Flynn cooperating with Mueller investigation
The investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the election reached a dramatic turning point last week, when former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and said he was cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller. Flynn admitted misleading investigators about two sets of phone calls he made to then–Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition in December. In the first exchange, the retired general asked that Russia delay or vote against a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements as illegal; in the second, he urged the Kremlin not to react to new sanctions imposed by President Obama. Flynn, one of Trump’s closest advisers during the campaign, said he consulted senior members of the transition team on both of the messages he delivered to Vladimir Putin’s regime; news outlets identified these officials as Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and K.T. McFarland, who was with the president-elect at his Mar-a-Lago resort at the time.
The president said he was “very happy” about Flynn’s guilty plea, claiming it provided no evidence of Russian collusion, but later sent a tweet about Flynn’s firing that may increase the president’s vulnerability to an obstruction of justice charge. (See Controversy.) In a related development, a whistleblower told Congress that Flynn assured a former business associate on Inauguration Day that the Russian sanctions would soon be “ripped up.”
What the editorials said
The media is “hyperventilating” over Flynn’s cooperation deal, said The Wall Street Journal, “but whether it’s ominous for the Trump presidency depends on what Flynn is telling Mueller.” What we know is that Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak all took place after Trump won the election. “There is nothing scandalous, or even unusual, about a presidential transition meeting with a foreign ambassador.” The former three-star general may have “more secrets to share”—but let’s “wait for the evidence.”
Flynn was facing serious charges when he flipped, said The New York Times. He failed to disclose substantial payments from Russia and Turkey, and he and his son allegedly discussed a “kidnapping plot” on U.S. soil with Turkish officials. The only plausible reason Mueller offered him a plea on a single charge is that Flynn “has valuable information to share”—perhaps about Trump himself. The attempts by Trump aides to undermine Obama foreign policy on Russia may have been illegal, said the Los Angeles Times. The Logan Act prohibits private citizens from “negotiating with a foreign government.” As other Trump associates are indicted or take pleas, Trump needs to understand that if he interferes—by sacking Mueller, or pardoning his own associates—he will “escalate calls for his impeachment and removal from office.”
What the columnists said
Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak during the transition were “inappropriate,” but not illegal, said Rich Lowry in the New York Post. The idea such contacts violate the Logan Act is “a fevered fantasy.” The last time anyone was indicted under the Logan Act was 1803. Indeed, set aside Flynn’s lies to investigators, and “it’s not clear what’s supposed to be the larger scandal” here.
The scandal is obvious, said Max Boot in ForeignPolicy.com. Clearly, “there was a quid pro quo” between the Trump campaign and Russia: Vladimir Putin’s regime would help Trump win the election in return for having painful U.S. sanctions lifted. At least 12 of the president’s associates had contacts with Russians, and have “lied and lied and lied about them.” Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, eagerly accepted an offer from a Kremlin emissary of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, and even “communicated secretly with WikiLeaks,” which published the Democratic campaign emails stolen by Russian hackers. Flynn knows what the president knew about all this, which is why his cooperation with Mueller is so devastating.
Kushner is probably next in Mueller’s crosshairs, said Richard Painter and Norman Eisen in The New York Times. Trump’s son-inlaw has already been questioned by Mueller’s team, and if he didn’t disclose that he directed Flynn to contact the Russians, he may face perjury charges. Donald Jr. is also in legal jeopardy. Flynn’s plea deal is “only the tip of the iceberg.”