Michael Flynn ap­pears to have come full cir­cle

The Washington Post - - THURSDAY OPINION -

Re­tired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn ap­pears to have come full cir­cle, if you read care­fully the sen­tenc­ing memo re­leased Tues­day by spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III rec­om­mend­ing that Flynn serve no jail time de­spite plead­ing guilty to mak­ing false state­ments to the FBI.

The Trump cam­paign war­rior of 2016 who led chants of “lock her up” de­rid­ing Demo­cratic can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton, and then lied to the FBI af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion about his se­cret con­tacts with Rus­sia, once again be­came an “ex­em­plary” fig­ure whose ex­am­ple, Mueller says, en­cour­aged oth­ers to do the right thing.

“The de­fen­dant de­serves credit for ac­cept­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity in a timely fash­ion and sub­stan­tially as­sist­ing the gov­ern­ment,” writes Mueller in the sen­tenc­ing memo. Mueller praises Flynn’s “early co­op­er­a­tion” as a spur to oth­ers. “The de­fen­dant’s de­ci­sion to plead guilty and co­op­er­ate likely af­fected the de­ci­sions of re­lated first­hand wit­nesses to be forth­com­ing [with the spe­cial coun­sel’s of­fice] and co­op­er­ate,” the memo notes.

This de­noue­ment, in which Flynn is once again on the side of law en­force­ment and truth-telling, is fas­ci­nat­ing to me as some­one who fol­lowed his ca­reer for more than a decade and re­mem­bers hear­ing his blis­ter­ingly hon­est brief­ings as a com­bat in­tel­li­gence com­man­der in Afghanistan. Flynn be­came dis­ori­ented dur­ing his years in Trump’s or­bit, but the sen­tenc­ing memo sug­gests that he re­cov­ered his bal­ance and sense of duty af­ter Mueller be­gan his in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

There’s a bizarre irony here. Trump pleaded with James B. Comey, the FBI di­rec­tor at the time the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Flynn be­gan, to con­sider “let­ting this go.” That was a grossly im­proper at­tempt to in­ter­fere with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and prose­cu­tion of Flynn’s false state­ments. How strange that it was Mueller, in the end, who de­cided in ef­fect to “let this go” by rec­om­mend­ing no jail time, af­ter the in­ves­ti­ga­tion had run its course and Flynn had pleaded guilty and co­op­er­ated.

The case in­ter­ests me for a per­sonal rea­son, too. The sen­tenc­ing memo cites a col­umn I wrote on Jan. 12, 2017, as the first pub­lic men­tion that Flynn had talked with Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak on Dec. 29, 2016, the day Pres­i­dent Barack Obama im­posed sanc­tions to pun­ish Rus­sia for its med­dling on Trump’s be­half in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“The Post story queried whether the de­fen­dant’s ac­tions vi­o­lated the Lo­gan Act, which pro­hibits U.S. ci­ti­zens from cor­re­spond­ing with a for­eign gov­ern­ment with the in­tent to in­flu­ence the con­duct of that for­eign gov­ern­ment re­gard­ing dis­putes with the United States,” the memo notes.

A buried para­graph in an op-ed col­umn started Flynn’s cas­cade of prob­lems: He lied about his con­tacts with Kislyak in an FBI in­ter­view on Jan. 24, 2017, and was fired as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, charged with ly­ing by Mueller and pleaded guilty. The odd part was that the seem­ing trig­ger for these big con­se­quences was the rel­a­tively small mat­ter of the Lo­gan Act, an 18th-cen­tury heir­loom that has never been en­forced with crim­i­nal prose­cu­tion in mod­ern times. I guess it’s one more ex­am­ple of the abid­ing les­son of po­lit­i­cal scan­dals that it’s not the ini­tial ac­tiv­ity that gets peo­ple in real trou­ble, but the at­tempt to cover it up.

A fi­nal sym­me­try in the Flynn redemp­tion tale is that, by his ac­count, some­thing like this hap­pened to him be­fore, when he was a hell-rais­ing kid in Rhode Is­land. He ex­plains in his 2016 mem­oir, “The Field of Fight,” that he got caught do­ing some “se­ri­ous and un­law­ful ac­tiv­ity” and had to spend a night in the state boys’ pen­i­ten­tiary and serve a year’s pro­ba­tion.

What saved him, Flynn writes, was that he was held ac­count­able for his mis­deeds. “As fate would have it . . . my fa­ther’s steel hands and mother’s pierc­ing eyes of dis­ap­point­ment turned my down­ward tra­jec­tory of crash and burn into a reser­voir of op­por­tu­nity for the rest of my life.”

That’s the way the story is sup­posed to go: from prose­cu­tion to con­fes­sion and even­tual ab­so­lu­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. And that, by Mueller’s ac­count, is pre­cisely what hap­pened in the case of Flynn.


Michael Flynn at the fed­eral court­house in Wash­ing­ton on July 10.

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