At nearly every turn of the probe into Russian interference into the 2016 election, President Donald Trump was working to make sure Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, knew that the White House was on his side – and that the President himself thought Flynn was a good guy.
Now we seem to know why.
Trump was worried – and it turns out, rightly – that Flynn knew things that would be problematic for the President as it related to Russia. And that if Flynn cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe – as he eventually did – it would have negative consequences for the administration. Court records released Thursday night revealed previously unknown details of Flynn’s cooperation. Here’s the key bit from the story:
“The Flynn court records revealed Thursday show that the fired first national security adviser helped Mueller’s investigation on at least three prongs: as the special counsel looked into interaction between the Trump transition team and Russia, WikiLeaks’ release of emails during the presidential campaign and the President’s efforts to interfere with the investigation. Flynn also assisted the Eastern District of Virginia and prosecutors from the Justice Department’s National Security Division with a now-open case against his former lobbying partner, who allegedly worked illegally for Turkey.”
Among the things Flynn and his lawyers provided the special counsel was a voicemail from a Trump associate to a Flynn lawyer asking for “some kind of heads up” if Flynn was planning to cooperate with the government and what he might be telling them. That call came the same day that Flynn’s lawyers broke off their cooperation agreement with White House lawyers and just days before he took a plea deal from Mueller.
Trump responded Friday with a tweet: “It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge. It would have been impossible for me to know this but, if that was the case, and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?”
While news of the voicemail is new, it very much fits a pattern of clear concern – mixed with an attempt at care and feeding – from Trumpworld toward Flynn.
It began in February 2017 when Trump, in a sitdown with James Comey, asked the FBI director to “let this go” in reference to the investigation off Flynn and his inaccurate statements about his contacts with Russia. (That’s according to a contemporaneous memo Comey wrote of the meeting.)
By March 2017, Trump had taken to Twitter to make clear that he was still behind Flynn. “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!,” tweeted Trump.
“So General Flynn lies to the FBI and his life is destroyed, while Crooked Hillary Clinton, on that now famous FBI holiday ‘interrogation’ with no swearing in and no recording, lies many times…and nothing happens to her?” Trump tweeted in December 2017. “Rigged system, or just a double standard?”
At around that same time, according to the Mueller report, Trump’s personal attorney reached out to Flynn’s attorneys to ensure them that Flynn knew Trump has always had “warm feelings’ toward the former adviser and that those feelings remained. The attorney for Trump also requested that Flynn let Trump know if he was aware of any “information that implicates the President.” Flynn’s lawyers refused that offer, noting that they no longer were working under a joint defense agreement. Trump’s lawyers said they’d tell the President that Flynn’s actions reflected “hostility” toward him.
And then there was this tweet, in December 2018, as Flynn’s sentencing document was about to be revealed: “Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn. Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion in our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign. There was no Collusion!”
The messages were absolutely unmistakable throughout these two years:
1. Trump wanted Flynn to be forgiven/released
2. Trump wanted Flynn to know he was still his guy
3. Trump’s lawyer wanted to know exactly what Flynn was telling the special counsel
4. Trump’s lawyers wanted to make sure Flynn knew Trump would not be happy about his cooperation
Add it all up and you get this: Trump was very worried about what Flynn knew and what he would tell Mueller. So he took a series of actions to try to ensure Flynn didn’t do it.
What’s remarkable about all of this is that Flynn did do it – and it wound up not implicating Trump or anyone in his orbit in collusion with the Russians to this point.
As Thursday’s court document makes clear, Flynn was a key witness for Mueller on a variety of fronts. Trump knew that – at least on the collusion front – and so did things to keep Flynn from talking that ultimately provided evidence of potential obstruction of justice.
And yet, Mueller recommended no charges on the collusion front. Or the obstruction front. Which makes you wonder: Why was Trump so worried about Flynn cooperating?