Michael Flynn’s Indictment Is Very Bad News for Trump

You’ve probably already heard the news that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is pleading guilty to two one charge of making false statements to FBI officers. Here’s what he’s not getting charged with:

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.

He’s also not getting charged with a long list of other things, including lying on his security clearance forms, failing to register as an agent of a foreign government, violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, etc. His son is not being charged with anything either—at least not yet.

I’m already seeing the right complain that Flynn isn’t being charged with lying about a crime. That’s a dubious argument, but it’s at least somewhat accurate. He’s charged with lying about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on December 22nd, 2016 and on December 29th, 2016.

In the first set of conversations, Flynn apparently asked that Russia either delay or defeat a resolution in the United Nations Security Council. Flynn lied to the FBI about whether Russia ever described their response to this request to him, claiming that they did not.

In the second set of conversations, Flynn requested and received assurances that Russia would not respond strongly to President Obama’s announcement that he was placing new sanctions on Russia in retaliation for their meddling in our election. He dishonestly claimed not to remember that Russia had made these assurances to him.

In return for pleading guilty to these charges, Flynn will be expected to cooperate with the investigation. If he doesn’t do so satisfactorily those other charges, including the kidnapping charge which also implicates his son, could be reintroduced.

Since he is only pleading to relatively minor offenses and ones that are easily proven, it will be impossible to claim that he’s suffering a monstrous injustice. This makes a pardon unlikely, and it also makes it hard to attack the special counsel or to justify firing him.

It also makes look Trump look bad for trying repeatedly to shut down both the FBI and the congressional investigations. In order to build an obstruction of justice charge against the president that will stick and have bipartisan resonance, it’s absolutely necessary that there be an underlying crime. Flynn has now pled guilty to crimes, and he’ll testify about other crimes.

Not since John Dean decided to cooperate with the Watergate investigation has a president had worse news than this. It is quite unlikely that Flynn will provide evidence only against Trump’s underlings. He will provide evidence that implicates Trump and probably his sons and son-in-law, too. Without that kind of testimony, Flynn never could have gotten off so lightly.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.