One potential answer, I would propose, is that Sessions and Flynn lied about their conversations with Kislyak precisely because they were not in the loop on Trump’s other contacts with Russia. They knew that the swirling Trump-Russia scandal was lethally radioactive. They did not know exactly where the radioactivity was centered. They lied to protect the group secret, without themselves knowing what the group secret was. They lied about their own contacts with the Russian ambassador because they intuited that there was some terrible truth about Russia that Trump would want concealed. And because they did not know that truth, they lied extravagantly and excessively, when a guiltier person might have lied more strategically and precisely.

That’s all old news now. But the old news has become urgently relevant again with Trump’s pardon of Flynn on the afternoon of the Wednesday before Trump’s final Thanksgiving as president. Flynn lied to protect Trump. He surely did not know what specifically he was protecting Trump against. But here’s what Flynn did know: Trump wanted to undo the sanctions President Obama had imposed on Russia. That mission would be made easier if Russia did not escalate in response to the Obama sanctions. Flynn sensed that Trump’s preferred Russia policy was based on motives that everybody around Trump recognized as dangerous, even if they could not quite define where the danger lay. So when asked by the FBI about the conversation, Flynn acted like a man aware of a terrible secret that must be concealed at all costs. Trump is now pardoning Flynn to reward him for that concealment, as Trump has already commuted Roger Stone’s sentence, to reward him for his lying. Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen was much more thickly involved in Trump’s dealings with Russia than Flynn. But he stopped lying, so, as of yet, there is no pardon for him.