This week, former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate Trump’s Russian connections. The striking development is widely seen as a nightmare for Donald Trump, but it wasn’t the only news we got about the alleged president’s Russian influence scandals.
In fact, here are nine new things we learned this week about the investigation of Michael Flynn, the retired Army general who served as Trump’s close campaign adviser and then as his national security advisor for 24 days before resigning.
1. We found out that Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to drop the Michael Flynn investigation, tried to embrace him in public, and made unscheduled calls to Comey for no clear reason in a clear effort to halt the Flynn investigation. We also learned that Comey was wary of Trump’s overtures and kept a lot of notes, as FBI professionals are wont to do, so this story will not be going away any time soon.
2. In a contentious briefing, Rod Rosenstein told the full Senate that “the Justice Department’s inquiry was focused on possible crimes” and indicated that Trump’s desire to fire Comey predated his own controversial memorandum. While we already knew that bit from Donald Trump’s blabbermouth, the emphasis on potential criminality is interesting. Can you say “obstruction of justice”? How about “money laundering”? For extra credit, say “racketeering.”
3. The appointment of a special prosecutor will slow the work of Congress because witnesses with possible criminal exposure will be less willing to testify. Not coincidentally, Flynn’s attorney announced announced that his client will not cooperate with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation or respond to their subpoena. But slowing the process down just means that the hits will keep coming through at least one election cycle. Professor John Schindler, no liberal at all, predicts that the GOP will experience “a large scale political cleansing.” Republican strategist Rick Wilson is telling his friends in the Trump administration to bail out immediately. Suddenly disinterested in holding the White House accountable, Rep. John Chaffetz stayed in office long enough to sign a subpoena for Comey’s memos related to the Flynn investigation, then announced his retirement from Congress. Political hay will be abundant for Democrats.
4. Flynn reportedly worked with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Putin fixer Viktor Medvedchuk to create a diplomatic back channel between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, a process which led to high-level meetings. Remember how Jared Kushner and Erik Prince met with agents of Russian influence during the transition? Those meetings were the fruit of Flynn’s efforts on behalf of the Kremlin. Medvedchuk has been closely linked to Putin for a very long time and his name should give pause to anyone who cares about human rights.
5. Speaking of transitions: Trump and his transition team knew about the FBI investigation into Flynn’s Russian and Turkish ties for weeks before Inauguration Day. In fact, Flynn actually told the transition team about it himself. Notably, the transition team — by which I mean Vice President Mike Pence — left Michael Flynn off their list of recommendations for the new administration, but Trump ignored all of this to appoint Flynn anyway. Whatever he might say in a tweet about “witch hunts,” Trump made this scandal happen and he owns it.
6. Lunatic neoconservative Michael Ledeen is pushing a storyline in which Trump actually talked Flynn into taking the job of national security advisor and still wants Flynn back in his administration. Ledeen, it should be noted, has a history of terrible judgment in matters affecting national security, with roles in both the Iran-Contra scandal and the most disastrous decisions of the Bush administration. Still an advocate for regime change in Tehran and other crusading adventures in the Middle East, his appearance in this affair as a friend of Flynn is entirely expected, and probably inevitable. Just take Ledeen’s version of these matters with a healthy sprinkling of salt.
7. Regardless of Ledeen’s spin, it’s clear that Flynn is still talking to Donald Trump, who tells him to “stay strong,” ignoring the very good advice of his own lawyers. “Trump has some sort of unusually intense devotion to Flynn, which leads him to override wise advice,” writes Jeet Heer at the New Republic. What nobody seems to want to mention here is that Flynn has collaborated with Steve Bannon since at least 2013, making him one of the ‘original gangsters’ of Trumpism, with friends and allies who work in the White House today.
8. There was a report this week that Flynn delayed a decisive operation against ISIS on behalf of his Turkish paymasters, which would explain what happened to Trump’s promise of a plan to finish the Islamic State in his first 30 days. While Flynn’s personal impact on the eventual decision to arm Kurdish allies has been disputed, his mere involvement in any decision-making process while he was serving as as a paid agent of the Turkish government (“pay to play”) has complicated American foreign policy in Turkey.
9. A grand jury in the District of Northern Virginia has been looking into the Michael Flynn affair. Whereas Robert Mueller’s appointment may slow down the congressional process considerably, that is not necessarily true of criminal proceedings. A trial of Michael Flynn will consume all the media oxygen for months; a conviction will swallow the Donald Trump presidency whole.
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