Still Looking for Evidence

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WSJ Dec. 1, 2017 7:01 p.m. ET

Robert Mueller’s special prosecution machine grinds on, and on Friday it crushed former national security adviser Mike Flynn on the ever-ready charge of lying to the FBI. The guilty plea is a tragedy for the former three-star general and head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, but whether it is ominous for the Trump Presidency depends on what Mr. Flynn is telling Mr. Mueller.

Prosecutors signaled Mr. Flynn’s cooperation by filing an “information,” rather than an indictment, on charges of making false statements about his meetings with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in two December 2016 meetings. The meetings discussed the U.S. and Russian responses to sanctions that President Obama had imposed on the Kremlin for meddling in the 2016 campaign.

This specific charge is surprising because, as a seasoned intelligence officer, Mr. Flynn had to know that the U.S. would be listening to Mr. Kislyak’s conversations and have transcripts. CNN reported on Feb. 17 that “the FBI interviewers believed Flynn was cooperative and provided truthful answers,” even though he first said sanctions were not discussed and later said he couldn’t recall.

A Congressional source also tells us that former FBI director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on March 2 that his agents had concluded that Mr. Flynn hadn’t lied but had forgotten what had been discussed. Perhaps the FBI changed its view.

Or perhaps Mr. Flynn felt he was facing more serious charges that could be mitigated by copping a plea to a single count and cooperating. A legal defense would require hundreds of thousands of dollars that a longtime military family doesn’t have, and his son, Michael Jr., was also under investigation. News reports Friday said the son won’t now be prosecuted.

Mr. Flynn could still face up to six months in prison, and his sentencing will be postponed and depend on what his plea agreement says is his “substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense.” Mr. Mueller is known for his brutal mercy.

How this relates to the claim of Trump campaign collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign isn’t clear. Mr. Flynn’s meetings with the Russian ambassador occurred after the election. The press corps is hyperventilating that a statement filed in connection with Mr. Flynn’s plea says an unnamed senior Trump transition official spoke with Mr. Flynn about what he should tell the Russian ambassador. News reports Friday identified that official as Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

Yet there is nothing scandalous, or even unusual, about a presidential transition meeting with a foreign ambassador. The statement says Mr. Flynn was advised that the transition team at Mar-a-Lago “didn’t want Russia to escalate the situation”—which also isn’t a crime even if they should have waited until taking office before conducting foreign policy.

For what it’s worth, Mr. Trump’s attorney Ty Cobb on Friday portrayed Mr. Flynn’s plea as no big deal: “The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation [as national security adviser] in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.”

Nothing in Friday’s documents shed more light on what happened during the 2016 presidential campaign. Perhaps Mr. Flynn has more secrets to share, and Mr. Mueller seems to be targeting Mr. Kushner for a turn of his screws. But in today’s hyperpartisan Washington it pays to wait for the evidence.

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