Opinion: What Michael Flynn’s guilty plea does and doesn’t tell us

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House, Feb. 1. (AP File Photo / Carolyn Kaster)

A lot of people spent their morning trying to figure out the larger meaning of this (via the AJC):

“President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty Friday to ‘willfully and knowingly’ lying to the FBI in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Flynn lied to investigators in January about conversations he had in December 2016 with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, according to court documents released Friday.”

Let’s try to sort out a few things. First, Flynn is the highest-profile figure so far to plead guilty in Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. So it’s natural to think his guilty plea and related cooperation puts Mueller’s investigators right in the thick of the Trump team.

That said, the timing here is very important. Flynn’s lies to the FBI concern meetings he had in December — after the election, when President-elect Trump was preparing to take office. It’s possible these aren’t the only meetings between Flynn and Russian officials that interest the FBI, and that there were previous meetings during the campaign. But that’s not what these court documents say. If we are talking only about the transition period, that is a very different context than the campaign. Americans might not like Trump’s approach to Russia, but as president-elect he was within his rights to begin feeling out foreign governments as he readied his own policies for after his inauguration.

So what was Flynn talking about? The court documents indicate that in the Dec. 22 meeting, Flynn “ask(ed) the Russian Ambassador to delay the vote on or defeat a pending United Nations Security Council resolution” and that the ambassador “described to Flynn Russia’s response to his request.” In the Dec. 29 meeting, the documents indicate, Flynn asked the ambassador “to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia that same day,” and that the ambassador told him “that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of his request.”

Again, this happened during the transition. The Obama administration probably didn’t like that Trump was doing this, and one might question the wisdom of Flynn’s requests. But the legality of them — in a vacuum, without evidence these conversations were linked to other conversations during the campaign that would represent some kind of collusion — isn’t really in question. Had Flynn told FBI agents the truth about those conversations, there probably wouldn’t be a story here.

But. (You knew there was a “but” coming, right?)

But … we also know that Flynn ran afoul of some of the same laws Paul Manafort did, in terms of failing to register as a lobbyist for a foreign government (in Flynn’s case, Turkey) and report income from foreign clients. So the question is whether Flynn reached a deal to avoid charges for those actions, in exchange for information about the Trump campaign and/or transition beyond those December conversations with the Russian ambassador.

So while there’s one scenario in which the Mueller investigation is only coming up with peripheral charges that don’t ultimately point toward collusion or other wrongdoing by the Trump campaign, there’s another scenario in which Mueller is slowly closing in on something, or someone, bigger. He’s got Manafort cooperating after pleading guilty to illicit business dealings before joining the Trump campaign; he’s got a foreign-policy adviser cooperating after pleading guilty to lying about conversations he had with foreign officials during the campaign; and now he’s got Flynn cooperating after pleading guilty to lying about conversations he had with foreign officials after the campaign.

Will those dots ultimately connect to show a noose tightening around the neck of, if not Trump himself, central figures of his campaign and possibly his administration? Or do they represent a thread of sleaze and poor judgment running in parallel to Trump and his political operations without ever touching the latter?

We don’t know yet. But it seems likely there’s more to find out.

Reader Comments 0

195 comments
Robert1959
Robert1959

Mike Flynn's plea deal tells us Trump was colluding and obstructing justice with Russia to overturn sanctions ordered by the Obama administration to punish Russia for interfering with the 2016 elections and Israel. Imagine if President Barack Obama, 1st Black American President of the United States of America 2008-2016 had setup a series of "back channel" meetings with Russia and Israel to discredit President George W. Bush administration prior to his inauguration? Imagine if President Barack Obama had committed "Treason" and other "high crimes and misdemeanors". How would the GOP respond?

bendedknee
bendedknee

Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up!

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

The minions having lost all hope for a pending Trump impeachment after the Brian Ross debacle are once again pinning their hopes and dreams on polling. They're of course overlooking the fact that their party isn't looked upon favorably by the American electorate.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Starik 

A couple of problems: First, you seem to forget the dismal approval ratings Obama had throughout most of his presidency. Strangely his approvals went up reasonably high only at the end of his final term in office. Secondly. the polling organizations had a horrible showing just before the 016 election that surprised the world. Finally, the Democrats are not in favor by the current electorate. But good luck in your efforts.

Robert1959
Robert1959

@SGTGrit Please take your medicine.  Mental illness is a very serious problem in the USA.  I hope you signed up for the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  It is still the law of the land.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

After their giddy moment after Brian Ross's fake news report the minions have evidently retreated back into their holes after Ross was exposed.

bendedknee
bendedknee

Trump tweets that he knew Flynn lied to FBI before he asked Comey to drop investigation and then when he did not , Trump fired Comey and colluded with Justice Department to issue a false statement on why Comey was fired. That is obstruction o f  Justice and coupled with Treason for undermining US sanctions against Russia there is more than enough to impeach to Orange Clown. Tax bill and party obviously more important to cons and white supremacists here and elsewhere. 


Now we got NRA spokesperson also  shown in e-mails trying to arrange meetings of Putin and Trump during campaign based on mutual interests. NRA is a terrorist organization arming white supremacists that has bought the Georgia Legislature and most of Congress as well as the President and a majority in SCOTUS.


No wonder NRA and  cons hate Obama and Hillary..


Doomy
Doomy

@bendedknee


Trump "colluded" with the justice dept. Geez. Is it just me or do the Dim simpletons think everything nowadays is "collusion" of some sort or another?


"That is obstruction o f  Justice and coupled with Treason for undermining US sanctions against Russia..."


Obstruction of justice AND treason??? Lordy, these progs sure love to throw around accusations- all without a shred of proof let alone any rhyme or reason that makes a hill a beans worth a sense. 


"Tax bill and party obviously more important to cons and white supremacists here and elsewhere."


Man. These nuts just can't go a day without screaming some kinda faux nonsense about imaginary white supremacists. Good grief.  


 "NRA is a terrorist organization arming white supremacists..."


Goodness. This one has just gone off the wall crazy. 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@bendedknee 

Goodness you're really far out in La La land. You don't even site sources you just make up the facts yourself. LOL

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Brian Ross suspended without pay from ABC for his fake news story that drove the Dow Jones down 350 points costing Americans money and creating an atmosphere of panic. Now we're learning about the removal of a high ranked FBI agent from the Mueller investigation and highly concerning we've learned that this agent was pro-Clinton and heading the email investigation as well as the Russian collusion investigation. These revelations bring into serious question the integrity of the entire Obama administrations DOJ. A special council needs to be called upon to investigate the existing special council and the deep state that evidently continues to exist within the FBI and possibly still within the entire DOJ. Trey Gowdy would be perfect for such a special council  selection.

oldpunk
oldpunk

@SGTGrit Yeah, yeah, yeah. Never heard that one before! It'll be like the hundred other "got her this time" claims that didn't pan out.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Dawgs winning handily, the senate passed the tax package and my little girl tested successfully for her Tae Kwon Do Black Belt. The first girl in her academy's ten year history to achieve the Black Belt level. Great Day!

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Georgia up by 3. It didn't start out good but it looks they've got the big Mo. hopefully. We'll find out when they get the ball to start the second half.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Bad day for the minions. The senate tax reform package gets passed and the Brian Ross Flynn/Trump story had to be retracted. MAGA

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Visual_Cortex @SGTGrit 

Yep the polls were surely accurate back before the presidential election in November of 016. Keep clinging to your dreams of a liberal far-left utopia. LOL

bendedknee
bendedknee

Between the Bush tax cuts and unfunded wars  and Medicare part D, The GOP owns the economy and the deficit. Once the Tax Relief Act for Billionaires and Corporations passes, there will be riots in the streets if Medicare and other federal entitlements are cut. As it is people's lives now hang in the balance due to cuts in healthcare funding like CHIPS and removal of the  mandate of ACA. I know Cons could care less.  Ayn Rand rules for them.  Each for themselves only.

Lucy_.
Lucy_.

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PDPDP8
PDPDP8

I bet you are a big fan of Sean Hannity.

bu22
bu22

@PDPDP8  I don't think he's ever made up anything that caused the stock market to drop 350 points.

MarkVV
MarkVV

The reactions of the trumpists to Flynn’ indictment and pleading guilty to a crime are nothing short of hilarious.

Doomy
Doomy

@MarkVV


Nah. The thing that's really hilarious is the over reaction of the progs. He was found guilty of lying about a meeting with Russians that happened in December 2016- AFTER the election. 


So far ya got nuthin, zilch, zero, nada. 


If you can show us just a shred of proof of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians to steal the election then please show us since that was the original accusation. Go ahead. Show us. 

MarkVV
MarkVV

@Doomy @MarkVV Why should I? That is Mueller's job. 

The trumpists try to pretend that Flynn lied to the FBi - a federal cirme - about the meetings with the Russians just for the fun of it. As I wrote, hilarious.

Doomy
Doomy

My goodness. The progs just can't stand it. They just can't stand it. 


"WASHINGTON — American consumers are the most confident they've been in nearly 17 years, more good news for an already healthy economy"- USA Today


Consumer optimism ripped higher in November, building on historic highs set in the previous month.


"Consumer confidence increased for a fifth consecutive month and remains at a 17-year high," Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board, said in a statement.


"Consumers are entering the holiday season in very high spirits and foresee the economy expanding at a healthy pace into the early months of 2018," Franco said.


https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/28/consumer-confidence-november.html

Starik
Starik

@Doomy You're right about the economy... if it lasts. I worry about a bubble. And a war. 

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

I probably ought to comment directly on-topic. Kyle, this is a pretty good, balanced rundown of likely scenarios, and I've talked it up over at The Other Political AJC Blog's comments section. Well done.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

The illegal unmasking of Flynn is what put him in the cross hairs. Is Mueller investigating that along with all the leaks from his investigation team?

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Visual_Cortex @SGTGrit 

The far-left rank and file minions don't care too much for this but their leadership certainly does. The Democrats unleashed a full scale investigative war with their demand for a special council to investigate the Russian interference in our election and if the Trump campaign was involved in some way. The Republicans were foolish to bow to the demand. Holder nor Lynch would not have if the circumstance was reversed. Mueller may have no interest in investigating the unmasking and leaks but you can bet Sessions and his boss are certainly interested. The final Obama legacy may not be completely written.

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

illegal unmasking.

😂😂😂😂😂

bendedknee
bendedknee

@Pub Heaven Yeah and it all started with the illegal Black president, Benghazi and Hillary's server.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Doomy @Visual_Cortex @SGTGrit

I said that when? Oh right, I didn't; you're putting words in my mouth.

Yes, there are credible sources out there. Dumb cable tv "news" outlets are rarely what you want.