I knew it was humor, but it bothered me. Pope John Paul II had been the driving force behind the peaceful liberation of Poland from the Soviet empire. He is often credited with contributing to the destruction of that empire itself.
The recent public statement from Donald Trump’s attorney reminded me of a grim joke in 2005 that briefly circulated as followers mourned that death. The message from attorney Ty Cobb was a lawyer’s statement filled with lawyer’s phrasing, each word carefully chosen to mislead.
Today, Michael Flynn, a former National Security Advisor at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration, and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI.
The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn. The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.
So let’s take a closer look:
“…guilty plea to a single count…” was an attempt to minimize the deal. It sounds less significant. A single count of wrongdoing isn’t that much, right?
General Flynn did not simply “enter a guilty plea”. He entered a plea bargain, agreeing to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump campaign activities. There was no indication of when that deal began. How long had he been cooperating? Had he been recording conversations that could be used against others?
“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.”
Implicating culprits other than Mr. Flynn was not the purpose of the guilty plea. Implicating others was the purpose of the cooperation.
Investigators make such deals, reducing charges, for a purpose. Conviction on a series of extraordinary charges is partially sacrificed to obtain even more serious convictions of others. Little fish are used to get bigger fish. The greater those more serious convictions the more willing prosecutors are to reduce charges against those cooperating.
Think of a seesaw. When one side goes down, the other side goes up. The fact that the charge to which General Flynn admits goes way down does not mean the danger to others also goes down. It means the opposite.
Joy at the suffering of another is a human failing shared by all of us. It is hard to avoid it with Michael Flynn. His malevolent fury was at its full malignant display during the campaign. His vindictiveness had motive. Hillary Clinton was an enthusiastic member of the Obama administration, and President Obama had promoted General Flynn to Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, then fired him 3 months later.
Hired in the summer, fired in the fall.
And so, Michael Flynn stood before the ravenous crowd at the Republican National Convention:
If I did a tenth, a tenth, of what she did, I would be in jail today.
He briefly led the chant.
Lock ‘er up, Lock ‘er up.
There was mockery on the street as General Flynn left the courthouse after pleading guilty.
Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up!
A cartoon has been widely distributed, a parody of his earlier meanness. He is shown shouting at the Republican crowd:
If I did a tenth of what she did.. I’d flip on Trump, strike a plea deal with Mueller, sing like a canary, and send Kushner and Pence to prison…
Satisfaction at Flynn’s humiliation can seem unavoidable. That same humiliation presents a danger that he might change his mind or trim his testimony. That is why the plea agreement is noteworthy for what it omits.
There is no mention of the most serious allegations: that General Flynn took bribes from two governments, Russia and Turkey; that he plotted to kidnap a cleric within the United States on behalf of Turkey. His son, Mike Flynn, Jr., has reportedly been under scrutiny by the Mueller team. There is nothing protecting Michael Flynn’s family from future charges.
The immunity against charges in plea agreement guarantees reluctant cooperation. The charges that were left out of that immunity are a Damoclean sword that ensures enthusiastic cooperation.
Michael Flynn was a big deal in the Trump campaign. He served as Trump’s advisor on national security, then their personal relationship grew, and so did his role. He became a main speaker during the Trump convention.
After the election, Flynn was the only person President Obama warned Donald Trump against hiring. But the relationship had grown so strong that, a week after that warning, Flynn was given the role of National Security Advisor, with access to the nation’s top secrets.
The relationship remained so important that, after acting Attorney General Sally Yates reported on Flynn’s serious security issues and legal problems, Sally Yates was the one dismissed.
During the Watergate drama that eventually ended the Nixon administration, an assistant remarked to a prosecutor that what was at stake was the soul of Richard Nixon. The prosecutor replied that his jurisdiction was limited. “I’m not interested in his soul,” he supposedly said. “I just want his ass.”
Some evenings, I read of Jesus speaking to fishermen in Capernaum, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. “Come after me, and I will make you fishers for men.” In ways not covered in Matthew, prosecutors are fishers of criminals. They often use fish to catch more fish. But they only trade up. Little fish are used to catch bigger fish.
There are very few bigger fish in the world of Trump than was Michael Flynn. For whom is he being traded? The Vice President? The President’s family? The President himself?
Donald Trump’s lawyer, in his lawyerly way, with his lawyerly phrases, tries to minimize the role filled by General Flynn in Trumpworld. He was only with us for three and a half weeks. Actually, he was an Obama guy. Or as Ty Cobb put it:
…at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration, and a former Obama administration official…
A friend tells me that is like referring to Da Vinci as a sketch artist who also liked to paint a little.
I think of the grim humor after the death of John Paul II. The headline a week later was in The Onion:
Pope John Paul II, Longtime Owner Of Popemobile, Dead At 84
The pontiff was indeed the owner of a car.
Michael Flynn is indeed a former Obama official.
And Robert Mueller is indeed going after a great fish.
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