Kushner’s probably next
Here’s the Statement of the Offense filed by Mueller’s office in connection with Mike Flynn’s plea deal today. The juiciest parts refer to lies Flynn told about two separate chats he had with certain unnamed “Presidential Transition Team officials” in December, while Trump was getting ready to take office. One chat came on December 22 and had to do with the upcoming UN vote on Israeli settlements; the unnamed official wanted Flynn to lobby the Russians, among others, to vote no. The other call came on December 29 and had to do with Obama’s new sanctions on Russia. That official wanted Flynn to lobby the Russians not to retaliate, presumably because Trump’s administration planned to lift the sanctions soon after taking power.
Eli Lake’s sources suggest that the unnamed official with whom Flynn chatted on December 22 call about the UN vote was Jared Kushner.
At the time, the U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements was a big deal. Even though the Obama administration had less than a month left in office, the president instructed his ambassador to the United Nations to abstain from a resolution, breaking a precedent that went back to 1980 when it came to one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N.
This was the context of Kushner’s instruction to Flynn last December. One transition official at the time said Kushner called Flynn to tell him he needed to get every foreign minister or ambassador from a country on the U.N. Security Council to delay or vote against the resolution. Much of this appeared to be coordinated also with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose envoys shared their own intelligence about the Obama administration’s lobbying efforts to get member stats to support the resolution with the Trump transition team.
Flynn told the FBI that he had merely asked other countries how they’d be voting on the resolution, not lobbying them to vote a certain way, and that the Russian ambassador never told him how they’d be voting. Those were both lies, apparently, and therefore federal crimes.
And so now the big question: Did Jared Kushner also lie to the FBI about what he and Flynn had discussed? The Times reported just yesterday that he was interviewed last month by Mueller’s office. Guess what they asked him about.
The questions focused on a meeting in December between Mr. Kushner, the ambassador and Michael T. Flynn, who at the time was the president’s incoming national security adviser, the person said on Wednesday.
Prosecutors also asked Mr. Kushner about other interactions between Mr. Flynn and the Russian government, the person briefed on the investigation said.
If Kushner lied to the FBI then he’s getting indicted too — unless, of course, he strikes his own plea deal with Mueller, which would place the special counsel even closer to the president himself. That was probably the primary goal of Mueller’s investigators in interviewing Jared, in fact. All they need to do is catch him in a lie and they’ve got leverage to flip him. Flynn was willing to lie to them so why wouldn’t Kushner, who’s probably counting on a presidential pardon (with good reason), be arrogant enough to do the same thing?
But wait. Jared may have been the PTT official who chatted with Flynn on December 22 about the UN but who was the other PTT official who spoke to him on December 29 about Russia sanctions? Was that Kushner too? Probably not: Natasha Bertrand of Business Insider notes that the Statement of the Offense says the person who talked to Flynn was at Mar-a-Lago that day but Jared and Ivanka had flown to Hawaii for vacation on the 22nd. It’s unlikely they were back in Florida seven days later. So who could it have been?
Could it have been … the president-elect himself? And if it was, what’s wrong with that?
While it is unclear who Flynn himself is prepared to name, Fox News has been told by a former senior intelligence officer with knowledge of Trump transition activities that then-President-Elect Trump directed Flynn during that period to contact the Russians — while also directing him and his team to contact 12 other countries.
“The transition team felt that the Obama White House had completely abandoned any coherent foreign policy and had to fill the vacuum,” the former official told Fox News.
The purpose of the calls, according to the source, was to assure the other nations that the incoming adminstration would soon be in place and not to overreact to last-minute actions taken by the Obama team.
If Trump was pushing Flynn to contact various countries, Russia among them, to try to “freeze” international relations for the time being until he took office, who cares? Sure, potentially he would be guilty of violating the Logan Act for that (that’s the law that says private citizens can’t conduct diplomacy with a foreign government “in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States”) but the Logan Act is a joke. It’s never enforced. It operates essentially as a punchline among political junkies, who bring it up any time an American is caught talking to a foreign regime without the White House’s sanction. It’s especially stupid in the context of a president-elect understandably not wanting his predecessor to wreck any chances he has of a diplomatic reset with foreign powers in his last few days in office and working behind the scenes to make sure he doesn’t.
If Mueller’s big sting produces nothing worse against Trump and Kushner than Logan Act indictments, he’ll be a laughingstock overnight and accused by Trump fans of persecuting the administration by employing a statute that is, for all intents and purposes, defunct. He’ll also be accused of a double standard in light of Comey letting Hillary Clinton off the hook in Emailgate last summer. Comey refused to charge her because the relevant statute on mishandling classified information had in the past only been used to prosecute someone for intentional mishandling, not recklessness, even though by its own terms recklessness was all the feds needed to show. The law simply hadn’t been enforced enough previously to justify making a special exception to prosecute Hillary, Comey argued. If Mueller indicted Kushner or Trump under the Logan Act, he’d have to explain what’s different between this case and that one. Why is it okay to indict Republicans under a rarely (actually, never) used statute but not Democrats?
He must be working on something bigger than the Logan Act. If Brian Ross is right that Trump pushed Flynn to talk to the Russians during *the campaign*, not after he’d already won the presidency, that’s obviously a bigger deal. If you’re going to bring Logan Act charges, at the very least you’d want to do it for actions taken before your target won a national election to place him in charge of U.S. foreign policy. And if Trump and Flynn were chatting with Russia during the campaign, that raises the possibility of the holy grail of Russiagate misconduct, actual collusion between Team Trump and Moscow to defeat Clinton. Whatever it is Mueller has cooking, it has to be hot:
Like Ed said earlier, we can all count here. Flynn was looking at something like 60 years in prison potentially for offenses he may have committed; what he ended up with was lighter than a wrist slap. His cooperation surely must be worth more than an embarrassing ticky-tack Logan Act indictment of Jared Kushner to earn him a sweetheart deal like that. Evidence of collusion is possible, I guess, but it feels like we’re awfully late in this war for that particular bombshell not to have dropped yet. More likely, I think, is that Flynn knows something about Trump and/or his aides trying to derail the Russiagate investigation through whatever means. We know that Trump nudged Comey to go easy on Flynn, we know as of yesterday that he’s been nudging Senate Republicans to wrap up their own Russia probe ASAP — he hasn’t been shy about communicating his exasperation with this process to key players, however improper that might have been. What if, behind the scenes, he offered Flynn some sort of deal, perhaps involving a pardon, in exchange for him lying to investigators to protect the White House? That’s just speculation, but without proof of collusion an obstruction of justice charge would be the strongest thing Mueller could throw at Trump. Politically it would be viewed as a serious offense, unlike the Logan Act, and might trigger impeachment. To get such a sweet deal, Flynn may have offered him evidence of it — or of collusion, of course. Either would be no bueno for Trump.
In lieu of an exit question, watch as anti-Trumpers heckle Flynn with his most famous line from the campaign trail last year. James Comey is taking a victory lap too on Twitter, which seems premature. It’s possible that the only indictments that’ll issue in this case apart from Paul Manafort’s will be for lying to federal officials, without any underlying crime or collusion. Imagine how that would play publicly.