Robert Mueller gave Michael Flynn a sweetheart deal, and Senate Republicans gave the same to their wealthy donors. (More)
“This plea today is another brick in that wall”
Michael Flynn faced the threat of prosecution for a mounting series of lies and omissions, including about his talks with the Russian ambassador, his private consulting work at the direction of the Turkish government and payments he received from Russian-backed groups. He felt distant from Trump, with whom he once enjoyed a strong bond.
Flynn, who had spent most of his Army career soldiering in Afghanistan and other front lines far from home, also faced another painful reality, according to three people familiar with his plea negotiations: that his son also was in danger of criminal charges.
At some point this fall, Mueller’s team made Flynn a limited-time offer: Come in and make your best case about why you should not be prosecuted, according to people familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe confidential talks.
A whirl of behind-the-scenes negotiations ended Friday with Flynn finalizing a cooperation deal and walking out of court with a single count of lying to the FBI.
He scored what several experts called a highly favorable plea agreement that spares him of many of the criminal charges he could have faced and, for now, leaves his son untouched. In exchange, Flynn agreed to share all he knows about the president and his aides with Mueller as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
With the guilty plea Friday by former national security adviser Michael Flynn – one of Trump’s closest and most valued aides – the investigation has swept up an array of figures with intimate knowledge of the campaign, the transition and the White House.
It appears to have swiftly expanded beyond Russia’s interference in the campaign to encompass a range of activities, including contacts with Russian officials during the transition and alleged money laundering that took place long before Trump ran for office.
And Flynn’s agreement to fully cooperate with investigators suggests that Mueller is not done yet.
“Mueller has proceeded with professionalism, deliberation and without delay to build a case with a wall of substance,” said Richard Ben-Veniste, who was a lead member of the Watergate special prosecution team. “This plea today is another brick in that wall.”
Mueller has moved so swiftly that it has left Trump’s team grasping for answers about how far the probe might ultimately reach.
“We don’t know really what is going on,” said one adviser who speaks to Trump often and requested anonymity to describe private conversations. “Who’s it going to implicate? What are they going to say?”
The news that former national security adviser Michael Flynn has reached a cooperation and plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller could not come as less of a surprise. Reports of Flynn’s bizarre behavior across a wide spectrum of areas began trickling out even before his tenure as national security adviser ended after only 24 days. These behaviors raised a raft of substantial criminal law questions that have been a matter of open speculation and reporting for months. His problems include, among other things, an alleged kidnapping plot, a plan to build nuclear power plants all over the Middle East, alleged violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) involving at least two different countries, and apparent false statements to the FBI. In light of the scope and range of the activity that reputable news organizations have attributed to Flynn, it is no surprise that he has agreed to cooperate with Mueller in exchange for leniency.
The surprising thing about the plea agreement and the stipulated facts underlying it is how narrow they are. There’s no whiff of the alleged Fethullah Gulen kidnapping talks. Flynn has escaped FARA and influence-peddling charges. And he has been allowed to plead to a single count of lying to the FBI. The factual stipulation is also narrow. It involves lies to the FBI on two broad matters and lies on Flynn’s belated FARA filings on another issue. If a tenth of the allegations against Flynn are true and provable, he has gotten a very good deal from Mueller.
A key point:
There’s another peculiar nuance: Section 3 of the plea agreement leaves Flynn unprotected against certain future prosecutions. The section is titled “Additional Charges” and states in its entirety that “In consideration of your client’s guilty plea to the above offense, your client will not be further prosecuted criminally by this Office for the conduct set forth in the attached Statement of the Offense” (emphasis ours). The office, in other words, seems to be reserving the right to prosecute Flynn for conduct not set forth in that document, which is to say all of the other conduct on which he might be vulnerable. It is hard to know what to make of this language. It could mean nothing at all. It could mean that the threat of further prosecution is being held over Flynn’s head if he does not hold up his end of the bargain. It could mean that another plea agreement covering other matters is coming.
I’ll go out on a limb, squirrels do that, and say that clause is a two-edged Sword of Damocles. On one side, it keeps leverage on Flynn to testify as promised. On the other side, it signals the God-King that Mueller is ready with other charges against Flynn, so a pardon on this charge would not make Flynn go away.
As to the substance of Flynn’s plea, he admits to lying to the FBI about calls he made to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in December of 2016, after the election but before the God-King’s inauguration.
Some calls were about the sanctions just imposed by President Barack Obama and Congress, in response to Russia’s meddling in the election. Acting at the direct instruction of a “senior official of the Presidential Transition Team” – reportedly Jared Kushner – Flynn asked Kislyak to urge Vladimir Putin to offer only a “reciprocal” response to the sanctions. Flynn seems to have assured Kislyak that the God-King would either reverse or narrow those sanctions once he took office.
Other calls related to a U.N. Security Counsel resolution that condemned Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory including East Jerusalem. The God-King opposed the resolution and asked Russia to veto it or at least delay a vote until the God-King’s administration was in place to veto it. Russia did not comply with the request, and the resolution passed.
The plea deal also includes false statements Flynn made about a project that the Flynn Intel Group performed “for the principal benefit of the Republic of Turkey.” However, that does not include Flynn reportedly talking with Turkish officials about a plot to kidnap anti-Erdoğan cleric Fethullah Gülen, who has permanent U.S. legal alien status and lives in Pennsylvania.
If those reports are true, this is one of Mueller’s Very Big Stick. The God-King could claim Flynn’s calls to Kislyak and deals with Turkey were merely trying to jump-start the incoming administration. But there would be no legal defense for talking with Turkish agents about the proposed abduction of a U.S. resident. If there were any tangible acts before of after the meeting in furtherance of the plan, then Flynn could be charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping … a serious felony.
Mueller’s other Very Big Stick is reportedly evidence that might justify charges against Flynn’s son. And again, this plea deal covers only the specific FBI conversations mentioned. Both of those Very Big Sticks will still be available if Flynn tries to back out … or if the God-King tries to shortcut the process with a pardon.
So that’s the good news.
“This is Washington, D.C. at its worst”
The bad news is that Senate Republicans rolled over for their wealthy donors:
Senate Republicans passed a $1.5 trillion tax bill early Saturday morning that bestows massive benefits on corporate America and the wealthy while delivering mixed blessings to everybody else.
After a frantic round of negotiations, Republicans came together in near unanimity behind the landmark legislation. The final vote was 51 to 49, with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) the lone GOP holdout. No Democrats voted for the bill.
The measure still has to be reconciled with an earlier House-passed version before being sent to President Trump. Yet in getting the bill through the Senate, Republicans succeeded where they failed earlier this year, when their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act collapsed in mortifying fashion.
This time, urged on by donors and fearful of facing voters in next year’s midterm elections without a legislative achievement to show, Republicans said time and again that failure was not an option.
For the record, when you’re planning to hurt people – and GOP leaders say slashing the social safety net is their next priority – failure should be an option. Just sayin’.
How much of an insider deal was this? Sen. Claire McCaskill was able to get a list of proposed amendments, but not from GOP Senate leaders. She got the list from lobbyists:
This is so bad. We have just gotten list of amendments to be included in bill NOT from our R colleagues, but from lobbyists downtown. None of us have seen this list, but lobbyists have it. Need I say more? Disgusting. And we probably will not even be given time to read them. pic.twitter.com/Mn0i56JeZg
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) December 1, 2017
I was just handed a 479-page tax bill a few hours before the vote. One page literally has hand scribbled policy changes on it that can’t be read. This is Washington, D.C. at its worst. Montanans deserve so much better. pic.twitter.com/q6lTpXoXS0
— Senator Jon Tester (@SenatorTester) December 2, 2017
The bill includes special giveaways to family members and colleagues of key Republican senators, although Democrats did manage to stop a private college endowment tax break that had been custom-tailored for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her family.
It may be the most blatant example of From Ourselves And Our Rich Buddies: Fuck You! in legislative history. It’s certainly the most blatant in recent memory.
So yeah, that’s the bad news. Maybe this will get disaffected Democrats to actually … you know … vote.
Photo Credit: Evan Vucci (AP)
Good day and good nuts