By now everyone is well aware that Michael Flynn, former senior foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign and then (briefly) National Security Advisor in the Trump administration, has turned state’s evidence and is now cooperating with Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion with Russians during the presidential campaign.
There is little doubt as to why Flynn took the opportunity to plead guilty to twice lying to FBI agents – a relatively narrow charge, though one which carries the possibility of five years in a federal prison for each occurrence.
His legal liabilities were much larger in scope. Flynn apparently broke federal laws when, as a retired military officer, he failed to get permission from Congress and the Pentagon to perform work for the foreign governments of Russia and Turkey. He then dug himself a deeper legal hole when he failed to report the money he was paid for that work. He also apparently failed to mention his numerous contacts with officials of foreign governments when filling out the forms required for the renewal of his top-secret security clearance.
There is also the real possibility that Flynn was guilty of additional lies to FBI agents which were not mentioned in the criminal complaint to which he plead guilty. Perhaps even more important to Flynn were the possible legal liabilities his son incurred while acting as his father’s chief of staff in his security consulting business.
The criminal complaint is fairly simple and straightforward. For your convenience I have included the text of the charges below:
On or about January 24th, 2017, Defendant MICHAEL T. FLYNN did willfully and knowingly make materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and representations in a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the Government of the United State, to wit, the defendant falsely stated and represented to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in Washington, DC, that:
• On or about December 29th, 2016, FLYNN did not ask the Government of Russia’s Ambassador to the United States (“Russian Ambassador”) to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia that same day, and FLYNN did not recall the Russian Ambassador subsequently telling him that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanction as a result of his request; and
• On or about December 22, 2016, FLYNN did not ask the Russian Ambassador to delay the vote on defeat a pending United Nations Security Council resolution; and the Russian Ambassador subsequently never described to FLYNN Russia’s response to his request.
(Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(2))
You can also read the charges against Flynn yourself on the New York Times website.
The implications of this major development in the collusion investigation are self-evident. Anyone remotely familiar with the inner working of a federal investigation is well aware that Mueller’s team would not be letting a big fish like Flynn off of the hook for several serious federal law violations without being assured of something very important in return. That something must be the credible incriminating information on still bigger fish within the Trump pond. Months ago, when asking Congress for immunity for his client, Flynn’s lawyer claimed that “Michael Flynn has a story to tell”. Well, apparently Flynn has now shared that story with Mueller’s team and they believe that Flynn would be a credible witness in court against one or more individuals higher up in the Trump chain.
The question is who is the individual or individuals higher in the Trump hierarchy that Flynn is in the process of throwing under the legal bus. Remember that the individual or individuals have to be more important to Mueller’s probe than Flynn himself, and there aren’t too people more important in a President administration than his National Security Advisor. In addition, Flynn was one of Trump’s key advisors and one of his closest confidants during the campaign. In my opinion there are only three candidates who might be considered more important than Flynn: Trump’s Senior Advisor Jared Kushner (primarily because he is Trump’s son-in-law and because he had a key role in both the campaign and Trump’s administration), then Senator and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Trump himself. No one else fits the bill.
It important to note that Flynn’s involvement with Trump’s organization spanned most of the campaign, but he spent only a brief time in Trump’s administration as his National security advisor. Flynn was fired from his post on February 13th, 2017, less than a month after Trump’s inauguration. That means that the dirt that Flynn has had was acquired during that time frame.
According to reports by CNN and other news organizations, Flynn’s guilty plea and his public statement following his court appearance indicated that he wasn’t acting as a rogue operator when he was discussing Russian sanctions and a pending UN resolution with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak as has been long insinuated by the Trump administration. Quite the contrary, Flynn indicated that he was in constant communication with key officials of the Trump transition team in Mar-a-Largo and was likely acting under their direction.
Who were these “key” transition officials? Certainly Kushner, Sessions and even Trump were likely involved. One would have to be naïve to believe that Flynn would be speaking on behalf of Trump’s future administration with the Russian ambassador without guidance from the very top.
Is that the only information Flynn has regarding the involvement of top officials in the Trump campaign. I doubt if that is likely. While involvement in the foreign policy of the United States by anyone other than those deputized by the sitting President is technically a crime under the Logan Act, no one has ever been prosecuted under that statute. Such charges would almost certainly not hold up in federal court. No, Flynn has to have offered Mueller’s team better dirt than that.
Could Flynn implicate Sessions – that is certainly a possibility. Jeff Sessions has been caught several times lying to Congressional committees investigating Russian involvement with our election process. He has also refused to answer Congress’ questions about his conversations with Trump on the Russian situation without trying to invoke executive privilege. It seems reasonable to assume that he has something to hid and/or he is trying to protect Trump.
Sessions was involved with the Trump’s campaign since he became the first Senator to endorse Trump in late February of 2016. We have also learned that along the way Sessions has had his own involvements with Russian officials that he apparently isn’t particularly proud of. We have never learned what he discussed with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention. Neither do we know what was discussed during Sessions’ meeting in his office with Kislyak September 8th.
However, we do know that that particular meeting occurred after Wikileaks posted 20,000 of the DNC’s emails, after the FBI opened its Russia investigation, after Trump publicly asked Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails, and just three days after President Obama told Vladimir Putin to “cut it out” or there will be “serious consequences”. Flynn was a key player in the Trump campaign the entire time Sessions was also involved so it is entirely possible that Flynn is fully aware of any involvement Sessions might have had in any collusion with the Russians.
The same could be said of Flynn’s knowledge any involvement Jared Kushner may have in collusion with Russian operatives. We know that Kushner was in communication with Wikileaks about the DNC hacked emails. We also know that he set up a meeting with a Russian lawyer and other highly connected Russians in an effort to get dirt on Clinton and that he was told that information was the result of a Russian government campaign to help Trump win.
We also know that Kushner failed to disclose on the form he filled out to obtain his security clearance that he had meetings with four Russian officials including Sergey Kislyak. There have also been numerous reports by news agencies that Kushner is now a prime target of Mueller’s investigation. The President’s son-in-law and close advisor are already on shaky legal grounds so it is entirely possible that Michael Flynn has inside information that will close the loop and provide the final evidence of his collusion with the Russians.
In my humble opinion an amateur in international political intrigue like Kushner is a much better candidate to blunder into the mistake of colluding with an enemy power than a sly legal fox like Jeff Sessons who knows how to insulate himself from guilt.
So that leaves us with the critical question of whether Donald Trump himself is vulnerable to charges of collusion and/or other “high crimes and misdemeanors”. I find it unlikely that Trump was not made aware the involvement of key members of his campaign such as Flynn, Sessions and Kushner with Russian government officials. One can almost guarantee that Trump was aware of everything his son-in-law learned and did almost immediately. I find it almost as unlikely that Trump did not direct their actions of his minions. The only real question is whether the guilt can legally be laid at his doorstep because if he was smart he would have provided himself with some semblance of plausible deniability.
It is entirely possible that Flynn can implicate Trump directly. There is a reason why Trump tried to pressure his FBI director and at least three members of Congress to back off of their Flynn investigations. But if it is only Flynn’s word against that of the President, the charges will go nowhere. Trump will claim that Flynn is falsely accusing him to save his own neck and the Republicans in Congress will refuse to impeach. So unless Flynn can back up his allegations with a paper trail, any accusations he makes against Trump will go nowhere.
On the other hand, it will get very interesting if Flynn has the goods on Kushner, but not enough to bury Trump. What if Muller has Kushner dead to rights and puts pressure on him to flip on Trump? Will Jared Kushner turn on his wife’s father and his kids’ grandfather if is facing say 20 years in federal prison? Certainly, Ivanka will certainly not be happy with Jared if he turns state’s evidence on her father, but how happy will she be if her husband and her childrens’ father has to spend 20 years in jail in order to protect her dad? I can guarantee that is a family dynamic that the Kushner household never wants to encounter.
So, what will be the ultimate conclusion of Flynn’s cooperation with Muller’s investigation? I will admit that everything I have written here is mostly informed speculation at best. However, we can be sure that Mueller didn’t give Flynn a pass on multiple violations of federal statutes out of the goodness of his heart.