The Trump campaign is in need of a focal point now that the Coronavirus pandemic has tanked the economy. Some campaign advisors think they might have found that focus in Michael Flynn.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last year and was awaiting sentencing when the DOJ dropped the charges yesterday. Amid allegations of improper actions by federal agents, the former army general has become a cause celebre among Republicans, but his favorability among Republicans may not translate into a more general election advantage.
The party line is that Flynn is both innocent and was wrongfully prosecuted. While there may have been problems with the former general’s investigation and prosecution, it is highly questionable whether those problems would have resulted in his exoneration as both Erick Erickson and David French have recently pointed out.
Instead, we are left with a lot of evidence that Flynn is dirty but escaping punishment for his crimes. The general’s legal problems go much deeper than his charge of lying to the FBI, but many on the right overlook Flynn’s other issues.
In addition to the investigation of his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, Flynn was accused of illegally lobbying for Turkey and two of his former business associates were indicted on charges of illegally running a disinformation campaign for the Turkish government against a dissident cleric in the United States. The three men apparently plotted to kidnap the dissident, Fethullah Gulen, and but never carried out the operation. Gulen was to be returned to Turkey’s authoritarian ruler, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, in exchange for $15 million.
Flynn was never formally charged for these acts, leading David French to speculate, based on court documents that reference a plea deal, that Flynn agreed to provide evidence against his business partners in exchange for pleading guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI and cooperating with Mueller investigation. ABC News reporting seems to confirm this suspicion.
Despite the revisionist history of some right-wing pundits, Flynn did not lose his job as national security advisor because he lied to the FBI. Flynn was fired because he lied to Vice President Pence, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Flynn misled the three about his conversations with Ambassador Kislyak and did not admit the truth until he was outed by the Washington Post. Flynn’s lies led these other officials to make false statements.
The decision to drop the charges against Gen. Flynn does not represent an exoneration. In contrast, it may well be the opposite. Flynn is a proven and habitual liar who pleaded guilty. Dropping the charges against an admitted and unrepentant felon because he is a friend of the president represents one of the swampiest aspects of government.
Now, there are reports that the Trump campaign wants to make Flynn into a campaign surrogate. The Daily Beast reports that no less than nine Trump officials have said that they would like to give Flynn a prominent role in the campaign.
“Years ago when Nelson Mandela came to America after years of political persecution he was treated like a rock star by Americans,” John McLaughlin, one of President Trump’s chief pollsters, said. “Now after over three years of political persecution General Flynn is our rock star. A big difference is that he was persecuted in America.”
But Flynn was not persecuted.
The problem with the theory that Flynn was caught in a perjury trap is that perjury traps are easy to avoid. All you have to do to evade them is to not lie. Flynn did not meet that low bar and was caught red-handed in multiple lies at multiple times.
The Trump campaign may try to twist the circumstances of Flynn’s case into a myth of harassment by Deep State agents, but, for those of us outside the Republican Party, there is more to the story. The real story here is the White House intervention in a criminal case on behalf of one of the president’s cronies.
Propping Flynn up on the campaign stage between now and November will serve as a reminder to voters that the rule of law does not necessarily apply if you have the right connections in Trump World. Putting evidence of cronyism and favoritism on display at front and center during a presidential campaign may not be the best strategy for Republicans, but Trump is going to be Trump.