Michael Flynn (Getty/Photo Montage by Salon)

Michael Flynn, the FBI and the far right's latest nutbar conspiracy theory

Paranoids and bloviators on the right have a new fantasy: Flynn will be cleared — and somehow so will Donald Trump!


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Heather Digby Parton
December 17, 2018 5:00PM (UTC)

I doubt that Robert Mueller and his staff spend much time worrying about what the right-wing fever swamp thinks about the job they are doing. But if they did pay attention to what the Trump fanatics say about them, they would likely be surprised to learn that they are currently being excoriated for giving Michael Flynn what amounts to a "get out of jail free" card. It's not because these Trump supporters think Flynn deserves to pay a higher price for lying to the feds or betraying the national trust. They think that Mueller's office should have withdrawn all charges and apologized to Flynn for ever indicting him the first place.

Some of these folks laboring under the misapprehension that Flynn's only crime was lying when it's perfectly obvious that the reason he was only charged with that crime is that he was implicated in something much more serious, and had the goods on others with whom he was involved. (You'd think they might have gotten a clue from the massive redactions in the government's sentencing memorandum.) Apparently, they are not aware of how any of this works.

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Mueller's prosecutors asked the judge to give Flynn no prison time because they reported he had provided them "substantial" assistance and because his "early cooperation was particularly valuable." They reported that Flynn had participated in 19 interviews and provided documents and communications related to three separate investigations -- two of which nobody had known anything about until this sentencing memo was submitted to the court. It was extremely generous to Flynn, citing his military record and testifying to his devotion to public service.

Proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished, when Flynn's defense lawyers submitted their sentencing memo they decided to imply that their client hadn't been adequately informed that lying to the FBI could be a crime. So the right wing went crazy, building up all kinds of conspiracy theories about how the former head of Intelligence for the Pentagon, who was briefly national security adviser to the president, had been duped by the corrupt Hillary lovers at the FBI. They've been wringing their hands and rending their garments for the last week about "perjury traps" and "witch hunts," portraying Flynn as a naive rube who couldn't possibly have known that lying to the FBI about Russia -- at a time when everyone in the country knew there was a counter-intelligence investigation into Russian interference in the election -- might not be a smart move.

The Wall Street Journal led the way with a fatuous op-ed called “The Flynn Entrapment,” which claimed that Flynn was a tragic figure who couldn't possibly have lied to the FBI because he was a "highly decorated officer" and that the whole thing "reeks of entrapment." They propose that Flynn may have simply "misremembered," implying that he was so intimidated by the G-men that he just stumbled and then pleaded guilty to crimes he didn't commit. They don't address all the further cooperation in the criminal cases cited by the Mueller team, but others on Fox News and elsewhere seem convinced that Flynn was somehow coerced into lying about all of it out of fear for his life and that of his family.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told Fox News, "I would not be surprised a bit if the conviction of Flynn is overturned because of the Justice Department and the FBI's misconduct." Gadfly law professor Jonathan  Turley, said the case was a  "canned hunt" in which the feds "put [Flynn] in a cage and shot him" by charging him with lying during an interview.

The president echoed those sentiments:

Trump's personal lawyer, the formerly hard-nosed "hang 'em high" federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani, went even further, saying on Fox News that the FBI had set a "perjury trap" and adding,  "I am disgusted with the tactics they have used in this case … what they did to Gen. Flynn should result in discipline – they are the ones who are violating the law.”

The reason right-wingers are so excited about all this is that the judge in the case took the defense attorney's concerns seriously and asked for the underlying interview documents from the FBI. Numerous  bloviators immediately leapt to the conclusion that this will lead to the entire Russia investigation being shut down, and all the evil FBI and DOJ people will be punished for conducting this witch hunt.

Mueller's team responded with a strongly worded rebuttal on Friday, pointing out that Flynn was a seasoned professional who absolutely knew that lying to the FBI is a crime. They also reminded the judge that Flynn had been lying about this for weeks to anyone who asked. In fact, his false statements to Vice President Pence were used by Trump as the reason he was fired.

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Flynn has been one of the smarter clients in this scandal, generally keeping his head down for the last year and doing what his lawyers have told him to do. So it was something of a surprise that his attorneys would raise this issue, considering that their client has pleaded guilty but is unlikely to do any time. Why would they do this?

My first thought was that Flynn had demanded it. Despite his discipline over the last year, as I documented two years ago he is a full-fledged right-wing fruitcake, who even went on TV during the presidential campaign to accuse of Hillary Clinton of pedophilia. His one foray into politics since he pleaded guilty was to campaign for a fringe character who was running against  Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. (in one of the bluest districts in the country), so he doesn't appear to have had an awakening.  (This piece in the Washington Post trying to figure out what happened to the former intelligence officer is interesting but the answer is obvious -- he immersed himself in right-wing media. Many of us have relatives who've fallen down that rabbit hole.)

National security journalist Marcy Wheeler points out that Flynn's lawyers, who are very competent, likely had another reason for trying to get the judge to look at the government's behavior in that interview. Judge Emmett Sullivan is one of the few federal judges who is typically skeptical of government power and will often look more deeply into such cases to ensure that defendants get a fair shake. It's not that Sullivan was especially suspicious in this case. This is how he works. Flynn's lawyers undoubtedly knew that and felt it was in their client's best interest to take this shot.

Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday and since the prosecutors have asked for leniency there is very little chance that he will receive any significant punishment. Whether the judge finds that the FBI frightened that callow young bumpkin, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, into repeatedly lying to everyone in sight about his contacts with Russians, is unknown. Even if he does, this Republican insistence that such a finding would spell the end of Donald Trump's troubles is a fairy tale. He has so many legal problems facing him right now that even if Bob Mueller's office was shut down tomorrow, he'd still be in a world of hurt. There's no way out.


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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