Michael Flynn was the bait. He now embodies the clearest evidence of obstruction of justice and conspiracy within the Trump administration.
We can thank Barack Obama. He laid a clever snare.
Flynn has held many personas over the years. An experienced Army officer, he oversaw intelligence operations in the Middle East, moved to the Pentagon and in 2012, headed up the Defense Intelligence Agency. His military career came to an end two years later when Obama fired him, reportedly for insubordination.
That event marked a turning point for the disgruntled Democrat and disgraced lieutenant-general. His dismissal would draw him closer to Donald Trump; they became two men united in hatred and a thirst for revenge which knew no boundaries.
No doubt, Obama was kept aware of their machinations. His intel community also kept him updated on Russian interference in the presidential campaign and incriminating details surrounding the Trump camp.
We know Obama gave one piece of advice to the incoming president – and Obama correctly bet that Trump would ignore that advice. Stay away from Mike Flynn, warned Obama.
But let’s back up a bit.
A month before the November election, Vice President Joe Biden warned that the U.S. would launch retaliatory actions against Russia for its adversarial interference in the election. Those measures, said Biden, would be “proportional” and could include a cyber offensive and/or sanctions.
On 29 December 2016, then President Obama announced a list of retaliatory measures against the Putin regime for interfering in the presidential election. They included the expulsion of Russian agents in the U.S., sanctions against Russian intel agencies and individual members, and other actions at the time of his choosing.
The following day, Mike Flynn called a senior member of the Trump transition team at Mar-a-Lago, asking for instructions. At that time, the top three heads of the transition were Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions and Chris Christie, in that order. He then called Sergei Kislyak and urged the Russian ambassador to forestall any reaction to the sanctions. These phone calls were made on unsecured phone lines and monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies. Events quickly unfolded. The Russians did not reciprocate with sanctions. Trump bragged about Putin’s restraint:
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016
On 12 January 2017, David Ignatius with the Washington Post broke the news of Flynn’s phone calls with Kislyak – a bit of espionage cheerfully provided by Obama’s intel community. Now, Trump, Flynn and the leadership of the transition team were in the crosshairs. This was their opportunity to denounce Flynn. They did not do so.
A few days later Pence declares on national TV that Flynn’s telephone chat with the Russian were just a coincidence and “had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.” Pence had the opportunity to leave open a window of doubt. He did not do so.
Trump is inaugurated and contrary to the caution of Obama and tone-deaf to the backdrop of Russian sanctions and chats with Kislyak, installs Flynn as his National Security Advisor. A prudent person would have chosen someone without the taint of presidential warning. A patriotic president would have heeded the words and obvious knowledge of the former president. Trump did not.
Trump was given the bait, the warning and multiple opportunities to distance himself from a radioactive Flynn. He chose otherwise.
Two days after his appointment, the FBI are at Flynn’s door, asking about that Kislyak phone conversation. Flynn lied to the FBI. Two days later, on 26 January, Sally Yates, the Acting Attorney General, visits White House Counsel Don McGahn. She tells him that Flynn is susceptible to blackmail by the Russians. She also tells him about his repeated lies to the FBI. McGahn knows this incriminates Flynn in a federal offense. His duty is to advise the president. He invites Yates to the White House the next day and asks for evidence. Yates says she will compile the material and an appointment is set for 30 January.
On the day Yates is to meet with McGahn to prove Flynn’s deceit, Trump summarily fires her. He has walked completely into the trap, protecting a perjurer in what looks like a glaring obstruction of justice.
Ten days later, Flynn begins to retreat from his initial denials regarding discussion of sanctions with Kislyak following media reports and continued FBI pressure. A day before Valentine’s Day, Trump is forced to fire Flynn when it is clear he knew of his calls to Kislyak and the subject of their conversation. Trump also knew Flynn lied to the FBI.
Trump retained Flynn while he was under investigation for two federal crimes and suspected of coordinating foreign policy with the Russians. He had multiple chances to extricate Flynn from his orbit and actively chose not to do so. The day after Flynn left, Trump asked the FBI director, who was investigating Flynn, to end the probe. In another few months, Trump fires Comey, then brags about it in a closed meeting with Kislyak and the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. His words were carried on Russian state TV.
By the end of Trump’s first year in office, his former National Security Advisor pleads guilty to federal charges brought by Special Counsel Mueller and began a year-long intense cooperation that included covert activity.
And now the fruit of Trump’s arrogance and obstinacy and likely criminality is in the harvesting stage. Flynn will probably walk away scot free, at the most, enduring probation and small fines. On the other hand, Robert Mueller is aided significantly in his probe of Trump and the Russians. Plus, there are two new cases as a result of the general’s cooperation: one is criminal and the other unknown but many believe it involves a counter intelligence investigation.
Barack Obama set the trap. Donald Trump walked right in. Imagine how easy it was for Putin.