It’s only December 1, barely 10 months into Donald Trump’s presidency, and already his former campaign manager is under federal indictment. The founder of a pro-Trump SuperPAC is also under federal indictment. A third man, also one of Trump’s foreign policy advisers, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia during the campaign.
And as of today, Trump’s national security advisor, Mike Flynn, has himself pleaded guilty to a felony charge of lying to FBI investigators about contacts with Russia. The plea is almost certainly the result of a deal cut between Flynn and special counsel Robert Mueller, which means that Flynn has offered Mueller valuable insight into the actions of other figures in the Trump campaign and/or White House.
We don’t know the nature of that insight, but one report from ABC News hints at some of it. In information that seems to have come from the Flynn camp, the retired general has not only admitted to prosecutors that he had been in contact with Russians during the 2016 campaign, but that Trump had ordered him to make those contacts. You know, those contacts that supposedly had never taken place at all? (NOTE: ABC News has since corrected that report, withdrawing its claim that the orders had come during the campaign.)
UPDATE at 12:21: According to documents filed in the case, Flynn had been in close contact with “a senior official of the Presidential Transition Team, who was with other senior members of the Presidential Transition Team” at Mar-a-lago. Those documents state that Flynn conferred with those unnamed “very senior” officials both before and after his conversations with the Russian ambassador, and followed their guidance.
That pretty much explodes the story that Flynn had been operating on his own and that he was fired for failing to inform Vice President Pence about his actions. After all, Pence was the head of the transition team.
So the coils of the anaconda will grow tighter.
In one sense, this isn’t much of a surprise. Anyone who has followed the investigation knows that the hapless Flynn had exposed himself to criminal prosecution on any number of accounts: failing to report payments that he received from Russia; undisclosed paid work for the Turkish government; possible involvement in a planned kidnapping of a Turkish national on U.S. soil, possible money laundering. Most of those potential charges have been wiped away as part of this deal, at least for the time being.
And while there’s a lot that we still don’t know, the guilty plea from Flynn does undercut one of the administration’s top defenses of its interactions with Russia. Until now, it has claimed that Flynn’s secret conversations with the Russian ambassador before Trump’s inauguration were merely ordinary, perfectly appropriate conversations of the sort that any incoming national-security adviser would have with representatives of other countries.
The problem is, you don’t lie to the FBI about ordinary, perfectly appropriate conversations. You lie to the FBI — putting yourself at risk of a felony — because you think that you have something bigger, more dangerous to hide.
I do wonder how such news is going over in the White House. For the last week to 10 days, Trump has been more antic and irresponsible than is normal for him, which is an astounding thought in its own right. Has that been a nervous reaction to news that someone within his inner circle had turned on him? Will Trump attempt to intervene once again on Flynn’s behalf, as he did when he privately pressured then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the case against him?
Will the president try to issue pardons, or even attempt to remove Mueller from the investigation, as he did with Comey? Will Attorney General Jeff Sessions again feel the presidential wrath?
Such steps would be exceedingly foolish, but then again, these folks haven’t exactly been deft in handling pressure situations. And just as you don’t lie to the FBI unless you have something to hide, you also don’t try to interfere with an ongoing investigation unless you have good cause to fear where it might be headed.