How did Michael Flynn get caught in an obstruction of justice charge resulting from an FBI interrogation? The answer should serve as a warning signal to anyone who gets a call from law enforcement seeking a meeting, and perhaps especially to Flynn’s old boss at the White House. According to NBC, the FBI called to set up a meeting with Flynn without telling his scheduler the purpose — and no one thought to ask. As a result, Flynn went into the interrogation both unprepared and without legal representation. And the man who set those wheels in motion should be very familiar to everyone by now:
A brief phone call from the office of Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director, to a scheduler for Flynn on January 24 set the interview in motion, according to people familiar with the matter. The scheduler was told the FBI wanted to speak with Flynn later that day, these people said, and the meeting was placed on Flynn’s schedule. The scheduler didn’t ask the reason for the meeting, and the FBI didn’t volunteer it, one person familiar with the matter said.
Later that day, two FBI agents arrived at the White House to speak with Flynn. A lawyer for the National Security Council typically would be informed of such a meeting and be present for it, one person familiar with the procedures said. But that didn’t happen in this instance, and Flynn didn’t include his own personal lawyer, two people said. He met with the two federal agents alone, according to these people.
“No one knew that any of this was happening,” said another senior White House official who was there at the time.
“Apparently it was not clear to Flynn that this was about his personal conduct,” another White House official said. “So he didn’t think of bringing his own lawyer.”
Some may wonder, “How can anyone agree to a meeting with FBI agents without asking its purpose?” To be fair, Flynn was the national security adviser at the time, and that job presumably entails significant engagement with the FBI over counterterrorism issues. Getting a request for a meeting from the deputy director is probably not unique. The scheduler likely assumed that the bureau wanted to start working with the nat-sec adviser ASAP at the beginning of the term. Flynn must have made the same assumption.
If NBC’s account is true, though, it still doesn’t explain why Flynn went forward with the interrogation once its purpose was made clear. At some point, in order for the interrogation to stand up in court, Flynn had to have been read his rights. At that point, you stop talking, except to pick up a phone and get your attorney in there ASAP. Flynn could have ended the meeting at any time rather than make the mistake of handing law enforcement statements that could be impeached later.
But did Flynn realize his peril even after the meeting? NBC reports that Flynn waited two days to tell the White House about the interrogation:
Two people familiar with the matter said Trump was unaware that Flynn had spoken with the FBI until two days after the interview took place. An attorney for Flynn did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
This sequence of events makes it appear as though Flynn got sandbagged. It may be impossible to determine that with any certainty, thanks in large part to the FBI’s refusal to record its interrogations. The interrogation would still hold up legally (assuming Flynn was Mirandized prior to any false statements), but politically it might be a different matter. McCabe has drawn fire for political conflicts of interest, and at least two of his agents appear to have discussed using FBI authority to interfere in the presidential election. Unless McCabe had a really good reason to go after Flynn specifically, one could interpret this sequence of events as an attempt to conduct a political hit job on an incoming administration in order to cripple it, out of political malice. It’s not the only interpretation or even the most likely, but it’s not outside of all rationality either, considering the peculiar machinations of the FBI and the Department of Justice in 2015 and 2016 in its probes of both major-party candidates.
The fact that the DoJ has only indicted Flynn on the one charge of obstruction linked to this interview — over a telephone conversation that was a legitimate part of a presidential transition — makes that an acute question, whether or not it is an accurate analysis. At least it does for Republicans on Capitol Hill:
The knives are out for the FBI on Capitol Hill.
Conservative lawmakers from four separate committees are raising alarm bells about a tranche of missing text messages between two FBI agents assigned to the investigation into Russia and President Trump’s campaign, saying it calls into “further question the credibility and objectivity of certain officials at the FBI.”
Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee lawmakers are refusing to allow the FBI to view a classified four-page memo that GOP members say shows abuse by the bureau of government surveillance powers.
“Well, yeah, they’re the ones that had the problem,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said Tuesday, when asked why the bureau’s request to see the document is being denied.
Again, this may or may not be justified. What it should do, however, is warn Trump and his team from entering into an interrogation or “interview” with Robert Mueller or his investigators. Both Allahpundit and I have written about this before, but this Flynn episode makes it worth repeating the point. There is nothing to be gained by putting one’s self into a perjury trap except to score a few points with the media. Yes, Trump will get reamed by the press if he refuses to answer Mueller’s questions, but for this president, that’s a day ending in a Y anyway. This isn’t a let’s-sit-around-the-campfire-and-see-what-happened exercise; it’s a serious prosecution with ambitious attorneys looking to score the biggest trophy possible. They’re using all of the tactics at their disposal, and even the most disciplined target of a probe would have trouble keeping pace with skilled interrogators. And whatever qualities Donald Trump possesses, a disciplined mouth is not among them.