The right-wing meme machine has taken some fairly insane flights of fancy over the last couple of years, but one of it’s craziest has to be the smokescreen they generated around the indictment of General Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI. He was entrapped! Set up! Even the president got involved with a tweet implying that Flynn was framed:
The right wing seemed to be implying that Flynn didn’t realize that lying to the FBI was a crime. Over the weekend, they pointed to the “302” reports from the FBI interview with Flynn in his office at the White House as evidence that they had “ambushed” him. He was questioned by FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, that terrible FBI agent who sent text messages to his girlfriend opposing Trump, and whose deputy assistant was he? Why, that dastardly James Comey himself! It was an obvious perjury trap! They went in there knowing Flynn hadn’t committed a crime, and they asked him questions anyway! Witch Hunt!
What the right-wing fog meisters don’t want you to remember is that Flynn was being questioned by the FBI as part of a counterintelligence investigation that had begun in July of 2016. He was one of four Trump campaign officials under investigation, including Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page. The FBI was under no obligation to inform Flynn that they suspected him of committing a crime, because it wasn’t a criminal investigation. It was a counterintelligence investigation that Flynn found himself wrapped up in because he had been talking to the Russian ambassador, whose phones were tapped as part of the normal counterintelligence operations of the NSA and FBI. This was something Flynn knew about because he had been right in the middle of that loop as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Well, Flynn discovered yesterday that federal judges don’t pay much attention to the right-wing meme machine. They may read tweets by President Trump himself, but they are not beholden to him or anyone else.
Judge Emmet Sullivan blew up the Flynn sentencing hearing yesterday when he indicated strongly that he was considering sending Flynn to jail. He pointed to the American flag hanging from the wall in his courtroom and told Flynn, “you arguably sold your country out.” He even asked prosecutors if they had considered charging Flynn with treason and told him that he “could not guarantee” that he wouldn’t sentence him to prison.
After calling a brief recess to let Flynn think things over, Judge Sullivan walked back his questions about treason before agreeing to a delay in the sentencing proceedings until March, in order to give Flynn a chance for more cooperation with the government.
From the start of the hearing, Sullivan seemed determined to make two points. Using Flynn’s own sentencing memo as a guide, and in an unusual move putting Flynn under oath, he shot down the right-wing conspiracy theory that Flynn had been “ambushed” by the FBI and somehow “entrapped.” He began by asking Flynn if he knew that lying to the FBI was illegal. Flynn said he did. Sullivan asked Flynn if he confirmed that he was guilty of lying to the FBI. Flynn said he did. The judge asked him if he felt he had been entrapped. Flynn said no. He also went out of his way to make it a big deal that Flynn had lied to the FBI in the White House itself, while he was serving as the president’s national security adviser.
None of this was good for Flynn or for the right-wing disinformation machine that had attempted for months to put the FBI on trial. And it was definitely not good news for the president or others in the White House still under investigation by Special Counsel Mueller and his team. The judge seemed to be saying that the commission of a crime while you’re serving the American people in the government gives that crime extra weight. Sullivan said that Flynn had lied to the FBI and lied to officials in the White House. He had told lies, in other words, during the time he was carrying out his official duties as national security adviser. He had lied when he was working for, and being paid by, the taxpayers of the United States. Flynn had broken faith with the American people.
The judge used the prosecution’s sentencing memo to make the point that it seemed to him that there was more cooperating Flynn could do with Mueller’s team. This could have only come from the judge’s reading of the portions of the sentencing memo that had been heavily redacted when released last week. He was careful not to reveal what those redactions had hidden from the public, but he made it clear that he thought Flynn hadn’t told the prosecution everything new knew.
He seemed to be fully aware that the whole Russia investigation began with Flynn, who was the first White House official questioned by the FBI. Flynn’s firing set off Trump’s request to Comey that he go easy on Flynn. When Comey refused, Trump fired him, and that led to the appointment of Special Counsel Mueller and the investigation of Russian influence on Trump’s campaign.
Judge Sullivan was probably aware that Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani went on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” and said it was “not a crime” if Trump happened to have gotten a “heads up” from Roger Stone about Russia’s release of Hillary’s emails.
The right-wing meme monsters and the Trump defense are attempting to define down the definition of “collusion” so that only catching Trump in a room with Vladimir Putin or talking to him on the phone about Russia’s release of Hillary’s emails would amount to a crime. The judge seemed to indicate without directly saying so that he believed Flynn knew more about what went on between the Trump campaign and the Russian government than he has told the prosecutors so far.
It was no wonder then that Flynn and his attorneys agreed to a continuance and promised more cooperation with the investigation of the Special Counsel. This could not have come as good news to the man sitting in the Oval Office, and it will be interesting to see what he tweets about Flynn now. Will he continue to indicate Flynn is a “good guy” who was victimized by the FBI, or will he condemn him as a “rat” they way he did
with his former lawyer Michael Cohen?
The whole right-wing frenzy about Flynn was utter and complete bullshit. At the time he was questioned by the FBI, Michael Flynn was the National Security Adviser to the president. He was a retired Lieutenant General in the Army. He had been director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014, and during that time, had interfaced frequently with the directors of the FBI, the National Security Agency, the CIA, and the director of National Intelligence himself.
Remember “Trump’s generals?” They were supposed to be “the adults in the room.” Flynn was one of them. There was John Kelly, a retired Marine general who started out as Secretary of Homeland Security and ended up as Trump’s chief of staff. There was James Mattis, another retired Marine general, who became Secretary of Defense. There was General Joseph Dunford, the Marine he appointed to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And there was General H.R. McMaster, appointed as national security adviser after Flynn was fired.
Now look at them. McMaster: gone. Kelly: on his way out at the end of the year. Dunford: defenestrated when Trump appointed his successor a year before the end of his term next year. The last “adult” still in the room is Mattis, who Trump called “a Democrat” in a recent Fox News interview, effectively telling the world that his days are numbered too.
Flynn is a former general and an experienced public servant. He knew the law, and he knew his duty to uphold the law by telling the truth. But somehow the man Flynn used to be lost his way. Maybe it happened when he was the opening act at many of Trump’s MAGA rallies during the campaign, watching the assembled loons screaming every time Trump threatened to ban Muslims and “build that wall.” Maybe it happened at the Republican National Convention, when he led the crowd in chants of “lock her up!” after denouncing Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails while she was secretary of state.
Maybe it happened when he found himself having frequent phone conversations and big time one-on-one meetings with Vladimir Putin’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. Maybe it happened when Trump formally appointed him as National Security Adviser, arguably the top job anyone can hold in the country’s national security establishment.
Maybe it all went to his head.
Somehow Flynn found himself standing before a federal judge in Washington D.C. being accused of selling out his country and threatened with jail. The former “adult in the room” was under oath in a federal courthouse in Washington D.C. The right-wing meme machine and Donald Trump’s tweets couldn’t save him, which should worry others in and out of the White House who are under investigation, including Trump himself.
Judge Sullivan doesn’t consider lying to the FBI a minor crime, and neither will the judges who take up other cases in the Mueller investigation. The Flynn sentencing hearing on Tuesday showed that all the tweets and memes in the world won’t save you when you get inside a court of law.