An intriguing leftover from yesterday. Here’s something I wrote last month about reports that Trump had allegedly sent Flynn private messages to “stay strong” and hoped to bring him back to the White House someday. Did the president feel remorse that a friend and loyal campaign surrogate had been ousted so unceremoniously? Or was he trying to stay on Flynn’s good side for self-interested reasons?
What if Trump isn’t such a heartfelt fan of Flynn but rather is behaving strategically in constantly praising him, telling him to stay strong, etc? He may have been spooked by the reports that circulated weeks ago that Flynn was seeking an immunity deal from prosecutors. The more derisive the White House is towards Flynn publicly, the more it risks angering and alienating him. This story about wanting to bring him back may be the capper on months of telling interviewers how “wonderful” Flynn is: Basically, the sources are dangling a job at him if he’s careful not to incriminate anyone at the White House during his legal troubles.
Now here’s Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse yesterday on MSNBC. Whitehouse is a partisan, of course, but he knows what he’s talking about in terms of flipping witnesses. He was a U.S. Attorney in Rhode Island before becoming the state’s Attorney General.
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 20, 2017
Jeremy Stahl at Slate dialed up some experts after Whitehouse’s interview to ask if he was blowing smoke or if he’s right that the tea leaves here point to Flynn rolling over on Trump and/or whoever else the feds are looking at in connection with Russiagate. The results are a mixed bag. You can’t read anything into the fact that Flynn has kept quiet since leaving the White House, Stahl’s sources seem to agree, but if it’s true that he lied to the FBI about what he discussed with the Russian ambassador then the FBI has a lot of leverage over him legally. And James Comey himself testified a few weeks ago that the feds typically make cooperating witnesses correct mistakes they’ve made on basic legal compliance — like, say, Flynn initially failing to register as a foreign lobbyist for Turkey, something he’s since done. There’s also the small matter of Flynn allegedly having sought immunity months ago, something that may now be in play as the Russiagate/obstruction investigations ripen. Only the FBI knows whether Flynn really has flipped but it’s not crazy to read Trump’s enduring public warmth towards Flynn as evidence that he’s worried Flynn might flip.
Oh, there’s also this:
A veteran federal prosecutor recruited onto special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is known for a skill that may come in handy in the investigation of potential ties between Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign team: persuading witnesses to turn on friends, colleagues and superiors.
Andrew Weissmann, who headed the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal fraud section before joining Mueller’s team last month, is best known for two assignments – the investigation of now-defunct energy company Enron and organized crime cases in Brooklyn, New York – that depended heavily on gaining witness cooperation.
What could Flynn have on Trump, though? Unless you believe the most febrile Democratic theories about “collusion,” that Trump and Flynn were prepared to help Russia hack the DNC or target key voters with propaganda or sell out U.S. interests for some sort of payday, the most obvious dirt Flynn might have is that Trump put him up to talking sanctions with Kislyak. But even if he did, so what? He was the incoming president and the Russians would have had no proof that Trump had issued that order, so Trump couldn’t be blackmailed over it. What’s Mueller going to do, charge him with violating the Logan Act? Please. The other possibility is that Flynn might testify that Trump knew all along how exposed Flynn was to blackmail, whether because he’d failed to properly register as a foreign lobbyist or because of his phone call with Kislyak, yet chose to make him National Security Advisor anyway. The problem with that theory is that, er, we already sort of know that. The White House was notified by Sally Yates in late January of the Kislyak phone call and Trump kept Flynn on as NSA for weeks anyway. It’s also already been reported that Trump’s transition team knew that Flynn had failed to register as a lobbyist but kept him on board the new administration. There’s no question, really, that Trump knew prior to his dismissal that Flynn was compromised in one way or another. (He’d also been warned personally by Barack Obama not to trust him.) If he chose to make him NSA anyway, that’s terrible judgment but not obviously any sort of crime.
Speaking of which, the NYT reported yesterday that although the CIA knew at the same time Yates did that Flynn was a target for blackmail by the Russians, CIA Director Mike Pompeo continued to deliver the morning daily briefing to Trump during the first three weeks of the administration with Flynn sitting right there, soaking up the details. How come? Or better yet, what alternative did Pompeo have? If he had refused to deliver the briefing in Flynn’s presence, it would have placed the head of the CIA in direct conflict with the National Security Advisor, leaving Trump little choice but to remove one of them. Pompeo could have withheld sensitive information during the briefing so that Flynn wouldn’t hear it, but then he’d be withholding it from the president too — and if he tried to get it to Trump through other means when Flynn wasn’t around and Flynn found out, they’d be right back at a direct conflict. What do you do when the president insists on trusting a guy with the most delicate secrets who, for basic prudential reasons, really shouldn’t be trusted?