Did Michael Flynn Actually Do Anything Wrong?

Special prosecutor counsel Bob Mueller has one significant scalp on the wall: that of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who pled guilty to one count of lying to the FBI and has yet to be sentenced. But, in a brilliant column, Byron York reviews the sequence of events as we have tortuously come to know them. Based on what we now know (or think we know), it is highly doubtful whether Flynn did anything wrong at all.

It is a given that there was nothing wrong with Flynn’s talking to the Russian ambassador, or discussing sanctions with him. As the incoming National Security Advisor, Flynn had many such conversations with foreign diplomats. Sanctions were a perfectly legitimate topic for them to talk about, as Stephen Hadley said:

So even if Flynn discussed the hot issue of U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak, that was OK. “I don’t have a problem with that,” former Bush national security adviser Stephen Hadley said in February 2017. “I don’t see what would be wrong if [Flynn] simply said, look, don’t retaliate, doesn’t make sense, it hurts my country, it makes it harder for us as an incoming administration to reconsider Russia policy, which is something we said we’d do. So just hold your fire and let us have a shot at this.”

And, as Byron notes, the FBI said that it found no wrongdoing in Flynn’s conversations with Ambassador Kislyak.

So, what is the problem? Why on Earth would Flynn lie to the FBI? Maybe he didn’t:

[FBI Director James] Comey went to Capitol Hill in March to brief lawmakers privately. That is when he told them that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn did not believe Flynn had lied, or that any inaccuracies in Flynn’s answers were intentional. And that is when some lawmakers got the impression that Flynn would not be charged with any crime pertaining to the January 24 interview.

So what changed? The answer apparently has a lot to do with Sally Yates, the disgraced former Acting Attorney General, an Obama holdover who later was fired for insubordination. Yates promoted the far-fetched theory that Flynn might have violated the Logan Act and therefore might be subject to blackmail by the Russians. Of course, while that theory might provide a flimsy motive for lying to the FBI, it wouldn’t prove that Flynn intentionally said anything that was untrue.

Why would Flynn plead guilty to a single count if he was innocent? That seems like a logical question to those who have never had the full might of the federal government directed against us. Our friend Howard Root could explain what it feels like to have the inexhaustible resources of the federal government committed to putting you in prison, as a political pawn. Flynn has said that he was nearly broke as a result of having to pay lawyers to defend him against the special prosecutor’s counsel’s vendetta, an entirely plausible claim. With the Trump administration taking a hands-off approach–theoretically proper but entirely unhelpful, if you are Michael Flynn–it isn’t hard to see why he might plead guilty to something he didn’t do.

As with so many issues that are swirling around Washington, D.C., the answer, in my opinion, is more disclosure. As I wrote here, I want to see the transcript of the interview that Flynn gave to Peter Strzok and another FBI agent. I think I could pretty quickly determine whether there was ever a strong claim that Flynn lied.

Finally, I wasn’t kidding when I described York’s column as brilliant. It is a terrific guide to a convoluted bit of history. I recommend that you read it all.

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