There’s not much middle ground here. In reading the single-count criminal information against Michael Flynn, I was struck by an immediate thought. If this is all there is, then Flynn is the victim of a monstrous injustice. If not, then brace yourselves. We’re still only seeing the tip of the Mueller investigation iceberg. First, read the information here:
Just in: Robert Mueller has charged former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn with “willfully and knowingly” making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI regarding conversations with Russia’s ambassador. pic.twitter.com/WqvDmytYiZ— David Wright (@DavidWright_CNN) December 1, 2017
The sharp-eyed reader will note that Flynn is being charged with lying to the FBI about activity that isn’t criminal. While it’s not uncommon for defendants to be charged with lying to the FBI during investigations of underlying crimes (rather than being charged with the crime itself), here Flynn is charged with lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition period between the Obama and Trump administrations. While some zealots may scream about the Logan Act, only the most strained (and likely unconstitutional) reading of the law would bar a member of an incoming administration from conferring with a foreign power about matters that directly relate to the conduct of that administration’s foreign policy. In other words, it looks like Flynn lied about contacts that, at worst, were mildly politically embarrassing. Now he faces imprisonment and disgrace. If that’s all there is, then it’s terribly unjust.
It’s so unjust, in fact, that I sincerely doubt that’s “all there is.” The New York Times and other outlets are reporting that Flynn is expected to plead guilty to this single charge. A plea deal would broadcast to the world that Flynn is now likely cooperating with prosecutors — this is especially true given that Flynn had one of the most problematic paper trails of any individual caught up on the Mueller investigation. His alleged ties to Turkey alone are beyond bizarre. For example, here’s the Wall Street Journal detailing Flynn’s alleged participation in a kidnap plot. Yes, a kidnap plot:
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating former White House national security adviser Mike Flynn’s alleged role in a plan to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and deliver him to Turkey in return for millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr. Flynn had with Turkish representatives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy.
What does this mean? Either an immense amount of reporting about Flynn’s foreign ties is sensationalistic and wrong (possible), or prosecutors entered into a classic plea deal where a defendant pleads guilty to a minor crime to escape accountability for more serious crimes in exchange for cooperation and potential testimony against the true targets of the investigation. A sweetheart deal plus continued cooperation strongly signals that Donald Trump’s former national-security adviser (an extraordinary high-level official) is not the ultimate target of Mueller’s probe, and that Mueller believes that Flynn’s testimony is valuable enough to let him off with a relative slap on the wrist.
Until the Mueller investigation truly winds down, remember that all opinion pieces are based on partial information, and any definitive take from any person should be automatically suspect. Any cries of “victory for Trump” or “victory for Mueller” are premature. The middle ground, however, is shrinking. For the special counsel, he’s increasingly moving towards a politics-shaking boom or a terribly unjust bust.
Update: Here’s more evidence that the Flynn charge is a prelude to bigger things. Reportedly, Flynn is prepared to testify that candidate Trump “directed him to make contact with the Russians.”
JUST IN: @BrianRoss on @ABC News Special Report: Michael Flynn promised “full cooperation to the Mueller team” and is prepared to testify that as a candidate, Donald Trump “directed him to make contact with the Russians.” https://t.co/cBjd9Uk81y pic.twitter.com/qIJyX1cB9L— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) December 1, 2017
ABC also reports that Flynn is willing to testify against Trump and members of the Trump family. Now, before everyone starts yelling “collusion,” the report said nothing about why Trump allegedly directed him to reach out to Russia. If it was contact for election collusion, that’s dire. I also think that’s highly unlikely. If it was contact to set the stage for post-election relations and cooperation, that’s far less problematic — unless members of the Trump administration (or Trump family) have been lying to the FBI about those contacts. So, we could be looking at less of a criminal conspiracy and more of a festival of lies surrounding a non-conspiracy. That’s at least consistent with the guilty pleas (Flynn and Papadopoulos) so far. Stay tuned.