On Flynn

I must admit that I’m kind of disappointed in the public sentencing recommendation for Michael Flynn, because of the extensive redactions and overall caginess it was a bit like finding Coal in your stocking- fine if you need some Coal, a bunch of dirty rocks if you don’t.

Still, people more detail oriented than I, like emptywheel, have been scrivening the details and seem to find some consolation. emptywheel’s pieces (so far) are The Mueller Investigation Is the Second Most Important Investigation into Which Flynn Assisted, Flynn’s Category C (or B iii) Cooperation: Mueller’s Expanded Investigation, and Updating the Mueller Docket: What Has Zainab Ahmad Been Working On? all of which are a tad wonky for me but I invite your perusal.

The best general purpose analyses I’ve been able to find so far are from Greg Sargent and digby. Greg has kind of a general overview of the state of play and digby a piece on why this is good news.

Mueller’s new Michael Flynn memo strengthens obstruction case against Trump
By Greg Sargent, Washington Post
December 5, 2018

The big takeaway from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s new sentencing memo for Michael Flynn is that it underscores how little we know about what Mueller has learned. It says President Trump’s former national security adviser has provided “substantial assistance” to Mueller, notes that he sat for 19 interviews and says he’s cooperating not just with the Russia probe but also with a separate criminal investigation that is not named.

But, by tantalizingly hinting at just how much help Flynn may have provided — and by sketching out the barest outline of the areas in which he offered this help — the memo also underscores the likelihood that Trump obstructed justice when he leaned on then-FBI Director James B. Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.

Mueller’s memo contains a section claiming Flynn provided “firsthand information” about “interactions” between the Trump “transition team and Russian government officials.” It’s not clear who this refers to other than Flynn, but the memo does say Flynn provided information on his own contacts with Russia, noting, significantly, that Flynn represented the “transition team” at the time. The memo then claims Flynn provided “useful information.” But much of it is redacted, suggesting Flynn has told Mueller a lot about this chain of events.

It seems like ancient history now, but Comey’s claim that Trump pressured him over Flynn is worth revisiting in light of these new revelations.

As you’ll recall, Comey kept contemporaneous memos of his early conversations with Trump. One of those memos recounted that in February 2017, Comey met with Trump and others in the Oval Office. Trump asked everyone but Comey to leave, and then repeatedly told Comey that Flynn “hadn’t done anything wrong” in his phone call to the Russian ambassador.

We have now learned that Flynn provided Mueller a great deal of information about this call and about the events surrounding it. This increases the likelihood that Trump leaned on Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn not because he thought Flynn was a “good guy” but because Trump knew Flynn had a lot to disclose on these matters. Which in turn provides a motive for Trump to try to derail the investigation into him, perhaps with “corrupt intent.”

“This memo suggests Flynn has provided a great deal of information about Russian contacts with members of Trump’s team,” Randall D. Eliason, who teaches white-collar crime at George Washington University Law School, told me. “The more Flynn knew about those contacts, the more motive the president would have had to try to keep that information under wraps by getting the Flynn investigation shut down.”

We don’t know what Flynn told Mueller, but let’s go over some unknowns here that Flynn might have addressed. As The Post notes, Flynn’s original guilty plea did not say whether Trump told Flynn to call the Russian ambassador (which Trump has denied) and did not explain why Flynn lied to the FBI to begin with.

Also, don’t forget that Trump buffoonishly tweeted that he “had to” fire Flynn because he lied to the FBI, which would suggest that Trump knew this at the time. (Flynn pleaded guilty to it months later.) Trump’s lawyer hastily walked that back, but what did Trump know at the time, both about Flynn’s contact with Russia and about Flynn’s lie to the FBI about it? What did he tell Flynn?

Recall that we already know that Mueller has been scrutinizing the period of 18 days that passed between Flynn’s lie and his firing over it — for answers to precisely these questions. Ya think Flynn might have some of those answers?

In a good opinion piece, Bloomberg Opinion executive editor Timothy L. O’Brien points to other big unknowns. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner also had contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition and also may have directed Flynn to communicate with him. (Note that Mueller’s memo does vaguely reference multiple transition team contacts with Russia.) As O’Brien points out, if Kushner offered a different account of these events than Flynn has, Kushner “may have to start scrambling.”

We don’t yet know what’s under those redactions. But it’s likely that they are concealing a lot of information — shared by Flynn — that Trump did not want the FBI to know about. Which might have given Trump good reason (in his mind, anyway) to try to get the FBI to stop looking into it.

Here’s the Bloomberg piece Sargent was just talking about.

Mueller’s Flynn Memo Should Worry Kushner and Trump
By Timothy L. O’Brien, Bloomberg News
December 5, 2018

Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser who pleaded guilty a year ago to lying to federal law enforcement officials, has participated in 19 interviews with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office since early last year. He’s also assisted with several ongoing investigations — including an undisclosed criminal one — that are part of a probe of possible collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Kremlin.

All of that, plus Flynn’s “substantial assistance,” early cooperation, and acceptance of “responsibility for his unlawful conduct,” led Muller’s team to ask the court to grant Flynn a lenient sentence that doesn’t include prison time, according to a highly anticipated sentencing memo the special counsel’s office filed Tuesday night.

And there wasn’t much more than that in 13 concise and heavily redacted pages that let down anyone expecting the document to be another public narrative fleshing out lots of fresh detail about Mueller’s investigation. Still, the filing, and some new details in it, should give pause to members of Trump’s inner circle — especially the president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner.

Mueller’s memo noted that federal investigators’ curiosity about Flynn’s role in the presidential transition seemed to have been sparked by a Washington Post account of a conversation he had with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, in December 2016. The filing also detailed a series of lies Flynn told about his contacts with and work for the Turkish government while serving in the Trump campaign. (Given that Trump and a pair of his advisers had been pursuing a real estate deal in Moscow during the first half of 2016, Flynn might mistakenly have seen wearing two hats as noncontroversial.)

But the meat of what should worry Team Trump is in Mueller’s disclosure that Flynn has provided firsthand information about interactions between the transition team and Russian government officials — including, as was already known, several conversations with Kislyak in December 2016. Those included a discussion about lifting economic sanctions the Obama administration had imposed on Russia and about a separate matter involving a United Nations resolution on Israel.

The timeline around Flynn’s conversations is crucial because it shows what’s still in play for the president and Kushner — and why Mueller may have been content to lock in a cooperation agreement that carried relatively light penalties, as well as why Flynn’s assistance seems to have subsequently pleased the veteran prosecutor so much.

Kushner’s actions are also interesting because the Federal Bureau of Investigation has examined his own communications with Kislyak — and Kushner reportedly encouraged Trump to fire his FBI director, James Comey, in the spring of 2017, when Comey was still in the early stages of digging into the Trump-Russia connection.

Comey, and his successor, Mueller, have been focused on possible favor-trading between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. We know that Russian hackers directed by Russian intelligence operatives penetrated Democrat computer servers in 2016 and gave that information and email haul to WikiLeaks to disseminate as part of an effort to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. Trump was also pursuing that business deal in Moscow in 2016 and had other projects over the years with a Russian presence. What might the Kremlin have been expecting in return? A promise to lift U.S. economic sanctions?

After a meeting in Trump Tower with Kislyak on Dec. 1, 2016, which Flynn and Kushner attended together, the ambassador arranged another gathering on Dec. 13 for Kushner and a senior Russian banker with Kremlin ties, Sergei Gorkov. The White House has said that meeting was innocent and part of Kushner’s diplomatic duties. In a statement following his testimony before Congress in the summer of 2017, Kushner said that his interactions with Flynn and Kislyak on Dec. 1 only involved a discussion of Syria policy, not economic sanctions. He said that his discussion with Gorkov on Dec. 13 lasted less than 30 minutes and only involved an exchange of pleasantries and hopes for better U.S.-Russian relations — and didn’t include any discussion of recruiting Russians as lenders or investors in the Kushner family’s real estate business.

Kislyak enjoyed continued lobbying from the White House after his meetings with Kushner. On Dec. 22, Flynn asked Kislyak to delay a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for building settlements in Palestinian territory. Flynn later told the FBI that he didn’t ask Kislyak to do that, which wasn’t true. Court documents filed last year said that a “very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” directed Flynn to make an overture to Kislyak about the sanctions vote. According to reporting from my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Eli Lake and NBC News, Kushner was that “senior member.” Bloomberg News reported that former Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus also pushed Flynn to lobby Kislyak on the U.N. vote. (Kushner didn’t discuss pressing Flynn to contact Kislyak in his statement last summer and instead noted how infrequent his direct interactions were.)

Kushner’s role in these events isn’t discussed in Mueller’s sentencing memo for Flynn. The absence of greater detail might cause Kushner to worry: If Flynn offered federal authorities a different version of events than Kushner — and Flynn’s version is buttressed by documentation or federal electronic surveillance of the former general — then the president’s son-in-law may have to start scrambling (a possibility I flagged when Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017).

Michael Flynn comes clean — after betraying the country
by digby, Hullabaloo
Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The special counsel’s office finally submitted its sentencing memorandum to the court late yesterday and it turns out that while Flynn may not have been saying much to the public he was talking up a storm to prosecutors. The memorandum says he’s met with them 19 times, which most experts said was the number of meetings you’d typically only hold if you were preparing for a trial. It’s a lot.

Apparently, Flynn impressed Mueller’s office with the depth and breadth of his cooperation, particularly since he sang very early in the process and the information he provided was vital in convincing others to come clean as well. Mueller’s team is so happy with Flynn’s testimony that they are recommending he serve no jail time.

This is unlikely to be such a happy day for President Trump, however. One of the main reasons the special counsel asked for the most lenient sentence possible is because Flynn offered prosecutors “first hand” knowledge of events. According to former federal prosecutor Chuck Rosenberg on MSNBC, that means he “was in the room where it happened” (quoting “Hamilton”). Since Flynn was traveling with Donald Trump during the campaign and worked closely with him during the transition on issues of interest to the Mueller team, it stands to reason that Trump is likely to be one of the people who was also in that room. Rosenberg pointed out that the recommendation says Flynn provided “substantial” cooperation, a term of art among prosecutors used when a witness has provided extraordinarily useful information.

Unfortunately, and much to everyone’s disappointment, there isn’t a lot to go on to determine what Flynn actually told them. The sentencing document is more redacted than not, although it does provide a few tantalizing clues. First, it appears that aside from cooperating in the Russia investigation as we understand it, Flynn also gave evidence in an unknown criminal investigation, as well and a third investigation that as completely redacted so we literally have no clue what it might be. It could be criminal, civil or counter-espionage; there’s no telling. It’s totally blacked out. Whatever these investigations may be, they seem to be important enough that Mueller continues to pursue them.

National security reporter Marcy Wheeler speculates that the criminal case may be related to Flynn’s business connections to Turkey and that the third, completely redacted case might be a counter-espionage investigation. Recall that Flynn was also involved in a scheme to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia and was implicated in a weird plot with a now-deceased right-wing activist named Peter Smith to find Hillary Clinton’s emails. It’s also possible these investigations could be related to matters we haven’t yet heard about.

Most observers thought that Flynn being sentenced would signal that the Russia probe is coming to an end. His date has been postponed numerous times, so it seemed logical to assume that they were holding back until they were finished. But it now appears prosecutors believe he will be cooperative in the future, even without a jail sentence hanging over his head, which probably means Flynn has testified before a grand jury and they have his testimony locked in. They may have come to appreciate his candor, but I doubt any of this is based on trust. Flynn is smart enough to listen to his lawyer but he’s not smart enough to avoid Donald Trump. So it’s doubtful Mueller is letting him off the hook without guarantees of his future cooperation.