While former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had some very serious charges leveled against him, until today it wasn’t clear just what the legal action taken against him would be. Would Flynn simply accept the charges and go quietly? Or would he work with special counsel Robert Mueller? Today we got our answer: Flynn will testify. But there’s much more that signals bad news for everyone in the Trump administration, from the Oval Office to the satellite lobbyists and hangers-on.
- Why is Flynn so important?: To review, before his summary firing from the role of National Security Advisor because of the possibility he could be blackmailed by the Russian government, Flynn worked on the Trump campaign and was one of his closest advisors. Flynn also raises a lot of problems because he’d been fired by the Obama administration over these exact same issues. And not just Trump, but the entire transition team, was warned repeatedly from multiple politicians and key legal officers in Washington (literally the day after the election) that Flynn was bad news and needed to be shut out. Indeed, Flynn’s potential problems were brought up right from his arrival at Trump campaign headquarters in March 2016. Instead, Flynn was a key member of the Trump transition team, which puts every appointment he had input into under suspicion.
- It’s not just that Flynn lied to the FBI that’s the problem. It’s what he lied about: Flynn, in his plea deal, admits that he had contact with Russian officials about sanctions imposed by the United States in late 2016. The plea deal mentions that Flynn contacted a “senior transition team official” about that call, and that official was at Mar-A-Lago with other members of the transition team. Just who that senior official could be is not discussed, but it includes pretty much every notable member of the Trump administration and several prominent Congressmen and GOP donors. Any one of them could be aware of Flynn’s crime, and, worse for the transition team, Mueller will need to establish if they discussed that call among themselves. This will be awkward not least because both Trey Gowdy and Devin Nunes, who are key Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee and tasked with investigating collusion between Trump and Russia, were on the transition team.
- And more than one senior transition official knew, to boot: The indictment also includes a discussion of a “very senior” member of Trump’s transition team tasking Flynn with lobbying to keep a UN resolution from Egypt about Israel’s settlements on the West Bank from passing. That’s a whole geopolitical problem in of itself, but it also underscores that transition officials knew Flynn was in contact with the Russian government.
- The question is now simple: Who knew what? And when did they know it? Part of the problem — much of the Trump transition team has some sort of issue with Flynn admitting he was in contact with Russia. Vice President Mike Pence denied on January 15th that Flynn had any contact with Russia. Rep. Nunes went to breakfast with Flynn and the Turkish foreign minister the day of the inauguration. Jared Kushner, a few weeks before Flynn made those fateful phone calls, was allegedly looking for a “back channel” to Russian government officials. Jeff Sessions has repeatedly denied discussing campaign matters with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but Flynn just admitted he spoke to Kislyak about sanctions. Even offering the most generous interpretation of Flynn’s testimony, that still means everyone on the team is back under scrutiny.
- If all that weren’t enough, this confirms, yet again, the Steele dossier: Remember that dossier that claimed Trump hired prostitutes to urinate on a bed Obama slept in while in Russia? Flynn was all over that dossier, along with Paul Manafort, who Mueller indicted on twelve counts at the end of October, and campaign advisors Roger Stone and Carter Page. Page, in early November, more or less confirmed what the Steele dossier said about him to the House Intelligence Committee. This doesn’t confirm the grossest allegations in the dossier, of course, but it lends everything in that dossier more credibility.
Finally, we need to remember that this isn’t even the end of the beginning. Mueller has cited at least two more officials Flynn has incriminated, and we don’t know yet who those people might be, or who they might incriminate. But anybody on Trump’s team who had a chat with Flynn would be well advised to get a lawyer — for they’re going to be speaking to a grand jury soon.