Opinion

Michael Flynn pleaded guilty. Now what?

Let's talk about the enormous consequences of the former national security adviser's guilty plea

On Friday, as part of Robert Mueller's investigation into connections between Russia and President Trump, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was officially charged with a single count of lying to the FBI. Given what we know about Flynn, this was an extremely light charge. Flynn pleaded guilty and has confirmed that he is now cooperating with Mueller.

It may be that Flynn bargained to save his skin by promising to roll directly on President Trump — though as Marcy Wheeler argues, Jared Kushner might be a likely target as well.

ABC's Brian Ross — who, it should be said, has been wrong before — reported that Flynn is prepared to testify against Trump, members of his family, and "others in the White House," saying that Trump ordered him to make contact with the Russians when he was a candidate:

JUST IN: @BrianRoss on @ABC News Special Report: Michael Flynn promised "full cooperation to the Mueller team" and is prepared to testify that as a candidate, Donald Trump "directed him to make contact with the Russians." [ABC's This Week]

[Update, 7:15 p.m. ET Dec. 2: ABC has suspended Brian Ross for four weeks, and says his original report is not correct.]

This is all extraordinary. But the big questions are all about what happens now. What does Flynn have on Trump? What has he already told Mueller? Will Trump fire Mueller before he can complete his investigation? If he does, would the Republican Congress back Mueller, impeach Trump — or fail to do anything at all?

Here's what we know: Flynn's charge sheet says that he lied to the FBI about contacts with Russia, specifically that in late December he falsely denied having asked the Russian ambassador not to escalate in response to new sanctions, and having asked the ambassador to delay or defeat some pending United Nations Security Council resolution (it doesn't say which one).

It appears that Trump, or someone very close to him, directly ordered Flynn to make those contacts. This thing probably goes all the way to the top.

Even just the simple timeline of the crime in question looks extremely bad for Trump. Then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed the White House after Flynn lied to the FBI that he might be compromised with Russia. The White House had also been informed of Flynn's extremely sketchy (and likely illegal) work as an unregistered lobbyist for Turkey. But instead of firing him, Trump tried to extract a loyalty oath out of then-FBI Director James Comey, according to a memo Comey wrote immediately afterwards. Then the president fired Yates.

Flynn did resign in February, after it was reported that he had lied to Vice President Pence about the same contacts with Russia. But even after Flynn was gone, Trump attempted to get Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, saying, "I hope you can let this go." Comey declined, and in May, Trump fired him on what was obviously a pretext.

There are about a dozen potential crimes in this set of events — from making false statements to obstruction of justice and more. And that is just what is publicly available — who knows what Flynn has told Mueller's investigators in private, or what else he might be prepared to testify to.

The lengths Trump apparently went to to protect Flynn are also extraordinary. The president is famously an ultra-narcissist who treats his staff like garbage, and tends to immediately abandon them the minute they become slightly inconvenient. Going this extra mile to try to save Flynn is highly out of character — thus strengthening the notion the Flynn might have some seriously dirty material on the president.

In any republic that was not diseased down into its bone marrow, this would be an open-and-shut impeachment case. After swearing up and down that he had no contacts with Russia whatsoever, it now appears that President Trump was lying through his teeth, and repeatedly abused his powers of office to stop the truth from coming out. Any normal country would already be drafting a resolution to get rid of him and get to the bottom of the story — especially whether the Trump campaign actively conspired with Russia to swing the election.

But that would require halting Republicans' pell-mell rush to pass their tax "reform" bill to shovel oil tanker-sized piles of cash into the gullets of idle rich inheritors — many of them children, like Eric Trump and Meghan McCain, of the Republican officials involved — paid for by strip-mining grad students and the working class, and savage cuts to Medicare and other social programs.

It seems ludicrous to suppose that Republicans will discover their consciences, patriotism, or basic human decency at this late date. But I won't venture a firm prediction. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

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