Americas: United States
Flynn Flips: President Trump'a former national security adviser announces plea deal with Special Counsel's Russia collusion investigation
On Dec. 1, 2017, Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump'a former national security adviser, announced that he was cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation in Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, in return for pleading guilty to a lesser charge. Flynn admitted lying to the Federal Bureau of investigation (FBI) and in exchange for his cooperation in the Russia probe, would be subject to a reduced sentence of six months. The nature of the plea deal indicated that Flynn may well be sharing information with investigators that could implicate senior members of the Trump administration in far more serious acts related to the Russia collusion angle.
United States intelligence agencies concluded in late 2016 that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election in Republican Donald Trump's favor by damaging the prospects of the Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton.
The intelligence community's consensus on the matter was presented to then-President Barack Obama before he left office. Included in the array of information were indications that the Trump campaign in 2016 had several communications with key Russians. Indeed, there were discoveries of meetings between senior members of the Trump team and powerful Russian officials, which were not disclosed. These meetings were thus under scrutiny.
This collective landscape, in conjunction with Trump's controversial decision to fire the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) James Comey, contributed to the appointment of a special counsel -- Robert Mueller -- to pursue an independent investigation of possible Russian collusion .
Included in the list of questionable meetings were engagements between Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak. At issue was the fact that not only was this meeting not disclosed, but also that Flynn lied to the FBI about that particular meeting. The prospect of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump administration thus began to surface.
Other encounters included a meeting between, Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Encounters between Trump adviser George Papadopoulos and a Russian go-between were also of interest to authorities; Papadopoulos ultimately entered a plea deal and admitted that he lied about his own contacts with Russians. Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was charged by investigators with money laundering. While Manafort's legal jeopardy was unrelated to the election, his position at the top of the Trump team would no doubt also contribute to the perception of questionable Russian connections. An emerging revelation that Manafort "ghost-wrote" a draft opinion piece with a colleague tied to Russian intelligence, would only fuel that perception. In the background was the role played by Trump's son in law, Jared Kushner, in communications with key Russians.
It should be noted that the president himself could very well find himself ensnared by the probe. In his case, his aforementioned decision to fire Comey has raised questions about whether or not Trump obstructed justice.
Flynn Flips (In Detail)
On Dec. 1, 2017, Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump'a former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying the Federal Bureau of investigation (FBI). Flynn said that he was cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation in Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, and in return for his cooperation and guilty plea, he would be subject to a reduced sentence of six months.
In a statement, Flynn declared: “I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right." He added, “My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel’s office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
At issue were conversations Flynn had with the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kisylak, in late 2016. Not only was this meeting not disclosed, but Flynn also lied to the FBI about a particular meeting. The prospect of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump administration thus began to surface.
Documents released in connection to Flynn's plea agreement indicated that Flynn's conversations with Ambassador
Kislyak were part of a coordinated effort to craft foreign policy before the Trump administration was actually in power. That foreign policy was at odds with that of President Barack Obama and spurred warnings from the Obama White House to stop interfering in the foreign affairs realm before Trump actually took office. While a certain amount of planning would be expected of any incoming administration, the active effort to undermine the foreign policy of a sitting president, to the benefit of a hostile foreign power, would not be viewed so benignly.
The documents indicate that Flynn was instructed by a "very senior member" of the Trump team to discuss a United Nations resolution with the Russians. Reports suggested that federal prosecutors had in their possession emails containing Flynn's vow to try to kill a United Nations Security Council vote on Israeli settlements that the Obama administration would go forward.
It should be noted that there was no suggestion that Donald Trump was aware of this move. That being said, it was apparent that leading members of the Trump team were, in fact, engaged in planning policy moves with the Russian government -- and at a time when a sitting president was already supposed to be directing policy.
Of note was the fact that Trump claimed he fired Flynn because his former national security adviser lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his Russian contacts. Yet it was apparent that there was no shortage of contact between the Trump team and the Russian government. In fact, the documents from the Flynn plea deal suggested that several members of the Trump team coordinated Flynn’s outreach to Russia and were aware that the discussion centered on the Obama administration's imposition of sanctions on Russia.
That fact alone would undercut Trump's explanation for firing Flynn, and it would fuel suspicion that the president's effort to get FBI Director Comey to drop its investigation of Flynn might be far more complicated.
To recapitulate the course of political events, former FBI Director Comey said that the president asked him to end the investigation of Flynn, saying in Congressional testimony, that the president said: “I hope you can let this go.” Then, Comey himself was fired by the president some months later, with Trump admitting on the record that the Russian investigation was consuming him at the time.
With these factors in mind, it was quite possible that the president's efforts to shut down the Flynn investigation were rooted in his desire to prevent the level of engagement between the Trump camp and the Russians from being known. While there was no proof of the president's motivation, both his statements as well as emerging "insider information" from Flynn could reinvigorate questions of obstruction of justice.
For its part, the Trump administration has dismissed any suggestions that it is, in fact, in legal jeopardy. Ty Cobb, the president’s lawyer handling the Russia inquiry, said: “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.”
Key points emanating from the Flynn plea deal:
1. Insider information from Flynn to federal prosecutors means that the president's inner circle has been penetrated. Flynn's plea deal itself mandates that he cooperate with the Mueller team. As such, senior members of the Trump camp will be on the prosecutor's radar -- potentially armed with pertinent evidence pointing to an effort to undermine existing United States foreign policy.
2. Flynn's version of events -- that he was in contact with key members of the Trump team over Russian contacts -- contradicts the president's claim that Flynn lied and was "freelancing" in his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Instead, those Russian contacts appeared to have been orchestrated by the Trump team itself, and no shortage of senior members of the Trump team were also in contact with Russian officials.
3. These factors, along with the circumstances surrounding the firing of former FBI Director Comey, could suggest that the Mueller team was looking at an obstruction of justice case. If the president was trying to shut down the FBI inquiry in order to prevent the involvement of his team with Russian officials being known, it could bolster allegations of obstruction of justice.
-- Dec. 11, 2017
Denise Youngblood Coleman, PhD.
President and Editor in Chief