Never a dull moment in Trumplandia. Let us rubberneck at the newest car wreck:
“Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security advisor, has told the FBI and congressional officials investigating the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia, that he is willing to be interviewed in exchange for a grant of immunity from prosecution…”
Flynn wants to flip! So said The Wall Street Journal last night, pumping fresh fuel onto the raging Trumpster fire. Flynn’s lawyer says, “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it.” This is potentially huge news — given Flynn’s tawdry history as a Russian hireling and top-ranked Trump apparatchik — and we fervently hope he has the goods to destroy this dangerously ignorant and malevolent regime.
But I also know I speak for many of you when I ask in all sincerity: Can we at least get a breather? Isn’t there more to life than 24/7 scandal duty? How are we supposed to read a book or binge a show or savor a meal when our news feed keeps disgorging the despot’s detritus?
Alas, there is no refuge. And we don’t know what we don’t know, so we’re merely left to wonder. Does Flynn have vital info on Trump and his associates, smoking-gun evidence that suggests or confirms pre-election collusion between the campaign and the pro-Trump Russian hackers? Or perhaps Flynn has no serious dirt to dish, and his lawyer is just doing what any lawyer would do, shopping for a deal that would keep his client out of jail.
Legal experts are already abuzz with theories. Mark Zaid, a national security specialist and attorney, thinks that the immunity request “is more about skillful lawyering than anything else. That said, the Trump administration better hope that’s all it is.” But Elkan Abramowitz, a prominent defense attorney, says: “It could only be trouble for President Trump if Flynn testified that he and Trump had incriminating conversations. I agree that the optics, in any event, are bad for Trump.”
And leave it to Trump to make the optics look worse. He woke this morning and started thumbing again.
He tweeted that Flynn is innocent of everything, that Flynn needs to protect himself from “media&Dems,” that Flynn “should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt.” I guess Trump forgot what he said at one of his rallies last September: “If you’re not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?” Which echoed what Flynn himself said earlier that same month: “When you are given immunity, that means that you’ve probably committed a crime.”
Trump and Flynn were referring to several Hillary Clinton aides who were granted limited immunity during the FBI’s Hillary email probe. I’ll let you judge whether Flynn’s paid ties to a foreign adversary (he took $68,000 from Russian companies in 2015, at a time when Russia was already attacking our democracy) is a more serious breach of national security than Hillary’s email server.
And Flynn appears to have committed a crime; he lied to the FBI about his post-election conversations with the Russian ambassador, falsely denying that he’d discussed lifting President Obama’s sanctions. Lying to the FBI happens to be a felony. That’s really why Trump had to dump him. Flynn set the landspeed record for a national security adviser, lasting only three weeks on the job. No wonder Flynn’s lawyer is worried.
But the FBI and the Senate intel committee, both solicited by Flynn’s lawyer, have signaled no interest in the immunity deal. Thus far, anyway. They may have decided that Flynn has nothing unique to say, or that whatever he has is stuff they can get elsewhere without cutting a deal, or that it’s simply too early to know. But there’s a bigger picture we need to consider, and it was painted yesterday at the Senate intelligence hearing.
Clint Watts, a Russian expert at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (whom I briefly mentioned yesterday), told the committee about the mountain of evidence, gathered since 2014, that detailed Russia’s well-planned invasion of our democratic system. Just a taste of what he said:
“We realized we were observing a deliberate, well-organized, well-resourced, well-funded, wide-ranging effort commanded by only one possible adversary — Russia. Through the end of 2015 and start of 2016, the Russian influence system … began pushing themes and messages seeking to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s overt media outlets and covert trolls sought to sideline (candidates who had) adversarial views toward the Kremlin …
“The final piece of Russia’s active measures surfaced in the summer of 2016 as hacked materials from previous months were strategically leaked. On July 22, WikiLeaks released troves of stolen communications from the Democratic National Committee and later batches of campaign emails. [Russian hackers] revealed hacked information from a host of former U.S. government officials throughout July and August 2016. For the remainder of the campaign season, this compromising material powered the influence system Russia successfully constructed in the previous two years.”
At the very least, we have to wonder why Flynn — a career intelligence official — would have willingly hired himself out to the Russians, taking five figures in fees, at a time when our think tanks, and certainly our intelligence officials, knew about the Russian plans to meddle in our election. Was Flynn too stupid to know what was going on, or was he consciously corrupt? And was Trump too stupid to know of these connections (which would mean that he never vetted Flynn), or was he willfully blind, preferring to curry favor with the oligarchs who invest in his companies?
All of which takes me back to a moment at the Republican convention that looks delicious in hindsight.
Flynn assailed Hillary: “We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law!” The mob chanted, “Lock her up!” He bellowed, “That’s right, lock her up! … She put our nation’s security at extreme risk with her careless use of her private email server … If I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today!”
Maybe Flynn does have good dirt on Trump. But he’s already done enough to go to jail.