In the whirl wind of activity on the special counsel’s Russia investigation, last week we heard that former national security adviser, retired U.S. Army Lt. General Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about talks with the Russian ambassador in December 2016. That situation dealt with his talks that took place during the transition period between Trump’s election victory in November and his inauguration in January 2017. General Flynn’s guilty plea indicates that he is now cooperating with the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
President Trump’s critics were excited by Flynn’s plea, seeing it as the start of what could be the president’s downfall. The sudden news that Flynn was now working and cooperating with Mueller ‘feels earth-shattering, certainly for Democrats the political-left and even Establishment Republicans, for good reason. To many, it may be the moment that everything changed,’ in their favor.
Like most of the claims made about Trump and Russia over the past year, that reaction was overheated. Flynn’s plea, in itself, is not big news. Mueller has not obtained a plea or indictment, from Flynn, or anyone else, related to the issue of Russian collusion, which was the issue that led to his appointment as special counsel. As I previously noted in last week’s article, we have yet to see any evidence of collusion, and it is fairly verifiable that there isn’t going to be any further valid and verifiable evidence. And for that matter, we don’t know if General Flynn has any dirt on the Trump campaign that could prove damaging, certainly from anything I have seen or heard of, having followed this investigation as close as I have for the last year.
Further, conveniently overlooking the lack of evidence on Russia and the whole Russian collusion scheme, Trump’s opponents seized on the fact that Flynn held discussions with Russian officials during the presidential transition, with help from other members of the Trump team. As much of the mainstream media puts it, Flynn and others in the Trump’s campaign and on the transition team were secretly trying to undermine United States foreign policy as private citizens – which is not just wrong, but a criminal violation of the Logan Act’. Of course, anyone who has an ounce of knowledge on national security and foreign policy is well aware that during presidential transitions, the incoming national security adviser to the newly elected president does not requiring Senate confirmation. As a result, serving at the pleasure of the President-Elect, he or she can get right to work as soon as they are named. For the National Security Adviser, much of the time between the election and the Inauguration on January 20th is spent making and developing those international relationships with foreign counterparts, diplomats, and leaders. This is a well-known standard and par for the course, which is both anticipated and understood.
Likewise, President Trump’s opposition’s reaction, particularly in this instance is and has been in a mode of hyperventilation over Flynn’s conversations with the Russian Ambassador. Again, such talks were not and are not illegal. Even Leon Panetta, a Democrat and former CIA Director and Defense Secretary, said it was a ‘stretch’ to say the law was broken. Of course, the Logan Act which has been highlighted by virtually all of Trump’s opponents – under which no one has been indicted under since 1803 – is a shaky foundation for a case. The Act was intended to prevent private individuals meddling in U.S. foreign policy, not high-level officials of an incoming administration during the transition period.
Nor should contacts with the Russians during the transition be considered scandalous. It has been a longstanding practice for an incoming administration to develop relationships with foreign powers before taking office. Obviously, the Obama team itself did it in 2008, as did previous incoming Presidential administrations.
So the questions of concern are — were Flynn and others trying to ‘undermine’ U.S. foreign policy? Obviously and certainly not. Even while the Obama administration had in December 2016 imposed sanctions on Russia for meddling in the U.S. election, Flynn in his discussions with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, suggested to that Russia should not respond in kind and escalate the conflict. It’s hard to describe that as ‘undermining’ U.S. foreign policy. As it happens, everyone knew that Donald Trump campaigned on improving relations with Russia. In fact, if anything, it was more unusual and difficult for the Obama administration to introduce a substantive foreign policy initiative in its final days.
Secondly, the question is, is Flynn’s plea deal and cooperation with Mueller’s special counsel dangerous for President Trump, as his opponents claim? Or is it ‘nothing to see here’, as Trump’s lawyers argue? We don’t know, and it’s not helpful to assume one way or the other. But what we do know is that the special counsel’s investigation is already showing signs that it is troubling and perhaps in mortal danger. Certainly, for one thing, Mr. Mueller has some explaining to do. I would go so far as to say the deal was to protect Flynn’s son, his family, and his financial wellbeing, since Mueller is a gutless coward, who when he can’t obtain fact’s supporting the premise of his investigation, will turn to the use of threatening tactics and go after alternative targets; such as family and finances in order to obtain a guilty plea, or cooperation…on his terms. He can be ruthless – innocent until proven guilty is not in Mueller’s repertoire. In fact, Flynn was not even afforded the opportunity to have attorney present when he was cornered by Mueller’s investigators and questioned.
Turning to the Peter Strzok situation, Republicans believe they have found the individual who can be blamed for it all — a pro-Hillary partisan who let her off the hook and kicked off a witch-hunt against President Trump. But they forget that Strzok had superiors – in particular, then FBI boss James Comey – who signed off on everything. Go figure.
Let me clarify, by this, I’m not referring to the case of FBI agent Peter Strzok, which has Republicans in a frenzy. As you have read and heard, reports emerged earlier this month Strzok, the lead investigator on the Mueller probe, was demoted in July 2017 when it was discovered he had sent anti-Trump texts to his mistress. Strzok, it was revealed, has been involved at every stage of recent government probes into politics: he was involved in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server; apparently, he changed the FBI’s description of her activities from ‘grossly negligent’ to ‘extremely careless’; he signed the document that opened a probe into Russian interference in the election; and he oversaw the interview with Flynn in January, in which Flynn supposedly lied to the FBI. Interestingly, involving policy engagement he was legally authorized to do in his new position and perhaps other work not related to the Russian collusion.
While Strzok involvement in many cases is not fully know at this time, there are disturbing aspects to the current investigations. For one, it is worrying that the special counsel has been non-responsive to Congress. With all of the attention on Mueller, many don’t realize that both houses of Congress are also conducting their own, parallel investigations, and they have Constitutional oversight authority over the special counsel. Now it has recently been learned that Mueller and the Department of Justice concealed the information about Strzok’s demotion from the House investigators, despite earlier Intelligence Committee subpoenas that would have exposed those texts and, or correspondence. Raising the question, why and for what reason. They also refused to answer questions about Strzok’s dismissal and refused to make him available for further interviews by both Congressional committees investigating this matter.
To take it one step further, moreover, the Department of Justice and the FBI have defied subpoenas for documents pertaining to both their surveillance warrants and the infamous Christopher Steele dossier, which was financed by both the Clinton campaign and the FBI, and which relied on anonymous Russian sources. It has now become more than obvious that it was the dossier that initiated the Comey-led probe into the Trump campaign and the call for FISA warrants that subsequently led to Flynn’s unmasking. To this date, it is not clear why Mueller and others are stonewalling, but it’s indicative of an operation that believes it is unaccountable to Congress and therefore the American people. It also suggests they are hiding the political agenda and motive behind this whole instigation. Be aware, it could be difficult to justify any indictments or charges that are politically derived and driven by politics, vice seeking convictions based on criminal acts and violations of the law.
The problem with appointing a special investigator is that they tend to and will go on a fishing expedition; given the wide latitude they are allowed. And so, this now more than ever, seems to be happening with Mueller, who is clearly exceeding his remit. First, he indicted Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, on charges that pre-date Manafort’s work with the campaign, and have nothing to do with alleged collusion. Now, he has brought charges against Flynn that are also off-topic as related to the Russian collusion probe. Mueller’s appointment order and charter, deals with and concerns election interference, not the post-election political decisions and business of the Trump transition team and now the Trump administration. Another key element is this, and it is critically important — Flynn may have lied to the FBI, but those lies were not relevant to the Mueller investigation’s stated purpose. Secondly, Flynn was not afford counsel and to have a lawyer present. Whether this was intentional and by design will be an important component that needs to be addressed.
We don’t have to engage in the rhetoric about a rogue ‘Deep State’ out to get Trump to recognize that Mueller’s investigation has strayed far from its original intent. We also only need to look at the make-up of his investigative legal team. Further, take into consideration the fact that he and the Department of Justice are ignoring our elected representatives in Congress and acting like laws unto themselves. That’s a problem.
If we step back, it’s clear that these inquiries are extended post-mortems on why Hillary lost, and Russia has been the convenient fall-guy for Clinton’s deeply flawed campaign. The Democrats have droned on since the election that Russia ‘hacked’ the election, and that therefore Trump’s presidency is illegitimate. These overexcited Trump critics have not waited for evidence, and it’s notable that they keep moving the goalposts. They started with Russian agents planting fake news and tinkering with election results in localities, with the Trump campaign coordinating it all with the Kremlin. But now that those claims have been widely discredited, they have moved on to Logan Act violations and obstruction of justice. It’s never ending.
There is enough circumstantial evidence, and enough political uncertainty, to justify looking into the Trump campaign and potential Russian interference. But such investigations should be primarily led by Congress, not an unrestrained special counsel. In the meantime, the prudent course would be to wait and see what comes of the investigations, and not jump to conclusions. A number of renowned and prominent Washington lawyers have suggested that a “president cannot obstruct justice, because he is the chief law-enforcement officer.”
Likewise, Fox News’ legal analyst Gregg Jarrett, called the investigation “illegitimate and corrupt” and went so far as to say that “the FBI has become America’s secret police.” Even Senator Lindsey Graham who certainly is no fan of President Trump, but is now calling for a special counsel to investigate the Clinton email scandal, Uranium One, the role of Fusion GPS, and FBI and DOJ bias during 2016 campaign – essentially, every anti-Mueller conspiracy theory that can be brought to bear. And perhaps as ominously, Trump’s allies have been continuously surfacing fallback defenses that could overwhelmingly shut down Mueller’s program all together.
Simply put, the credibility of Mueller’s inquiry is hanging in the balance. He should publicly reveal the facts, confirm the integrity of his team, and make clear that neither he, nor anyone working for him is functioning as Trump haters’ and or NeverTrumpers. Of course, it is obvious no one on his team can affirm that. Otherwise, Mueller will allow his probe to become one more of the partisan, hand-to-hand-combat sideshows that seem to be infecting every corner of American politics. As a result, at this point, if Mueller continues to remain silent, it will be tantamount to acknowledging that his investigation is corrupted by bias, and meant only to pick a fight and contribute to the widespread political division we are seeing like never before in America.