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Michael Flynn's Sentencing Memo Should Terrify Trump

Flynn will receive a minimal sentence for his cooperation in the Special Counsel's investigation because he has given Mueller vital information.
Photograph courtesy of the BBC

Photograph courtesy of the BBC

Yesterday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office released both a sentencing memo and a heavily redacted addendum regarding former National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn. He recommended a "sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration," because Flynn cooperated "promptly, fully, truthfully, and productively." 

The memo is as interesting for what it doesn't say as what it does say, and it should terrify the Trump White House. 

Flynn Helped Three Separate Investigations

Last December, Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI, becoming the second person in Trump's inner circle to cut a deal with Mueller's team. The first, George Papadapoulos is currently serving a 14-day prison sentence for lying to the FBI. Flynn has remained largely out of the news since then.

According to the memo/addendum released today, Flynn offered "particularly valuable" information in three investigations. The first investigation involves his connections to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, with whom he discussed Obama's Russian sanctions and delaying an upcoming UN Security Council vote on Israeli settlements during the transition period in 2016. Flynn lied about these conversations to the FBI and acting attorney general Sally Yates in January 2017. 

At the same time, Flynn was acting as a foreign agent on behalf of the Turkish government. In March 2017, he lied to the DOJ in multiple documents pertaining to a "Turkey Project" he had been working on since August 2016, shortly after President Erdogan's seizure of power. Flynn, who was working on the Trump campaign, failed to disclose this information under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. These actions led to his resignation as National Security Adviser after only 24 days in office.

The second investigation he helped with is the main one into Trump's connections with the Russian government during the campaign. About this, we know less due to the addendum's many redactions. The redactions also render the third investigation a mystery, although what little information can be gleamed indicates that it is a criminal investigation separate from the Trump-Russia scandal.

Why the White House should be very, very afraid

Flynn began cooperating with the Special Counsel and prosecutors almost as soon as his guilty plea was announced, handing over relevant documents and communications and sitting with them an astonishing 19 times. While specifics about what he told them will not be revealed for some time, legal scholars surmise he strengthened one major aspect of the case: Trump's obstruction of justice in firing FBI Director James Comey.

Comey's memos concerning his meetings with Trump reveal that in February 2017, then Chief-of-Staff Reince Priebus asked Comey whether there was a FISA investigation into Flynn. While his answer is redacted, it reveals that the White House was already worried about Flynn at this early stage - and Comey answered in the affirmative, it adds to the drama that occurred the day after he was fired, when Trump told him that Flynn was "a good guy...I hope you can let this go." 

According to Greg Sargent of The Washington Post

"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."

George Washington University law professor Randall D. Eliason agrees, adding that if Flynn had substantial information regarding the Trump campaign's Russia connections, "the more motive the president would have had to try to keep that information under wraps by getting the Flynn investigation shut down.” 

Again, you do not sit for 19 separate interviews with federal prosecutors unless you have something very, very compelling to say. 

The White House's response

The White House is already doing its best to downplay the memo. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told NBC White House correspondent Hallie Jackson that if Mueller actually had something to point the finger at Trump, then the "publicity-hungry, angry Democrats" would have "revealed it, not redacted it". 

Guiliani then sent an angry text message to Politico that read, "Wow big crime for a SPECIAL WHATEVER...maybe a group of Angry Bitter Hillary Supporters who are justifying themselves by the goal justifies the means."

Despite Giuliani's bluster, it is impossible to tell whether the redacted parts of the memo are damaging to Trump or not. By conflating the Special Counsel with the Democratic Party (based on no evidence) it is clear however, that Giuliani is deeply worried about what Mueller may later reveal. 

A final clue?

The best revelation in the memo is saved for last. According to Mueller, Flynn was instrumental in getting other witnesses to come before the Special Counsel. 

The addendum concludes, that "The usefulness of the defendant's assistance is connected to its timeliness," adding that Flynn was, "one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight regarding events and issues under investigation by the SCO [Special Counsel's Office]."

"Additionally, the defendant's decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the SCO and cooperate".

Mueller's gratitude towards Flynn is an indication he has been instrumental in building an extremely serious case with far reaching implications. As Jennifer Rubin notes in the Washington Post, "We do not know whether Flynn has implicated Trump, but it is hard to imagine that Mueller would alleviate Flynn of any jail time unless the information was very useful in snaring a very big fish."

This could well mean that the man who popularized the phrase "lock her up" may be instrumental in bringing Trump and his inner circle to justice.