Opinion

The Mueller delusion

Let's talk about what Michael Flynn's delayed fate really says about the special counsel's investigation

It's December, and you know what that means. It's Mueller time!

Michael Flynn, the moderately distinguished ex-lieutenant general who served for all of 24 days as Trump's national security adviser and said some rude things on the campaign trail, narrowly avoided being sentenced to community service on Tuesday after pleading guilty to lying about a perfectly normal conversation with a Russian diplomat in late 2016. Judge Emmet Sullivan was in fine form, accusing Flynn of having "arguably" sold out his country, which is code for "getting caught in an obvious perjury trap." Flynn's sentencing will now be delayed until next year so he has more time to cooperate with Robert Mueller's special counsel probe into Russian election interference. So far his assistance has led to the indictment of two former business associates who are accused of having illegally lobbied for the extradition of a Muslim cleric on behalf of the Turkish government. Turkey and Russia share a sea border, folks.

We don't know why Flynn lied, but we also have no idea why the FBI was asking him gotcha questions in the first place. It wasn't authorized by James Comey, the FBI director at the time. There are really only two possible reasons. One is that sentient adults considered indicting Flynn under the terms of the Logan Act, which is the prosecutorial equivalent of announcing a snipe hunt. Another is that Andrew McCabe, then the deputy director at the bureau, went rogue, the way law enforcement officers at every level do every day. I'll let readers decide which is more likely.

It is possible to be of two minds about Flynn's brief political career. His "Lock her up!" chants during the 2016 presidential campaign were unbecoming of a military man. But these antics concealed a frequently thoughtful perspective on foreign policy. In a 2015 interview with The Intercept, he blamed the war in Iraq for the rise of the Islamic State and dismissed the Obama administration's use of drones as a "failed strategy." "When you drop a bomb from a drone," he said, "you are going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good." What a comfort to think that he has been replaced by John Bolton.

Meanwhile Mueller is doing a good impersonation of a delusional power-crazed middle-school librarian. "Did you ever have a conversation with Rob and Pat in this library? Did you use your library voice? Okay, was it on a Tuesday? No, it was actually a Wednesday, and you, sir, are getting detention. Oh, what's that? You happen to know that Kev and Phil were smoking cigarettes on the loading dock back in the seventh grade? Thank you, thank you so much! No, that's all right, I can ring their employers."

If you don't recognize this as a more or less accurate description of what Mueller has so far publicly accomplished with the considerable resources at his disposal, you are being willfully, blinkeringly partisan.

Which is fine. That is the nature of politics. But let's stop pretending that this has much of anything to do with Russia's 2016 election meddling. President Trump performed worse than either Mitt Romney or John McCain among people who actually use the internet. His single best voting bloc was people who never go online — you know, elderly people, people too poor or too busy to mess around on social media. Who cares if the Russians spent gazillions of rubles trying to spread Trump-boosting fake news? That is not why Hillary Clinton lost. And it is certainly not why liberals are hanging on every tedious detail of Mueller's investigation. They don't see the special counsel's probe as a disinterested legal endeavor. For them Mueller is there to undermine a president they loathe.

They are perfectly at liberty to feel this way. I'm sure Trump welcomes their hatred. But let's get real. Random meetings with randos? Not collusion. Cheating on taxes? Not collusion. Illegal campaign contributions? Not collusion. Sleeping with porn stars and lying about it with the help of some greasy tabloid maven? Disgusting but not collusion.

Using public funds and subpoena power to cast doubt on the legitimacy of a president as he enters his third year of office? There is a word for that which we should all consider employing. It doesn't start with a C either.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article misstated the length of Flynn's tenure as national security adviser. It has been corrected. We regret the error.

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