It’s significant that Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty Friday to the “process crime” of lying to FBI agents rather than to a conspiracy of collusion, contends a former assistant U.S. attorney.
Flynn’s plea in federal court centered on his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. in December 2016, during the presidential transition period. ABC News reported Flynn plans to testify that Trump himself directed him to reach out to Russians.
But Andrew McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, argues Special Counsel Robert Mueller would not permit Flynn to settle the case with a single count of lying to FBI agents if his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak had provided evidence that the Trump administration would ease or eliminate sanctions on Russia as a payback for Russia’s cyber-espionage against the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party.
He pointed out that the only major case Mueller previously has brought was against former Trump-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an associate, which had nothing to do with the 2016 election.
“It is becoming increasingly palpable that, whatever ‘collusion’ means, there was no actionable, conspiratorial complicity by the Trump campaign in the Kremlin’s machinations,” McCarthy wrote in a column for National Review.
David French, an attorney and fellow at the National Review Institute, pointed out that Mueller’s “Statement of the Offense,” released after news of the guilty plea broke, “contains no evidence of collusion with Russia to influence the presidential election.”
“Instead, it amplifies the fact that Flynn apparently lied about contacts that were lawful and appropriate.”
The potential sentence is zero to five years’ imprisonment, and, assuming Flynn cooperates fully, there will be little, if any, jail time, McCarthy believes.
Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, served as President Obama’s director of the Defense Intelligence Agency before joining the Trump campaign and serving for 25 days as Trump’s national security adviser.
French further argued that while Flynn lied, there was no crime to cover up.
“While Twitter will no doubt find it ‘shocking’ and ‘outrageous’ that Trump transition officials were trying to influence Russian policy on matters that would directly impact the Trump presidency,” he wrote, “there is a long history of presidential campaigns and transition teams initiating contact with foreign powers.”
He argued the Trump administration, not the Obama administration, would “bear the primary burden of responding to any additional Russian sanctions and the fallout from the U.N. vote.”
“In other words, we can debate the prudence of the [presidential transition team’s] actions all day long, but it was not illegal, and it was not ‘collusion,'” he said.
Nevertheless, he continued, it’s “becoming increasingly clear that Trump officials hid their (lawful) Russian contacts behind a smokescreen of lies.”
But if there is no collusion, why lie about the contacts with Russia?
“I can think of a number of reasons, including inexperience, hubris and paranoia,” he said.
“Remember, these contacts were taking place against the backdrop of a public feeding frenzy about Trump’s Russian contacts. To admit to these contacts was to chum waters already boiling with hungry sharks.”
Ultimately, he said, “we may well end up with multiple senior members of the administration facing prison time for covering up no crime and no collusion, just contacts.”
“If that’s justice, it’s a form of justice that will leave no one standing on the political high ground and partisans on both sides seething with rage and bitterness.”
Flynn: ‘I accept full responsibility’
In a statement, Flynn said his guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel’s office “reflect a decision I made in the best interest of my family and of our country.”
“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Flynn said.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump lawyer Ty Cobb contended Friday that Flynn’s guilty plea hasn’t implicated the president in any wrongdoing.
“Today, Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser at the White House for 25 days during the Trump administration, and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI,” Cobb said.
“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year,” the lawyer said.
“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.”
Cobb said the “conclusion of this phase of the special counsel’s work demonstrates again that the special counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”
Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One last month during his trip to Asia that “everybody knows there was no collusion’ between his campaign and the Kremlin.”
“There is no collusion. There’s nothing,” he said.
After the November 2016 election, intelligence intercepts caught Flynn asking Kislyak to delay reaction to Obama administration sanctions against Russia until after Trump took office and to delay a U.N. Security Council vote on a resolution condemning Israel.
Days after Trump’s Jan. 20 Inauguration, the FBI interviewed Flynn. Trump fired him in February after the White House learned he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about whether he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak.
Flynn said in his statement:
After over thirty-three years of military service to our country including five years in combat away from my family and then my decision to continue to serve the United States, it has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of treason and other outrageous acts.
Such false accusations are contrary to everything I’ve ever done and stood for.
But I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong.
Through my faith in God I am working to set things right.
My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel’s office reflect a decision I made in the best interest of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions.
Bloomberg reported it was Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, who ordered Flynn to contact Russia.
Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported “a transition official at the time said Kushner called Flynn to tell him he needed to get every foreign minister or ambassador from a country on the UN Security Council to delay or vote against the resolution.”
But Lake wrote that “nothing in the Flynn plea sheds any light on whether the Trump campaign actually colluded with Russia to influence the election.”
Some Democrats are contending Flynn violated the 1799 statute known as the Logan Act, which Lake called a “discredited law” and a “relic of the John Adams administration” that makes it illegal for a private U.S. citizen to undermine the foreign policy of a sitting president in contact with a foreign power.
No American has ever been successfully prosecuted under that law, he noted, pointing out nothing ever came of the urging of some conservatives to prosecute former House speaker Nancy Pelosi under the Logan Act in 2007 when she visited Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad at a time when when the George W. Bush White House was trying to isolate him.
Responding to the Flynn guilty plea, former FBI Director James Comey tweeted a Bible verse regarding “justice.”
“But justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” Amos 5:24,” Comey wrote on Twitter.
Comey was fired from his position as director of the FBI in May amid controversy over the bureau’s investigation of Russian influence on the election and its decision not to refer charges regarding Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information.