The former national security adviser, who's pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI, promises to do the most damage to the Trump administration to date. But how much … and who's next?
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Today, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, the short-lived Michael Flynn, plead guilty to one count of making a false statement to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. He’s the fourth person and the highest-level Trump operative to be charged in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Just like we knew Paul Manafort was going to get charged eventually, we all knew that Michael Flynn would be the most likely to flip, plead guilty, and agree to help take everyone down with him. Why? Because everything about Flynn screams “I’ll save my skin at the expense of yours.”
Flynn’s charges stem from a conversation he had with the FBI on January 24, 2017. That’s an important date to note, because he was still Trump’s national security adviser at that time. (Trump didn’t toss him out until mid-February). On that date, Flynn lied about two things. First, he told the FBI he didn’t discuss Russian sanctions when he spoke with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, on December 29, 2016 when he was a top member of Trump’s transition team.
Remember that on December 28, 2016, President Obama imposed new sanctions against Russia in retaliation for Russia meddling in the 2016 election. Flynn’s call, apparently, was to tell Kislyak to ask the Russian government to stay cool and not escalate the situation. On December 30, Vladimir Putin issued a statement saying just that, and then Trump thanked Putin in a tweet. The next day, Flynn chatted with other members of Trump’s transition team about Russia not escalating a response.
Flynn also lied about a conversation he had with Russia over a United Nations Security Council measure proposed by Egypt (regarding Israeli settlements) on December 21, 2016. Flynn told the FBI he just phoned around to see what position Russia and other countries were taking on the vote, but in reality he asked Russia to vote against the resolution because the incoming Trump administration was opposed to it. The Russian ambassador assured Flynn Russia would vote against it if it came to a vote.
These might seem like not a huge deal, but remember that at this point, Flynn, Trump, and everyone in Trump’s transition team weren’t yet members of the government. Flynn was therefore a private citizen who took it upon himself—likely at Trump’s behest—to negotiate with a foreign power. That’s not legal. He isn’t being charged with that, however—just with the false statement. That’s part of what a plea deal gets you, basically.
Flynn released a mealy-mouthed statement about the plea, mentioning his amazing military service and how sad he was that people called him treasonous. He then, of course, mentioned his faith in God and how pleading guilty was in the best interest of the country. You can almost feel the struggle in his statement: he clearly doesn’t think he did anything wrong and thinks he is a great servant to America, but he also knows that in order to plead guilty, you have to admit to the offense. So, faith in God it is.
It’s important to remember that Flynn had a number of other shady things going down, including improper behavior relating to the Turkish government and his promotion, while in office, of a joint Saudi-American nuclear power plant plan where he’d also advised the private companies working on the deal. Those things aren’t in this plea, which would, alone, heavily suggest that Flynn got a deal in exchange for agreeing to testify against bigger fish in this investigation.
And by all accounts, he is cooperating. He’s prepared to say that Trump himself instructed Flynn to reach out to Russia. Why is Flynn so willing to sell out Trump? Probably because he felt abandoned by Trump and also because it takes a lot of money to fight these sort of charges. (Until just a couple weeks ago, Trump was having the RNC pick up the tab for his legal fees.)
The White House, of course, has already tried to throw Flynn to the wolves, issuing a statement that says that the charges implicate no one but Flynn. That’s simply not true. The text of the charging document makes multiple references to unnamed senior members of Trump’s transition team. You best believe those references are in there for a reason and Robert Mueller already knows exactly who they are.
Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb, also made the ludicrous statement that these charges mean that this investigation is heading toward a conclusion, and unnamed White House sources “leaked” that the White House is jubilant because these charges don’t lead back to Trump. Yeah, right. You really think they’re jubilant that it looks like we already know that son-in-law Jared Kushner might have been directing Flynn to chat with Russians? Flynn was a top transition official and a high-level member of Trump’s cabinet until his firing. Trump can’t just wish him away.
Let’s also not forget that we might get to see Flynn’s son, Michael Flynn Jr., go down as well. Both Flynn and son are alleged to have been promised around $15 million to basically kidnap and remove a Muslim cleric that lives here and forcibly return him to Turkey.
As we bask in the glow of this guilty plea and the knowledge that more charges are probably forthcoming when Flynn tells all, enjoy the delicious irony of the fact that Flynn was one of Trump’s most vicious surrogates and led the audience of the RNC in a rousing chant of “Lock Her Up” about Hillary Clinton. Now, he’s an actual felon and faces the prospect of up to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
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