Week 27: Did Flynn Flip and Did Trump Flip Out?
Surging like meltwater from a glacial lake, the Trump Tower scandal investigation threatened to turn into an outburst flood this week as Michael Flynn’s legal team signaled that their client had flipped to become a witness for special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III.
The New York Times dropped the news on Thanksgiving Day that Flynn’s lawyers had broken off information sharing with President Donald Trump’s lawyers, with whom they had been trading for months. Like a legal semaphore waving on the horizon, such a formal breakoff usually indicates a parting of defense strategies, sometimes ending with one of the parties obtaining a plea deal and testifying for the government against the other.
Story Continued Below
That Flynn, Trump’s 24-day national security adviser, might surrender to Mueller in exchange for a chance to rat on Trump and company makes ample sense. His potential legal exposure has filled the newspapers for almost a year. He failed to report foreign income from multiple Russian and Turkish sources; he failed to report lobbying activity for the Turks; he stopped a military plan Turkey opposed after accepting payment from the country; he allegedly plotted the kidnapping of a Turkish dissident in Pennsylvania (a caper that reportedly could have netted him and his son $15 million); he appears to have lied about discussing sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn also worries about the legal exposure of his son, Michael Jr., one of his former top aides, giving him more reason to make a deal with Mueller. “Prosecutors will sometimes agree to give what is known as “third-party credit” in the form of leniency to another person in exchange for a defendant’s cooperation,” the Daily Beast reports.
The Flynn-Trump split has launched a million conjectures. Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti wrote as the news broke that the radio-silence development “means that Flynn does not expect Trump to pardon him or his son, or he believes that [he] or his son could be convicted of unpardonable state offenses. If pardons are off the table, cooperation is likely the right move for Flynn.” The Washington Post bridled its speculation, reporting that just because Flynn might be yakking with Mueller doesn’t mean a deal will come of it.
Flynn occupies a central place in the Trump Tower scandal because of Trump’s repeated efforts to extricate him from the feds’ investigative clutches. You recall that Trump asked acting FBI Director James Comey directly the day after Flynn resigned to drop the probe. “I hope you can let this go,” Comey reported Trump saying. Trump also implored Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats to lean on Comey to end the investigation. Trump praised Flynn after he quit and ripped his staff for ridiculing him after the resignation. Trump rarely-to-never expresses such loyalty to underlings, suggesting that Flynn owes his special status to the fact that he’s the man who knows too much about both potential collusion with the Russians and obstruction of justice by the president.
The Flynn and Mueller conversation means that the Flynn indictment, which we expected to land in our news feeds with the sound and light of fireworks, will be replaced with a tamer Flynn plea agreement that tosses bolts at Trump. And this may well provide us explanations for Trump’s many cagey, self-contradictory moves over the past months. If it’s true that Trump has thrown temper tantrums when the scandal news has turned against him, we can assume he screeched like a beast when he heard the Flynn news on Thanksgiving. All we know for sure is that he went golfing the next day with Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson.
The McClatchy D.C. bureau lit a fire under Paul Manafort this week with a scorcher of a story that had him piling up frequent flyer miles to Moscow by the bushel while working for pals of Vladimir Putin. Over the course of a decade, he took at least 18 trips to the city while consulting for Russian and pro-Kremlin Ukraine customers. Was Manafort just making money or were the Russians turning him into an asset who could be trusted to do their bidding, the piece asks. A Manafort spokesman categorically denies that he ever worked for the Russian government. Did he meet with Russian government officials while in Moscow? The same spokesman declined to answer.