with Jared Kushner being named personally. ABC News reports that Flynn is prepared to testify that Donald Trump directed him to talk to Russia about ISIS. Eli Lake reports that Kushner told him to contact Russia. BuzzFeed reports that Kushner also told him to call foreign countries to lobby them on the controversial UN resolution on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory that the Obama administration refused to veto. Kushner had previously been reported to have tried to set up a backchannel to Russia.
All three reports, or some variation, could be simultaneously be true; if Trump personally mentioned ISIS, whether as a pretext or otherwise, when telling Flynn to contact Russia, Kushner could have given more specifics. Also worth emphasizing is that the ABC story refers to things Flynn is allegedly prepared to testify to, while the other two refer to things that reportedly happened, the difference between a reporter substantiating a story enough to say it probably happened and investigators substantiating something enough to convince a witness he has no choice but to admit it happened.
The documents reveal what had been reported in the first two months of the Trump administration: that Flynn lied about discussion sanctions with Russian officials. The documents state that Flynn then informed Trump transition team officials stationed in Mar-a-lago about his communications. At the time, Russia abstained from ratcheting up its response, and Trump praised Putin for his “smart” decision. Trump officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, made public statements denying that Flynn had discussed sanctions. Flynn was then fired on the pretense that he had lied to Pence.
At the very least this is reignites the political problem for Trump that it seems that he and his leading deputies likely intentionally misled about Flynn, even after having been warned by Sally Yates.
Furthermore, it makes Trump’s attempts to get the stiffle the Flynn investigation even more suspect. At the time, the Flynn was the particular individual mentioned specifically to Comey in the Oval Office. That he wanted Comey to “see to it” to drop the investigation, and then fired him on pretenses that he would let slip days later were unreliable, suggests with a very high degree of likelihood that he knew something that reflected poorly on him or his administration would be uncovered.
Reports from late in the campaign through the transition up until now about the nature of Russian meddling and the investigation are being confirmed or corroborated with each new indictment that comes out.