Fall of Flynn: hope or peril?

There are still questions about the¬†resignation of National Security Advisor¬†Mike Flynn¬†following revelations in the Washington Post¬†that he had mislead other members of the administration (and, by extension, the public) about the content of his phone conversations with the Russian ambassador back in December. It is still unclear whether Flynn stepped down of his own volition or was basically fired. (The latter version now seems to be favored by the administration.) But, predictably, Trump¬†is expressing greater outrage over the leaks that resulted in Flynn’s fall than the misbehavior they revealed,¬†tweeting: ‚ÄúThe real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?‚Ä̬†Flynn himself echoed that point. Asked by Fox News¬†whether the leaks were “targeted, coordinated and possibly a violation of the law,” Flynn responded: “Yes, yes and yes.‚ÄĚ

Of course, Flynn’s own actions may have violated the Logan Act. And given all Trump’s campaign-trail bluster about “locking up” Hillary over her supposedly insecure e-mails, you’d think the administration and its Republican allies would be taking this seriously. And you would hope in vain. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) says he won’t¬†open an investigation into¬†Flynn, citing executive privilege (despite the fact that the conversations in question took place before he was appointed to his White House post). But the committee will investigate who leaked the story that led to Flynn’s¬†resignation, and why Flynn was being recorded. “I expect for the FBI to tell me what is going on, and they better have a good answer,” said Nunes.¬†(The Hill, WP)

Has it really not occurred to these guys that the FBI wasn’t tapping Flynn’s line but the Russian ambassador’s? Could Flynn (the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency!)¬†have really been so innocent as to think the FBI wasn’t eavesdropping on the Russian goddam ambassador? Is this arrogance or naivet√©? We don’t even know.

TYT provides a good overview of what we do know so far. On Dec. 29, the very day Obama slapped sanctions on Russia over the elections meddling, Flynn called Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak a whopping total of five times.¬†Contrary to his earlier denials, the sanctions were discussed. Flynn seems to have skirted an actual explicit pledge to lift the sanctions, merely saying that relations with Russia would improve under Trump, and leaving it to Kislyak to read between the lines. TYT notes Flynn’s long coziness with Russia, recalling that he was¬†paid by the Kremlin to speak at the notorious RT confab in December 2015 (he admitted this in an interview with the Washington Post on Aug. 15 of last year), where he shared a table with Putin at the dinner after his talk.

Former NSA spook¬†John Schindler has a piece in¬†Observer¬†(owned by Trump top advisor and son-in-law¬†Jared Kushner) portraying a generalized revolt by the intelligence community against the administration. An (unnamed) Pentagon intelligence official is quoted saying¬†that “since January 20, we’ve assumed that the Kremlin has ears inside the SITROOM.” That’s¬†the White House Situation Room, the conference room in the West Wing where the president and his top staffers get intelligence briefings. “There’s not much the Russians don’t know at this point,”¬†the official added in what Schindler calls “wry frustration.”

Meanwhile, Flynn has been replaced with another ex-military man, retired Lt. Gen. Joseph K. Kellogg Jr, the¬†NY Times¬†reports. And Flynn’s son¬†Michael G. Flynn, after having suspended his Twitter account for excessive indiscretion under probable White House pressure (maybe a first sign that his dad was in trouble), now seems to be back at it, now under the name Michael Flynn Jr.

As for Flynn’s veiled promises to Kislyak… the first Russia sanctions have already been lifted. We’ll now see if the White House will continue in this trajectory, or if the Flynn affair will prompt an about-face. This could be the beginning of the collapse of the entire administration, with any luck. A more pessimistic reading is it’s just the beginning of the inevitable Trump-Putin breach, which holds dangers of its own….

  1. Glenn Greenwald shills for Team Trump

    Of course, we already knew that. A month ago, he griped to an eager Fox News that Democrats were hoping the intelligence agencies will "undermine and subvert" the Trump presidency (as if that would be bad thing!). Now he just retweeted (with the usual caveat of "I don't agree with all of it but"…) "national security" wonk Eli Lake's exercrable "The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn" from BloombergView. Trump also tweeted: "Thank you to Eli Lake of The Bloomberg View – 'The NSA & FBI…should not interfere in our politics…and is' Very serious situation for USA" (Note that the quote is garbled to the point of being ungrammatical.) Feeling uncomfortable with your strange bedfellow yet, Greenwald fans?

    Greenwald's latest for the The Intercept is entitled "The Leakers Who Exposed Gen. Flynn’s Lie Committed Serious—and Wholly Justified—Felonies." So you might hope that he is actually taking a single-standard position on leaks. But he has to conclude: "It's very possible — I'd say likely — that the motive here was vindictive rather than noble. Whatever else is true, this is a case where the intelligence community, through strategic (and illegal) leaks, destroyed one of its primary adversaries in the Trump White House."

    He strangely goes on to say in his final two lines that we should cheer on the leaks anyway. But Greenwald really seems to see a Manichean struggle between the intelligence community or what he calls the "Deep State" and the White House—as if the prior were a monolithic entity. This ignores the fact that Flynn himself is the former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency. And that James Comey's FBI was and is obviously on Team Trump. This is a struggle within the intelligence community—between those elements that have some respect for what they ostensibly signed up for (protecting the security of a democratic system) and those ready to embrace Trump-fascism. So Greenwald is peddling false equivalism when he tweets:

    1) Trump presidency is dangerous.
    2) CIA/DeepState abuse of spy powers to subvert elected Govt is dangerous.

    One can cogently believe both.

    First, note that this tweet completely contradicts his equivocal cheering on of the leakers in The Intercept. But more to the point… We must ask again: Why is a foremost voice of the "left" legitimizing Trump and warning against "subversion" of his consolidating dictatorship?

  2. Neocons abandon Trump ship

    Our reading of the essential politics of the Trump administration as a wedding of paleocons and the radical right against the perceieved dominance of the neocon establishment in Washington is made clearer in today's Breitbart piece decrying Bill Kristol's tweet from yestrerday: "Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state."

    Of course Kristol is making the same error as Greenwald, even if their positions are diametrically opposed: the "deep state" is divided. And if the pro-Trump tendency prevails, we will truly be under a dictatorship.

  3. Flynn cops a plea

    Flynn, pleaded guilty Dec. 1 to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last December, becoming the first senior White House official to cut a cooperation deal in the special counsel Robert S. Mueller's inquiry into election interference. Lying to the FBI carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, but court documents indicate Mr. Flynn faces a likely sentence of zero to six months in prison. (NYT)

    The Guardian recalls that Flynn led chants of "Lock her up!" (referring to Hillary Clinton) at the Republican Convention last summer. ABC notes that protesters chanted "Lock him up!" as Flynn left the courthouse in Washington. 

    Flynn is the fourth figure connected to Trump's campaign to be charged as part of Mueller's investigation. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates were indicted last month; they pleaded not guilty. And Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI over contacts with officials connected to the Russian government.

    Flynn is meanwhile under investigation for involvement in an alleged plot to kidnap Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish dissident cleric living in the US, and fly him to an island prison in Turkey in return for $15 million.

  4. Manafort strikes back (ineffectually, we hope)

    Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign official who has been indicted for money laundering and making false statements, filed a lawsuit Jan. 3 against the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The suit, filed under the Administrative Procedure Act, challenges the DoJ's order appointing Mueller as special counsel, as well as the scope of Mueller's investigations. Manafort is urging that all actions taken by Mueller "must be set aside." (Jurist)

    Smells like a desperation move. We hope.

  5. Russian oligarch sues Manafort

    The soup thickens…

    Russian metal tycoon Oleg Deripaska filed suit in New York state court Jan. 10 against Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates alleging fraud. Related charges were brought in 2014 in the Cayman Islands. This new claim relies in part on evidence from the unsealed indictment against Manafort stemming from Special Counsel Robert Muller's investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

    Deripaska, through his company Surf Horizon Limited, gave $18.9 million to Manafort and Gates to invest in an Ukrainian cable network. The lawsuit alleges that the two American lobbyists instead put the money to use financing their lavish lifestyle, buying homes and paying children's tuition. (Jurist)

  6. Judge orders two month delay in Michael Flynn sentencing

    The US District Court for the District of Columbia ordered a two month delay in Michael Flynn's sentencing for his guilty plea concerning charges of making false statements to the FBI. The order comes in response to requests from both Special Counsel Robert Muller and Flynn’s defense team for additional time before proceeding with sentencing. (Jurist)

  7. Trump lifts sanctions on Putin-linked Russian oligarch

    We're shocked. From The Guardian, Jan. 27:

    The Trump administration has lifted sanctions on three companies, including the aluminum giant Rusal, linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Democrats had led a push in Congress to continue the restrictions.

    Earlier this month, Senate Republicans blocked an effort to keep the sanctions on Rusal, En+ Group and JSC EuroSibEnergo.

    Some lawmakers from both parties have said it is inappropriate to ease sanctions on companies tied to Deripaska, an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, while special counsel Robert Mueller investigates whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Moscow.

    Deripaska had ties with Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager. Manafort pleaded guilty in September 2018 to attempted witness tampering and conspiring against the United States.

  8. DoJ drops Michael Flynn case

    The US Department of Justice¬†dropped¬†its charges May 7 against Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump, for falsifying statements to the FBI. The DoJ dropped the case after determining that Flynn’s statements were not “material”¬†to the underlying investigation.‚ÄĚ

    The DoJ charged Flynn under¬†18 USC ¬ß 1001¬†for falsifying statements to federal officers about his conversation with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the investigation into the 2016 Russian collusion. Section 1001 requires that the false statement be “material”¬†to the investigation to warrant prosecution.¬†

    In this case, Flynn admitted to falsifying statements about the nature of his phone call with Kislyak. According to transcripts, however, Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak regarded foreign policy and the sanctions on Russia. The discussion was not “material”¬†to the Russian election interference probe, the DoJ concluded.

    The DoJ originally charged Flynn with falsifying statements to the FBI, and Flynn pleaded guilty to those charges in 2017. A federal judge postponed his sentencing in 2018 due to his cooperation with federal investigators in the Mueller probe. (Jurist)

  9. Judge holds up dropping of Flynn charges

    A federal¬†judge put on hold the Justice Department‚Äôs move to drop charges against Michael Flynn, saying he expects legal experts to argue against the bid to exonerate Trump’s former national security adviser of lying to the FBI. (WaPo)

  10. DoJ urges court to force dismissal of Flynn case

    The US Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a¬†brief¬†in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 1, asking the court to order the dismissal of the case against Michael Flynn. The DoJ is urging the appeals court to direct Judge Emmet Sullivan of the US District Court for the District of Columbia to grant the government‚Äôs motion to dismiss the indictment against Flynn.¬†The DoJ argued that even though Flynn pleaded guilty to charges of making false statements to the FBI, the department, acting in an executive capacity, may still drop the charges. The brief relied on the famous case¬†US v. Nixon, asserting that “the Executive Branch has exclusive authority and absolute discretion to decide whether to prosecute a case.” (Jurist)

  11. Court orders judge to dismiss case against Michael Flynn

    The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 24¬†ordered¬†a federal judge to dismiss the case against former Trump advisor Michael Flynn. The appeals court’s ruling supports the decision by the Department of Justice to abandon the case. (Jurist)

  12. DC federal court to reconsider Michael Flynn case

    The federal appeals court for the District of Columbia has agreed to re-hear arguments over efforts to drop charges against Michael Flynn. The case will be reconsidered by the court en banc. This decision comes weeks after a smaller panel of DC Circuit judges ruled 2-1 that Flynn’s case must be dismissed in accordance with a Department of Justice order. (Jurist, BBC News)

  13. Trump pardons Michael Flynn

    President Trump on Nov. 25 pardoned his former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with a Russian diplomat and whose prosecution Attorney General William P. Barr tried to shut down. (NYT)