A series of events punctuated most recently by a sentencing hearing gone awry suggest that whatever former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn was covering up when he lied about his Russia contacts, it was a whopper. During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing for Flynn, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan worked himself into a lather, noting his “disgust” and “disdain” for Flynn’s criminal conduct.
“Arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for,” Sullivan charged, pointing to the American flag behind him. “Arguably, you sold your country out!”
In that instance Sullivan was referencing Flynn’s undisclosed work for Turkey during the campaign, but the judge’s pointed assertion was part of a lengthy scolding session he leveled at Flynn. Sullivan has a reputation for despising abuse of power and some Flynn allies, including Fox News, hyped the idea that the judge would take the FBI to task for its handling of Flynn’s case. Instead, Sullivan focused his ire squarely on Flynn. That’s notable because while the judge doesn’t know everything Special Counsel Robert Mueller knows, he is privy to more information about Flynn’s case than the public. So what exactly did Sullivan find so agitating?
Perhaps it’s related to the fact that Donald Trump has never spoken ill of Flynn—not once—even though he has now sat for 19 interviews with Mueller and proven so useful that the special counsel recommended he receive zero jail time. Trump’s kid-gloves treatment of Flynn extends all the way back to the earliest days of his administration when he encouraged then-FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into Flynn. In fact, Trump has torched nearly everyone who has contributed to the ongoing investigations into him, his campaign, and his family business. Yet as Flynn was preparing for his sentencing hearing Tuesday morning, Trump issued him a decidedly sunny “good luck” tweet. So why the special treatment for Flynn?
The official 302 form summarizing the FBI’s original interview with Flynn on January 24, 2017, is full of intriguing redactions. But as intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance pointed out, one thing comes through loud and clear—the nature of the questioning from FBI agents should have tipped off Flynn that the agency had listened to his calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. And yet, Flynn lied to them anyway.
This is a point former FBI assistant director Frank Figliuzzi also marveled over on MSNBC Tuesday. As a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn clearly would have known the FBI was surveilling those calls.
“I’m just thinking about the equation that had to go through his head,” Figliuzzi said, reflecting back on the January day when FBI agents questioned Flynn. “He’s a DIA director—he knows what they’re listening to, and yet he decides it’s worth getting caught lying to the FBI as long as I cover up my relationship with Russia. […] So what’s going on?”
In other words, what could possibly be so damning that, in the moment, Flynn calculated the lesser of two evils was to lie to the FBI full well knowing that he would ultimately be caught? Figliuzzi speculated there a may be “a flow of money” that the public doesn’t know about yet that compromised him and potentially Trump.
The indicators all point to something big: an aggravated judge, a tamed Trump, two baffled intelligence professionals, and a former intelligence chief who sold himself out to the FBI.
As former Clinton Solicitor General Walter Dellinger told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews later on Tuesday: “We have to ask ourselves, why is it that Mike Flynn was willing to take the risk of lying? What is behind this Russian involvement? It’s always possible that there’s less here than we think; and it’s also possible this is the greatest crime in the history of America if Americans were working with Russians to determine the outcome of a presidential election.”
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