Flynn’s key role in Mueller’s Russia investigation
Special counsel Robert Mueller told a judge this week that Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, provided “substantial assistance” in several ongoing investigations and should be spared jail time, signaling that prosecutors believe he’s helped them build a strong case that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Flynn gave 19 interviews to prosecutors regarding three investigations—two involving Russia, with a third undisclosed. Most details of Flynn’s cooperation were redacted from the sentencing memo to avoid tipping investigators’ hand to possible defendants, President Trump’s legal team, and the public—which suggests Mueller’s final report could still be months away. Flynn, a former general and military intelligence chief, was an outspoken campaign surrogate for Trump. He was fired, however, after just 24 days in the administration, and last year pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia’s U.S. ambassador.
Mueller’s leniency toward Flynn, one of five former Trump aides to plead guilty in the investigation so far, sends a clear message that witnesses can avoid prison by turning against Trump. The president, meanwhile, sent his own message. Longtime adviser Roger Stone refused this week to appear before a Senate committee, and Trump lauded him, saying, “Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’” On the other hand, Trump tweeted that his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who’s pleaded guilty to multiple charges and is cooperating, deserves “a full and complete sentence.” Former federal prosecutors said these comments are witness tampering and could become part of an obstruction-of-justice case against Trump.
What the columnists said
“Flynn appears to have come full circle,” said David Ignatius in The Washington Post, from being a “Trump campaign warrior” who led chants of “Lock her up!” to a star witness in the case that could bring down the president. “There’s a bizarre irony here,” because it was Trump’s efforts to get then–FBI Director James Comey to let go of his inquiry into Flynn that led to the appointment of a special counsel. Mueller offered unusually “glowing praise” for Flynn, said The New York Times in an editorial. Once redactions are removed, we’ll learn why Trump was “so invested” in keeping investigators away from him.
Jared Kushner might want to “start scrambling,” said Timothy O’Brien in Bloomberg.com. Like Flynn, Trump’s son-in-law spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition, and sought to establish a secret back channel to the Kremlin. “If Flynn offered federal authorities a different version of events than Kushner,” that’s the kind of “substantial assistance” that could get Flynn out of a prison sentence—and Kushner indicted.
After this “slow-rolling dumpster fire” of an investigation, said Ben Shapiro in NationalReview.com, there still isn’t “a single shred of evidence” implicating the president. Should Mueller’s report ever see the light of day, it’s bound to become “a political Rorschach test.” Democrats will pounce on “ancillary crimes” such as lying to the FBI, while Republicans will insist it’s “an investigation in search of a crime.” The report is unlikely to change many minds, and the fight over Mueller’s findings is bound to get “a hell of a lot uglier.” ■