Last Friday, Michael Flynn was charged with lying to federal investigators by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia collusion probe. Flynn will reportedly plead guilty to this charge in exchange for his further testimony into the Russia investigation. We don’t know which person within the Trump administration that Flynn’s plea could be most damaging to, but signs point to either Jared Kushner, or perhaps Donald Trump, Jr.
Roll Call has more of the pertinent details:
Former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday morning after being charged with making false statements to federal officials.
A U.S. government document released by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller said Flynn has been indicted for making “materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to federal officials. He is due in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, for a plea agreement hearing at 10:30 a.m. Friday.
Flynn is being charged with misleading federal officials about several conversations he had with then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.
The retired general allegedly misled federal investigators about a Dec. 29, 2016, conversation in which he asked Kislyak to press his superiors in Moscow to “refrain from escalating the situation” after the Obama administration slapped new sanctions on Russia. Flynn also misled the federal officials when he said he did not recall Kislyak later telling him the Kremlin had agreed to do just that.
Let’s flash back to this story from CNBC on February 16, 2017, concerning Flynn’s firing from his post as National Security Adviser just a few days into the new Trump administration:
A defiant President Donald Trump on Thursday insisted that he asked Michael Flynn to resign because of Flynn’s statements to Vice President Mike Pence. The president also denied that he told his key national security advisor to discuss sanctions with a Russian official.
“He didn’t tell the vice president of the United States the facts and then he didn’t remember, and that’s just not acceptable,” Trump told reporters at the White House at his first solo news conference as chief executive.
“I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence.”
Trump added that he had no problem with Flynn making the calls because he was “doing his job.”
Flynn resigned Monday as national security advisor following revelations that he made contradictory statements to Pence about whether he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States. However, when press secretary Sean Spicer later said that the White House was warned on Jan. 26 that Flynn may have misled Pence, it raised questions about why it took more than two weeks for him to resign.
Trump maintained that he asked Flynn to resign only because of the statements he made to Pence, not because they were made public in a Washington Post report.
“I asked for his resignation. He respectfully gave it,” he said.
“With all that being said, I think he’s a fine man.”
He stressed that he did not think Flynn did anything wrong by talking to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Trump also denied that he directed Flynn to talk about sanctions and played down any connections Flynn had with Moscow. [Emphasis added]
The firing of Flynn by Trump is important, because his current guilty plea of lying to FBI investigators stems from this time back in December and January of 2017 as the Trump administration was being formed. It might be the last sentence of this CNBC excerpt that matters, which I’ve emphasized above. It sounds like it’s possible Flynn might be now saying that some high-level administration official ordered him to contact Russia and discuss the sanctions. This could have been someone like Jared Kushner, or it could have been President Trump himself, though he denied that at the time as shown.
Either way, it isn’t crazy for Flynn to be contacting foreign governments as the Trump administration was taking shape. New administrations must begin forging relationships with foreign governments before the new president is sworn in.
The question is why did Flynn lie to Vice President Pence, and apparently lie to federal investigators about his contact? Reports from back in March indicated that the Obama administration had warned the incoming Trump administration that Flynn was “problematic.” Did they know something already that Flynn was compromised in some way?
The other question is how does it tie into an investigation on whether the Trump administration colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election? From most accounts, the Flynn deal does nothing to shed light on that accusation since the crime Flynn is pleading guilty to shows no connection or smoking gun on that front.
Flynn’s plea deal is obviously one part of a larger puzzle that Mueller is assembling, and slowly we’re getting more pieces filled in. There will be a another shoe undoubtedly, but when it will drop and who will be underneath it remains to be seen.