While the mainstream media projects that former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s guilty plea in lying to the FBI presages the possibility that the case of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government will break wide open, there’s another possibility: that special counsel Robert Mueller is about to unleash a wave of minor charges with no underlying crimes.
Flynn’s plea deal suggests that his crime was lying to the FBI about conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak — after the election. Supposedly, Flynn spoke with Kislyak about backing off of retaliation against Obama administration sanctions, and also about delaying a late-Obama administration United Nations resolution designed to condemn Israeli settlements. It’s completely unclear why Flynn would lie about such conversations; they weren’t illegal. In fact, most Americans would want the transition team to talk to foreign governments about the policy to be implemented in mere weeks.
But Flynn apparently lied, and now admits to it.
That means that Flynn will be testifying against other members of the administration who supposedly told him to speak with Kislyak. Speculation suggests that the top official was Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. But so what? Kushner committed no crime in telling Flynn to reach out to the Russians in order to quash bad Obama policy, particularly on Israel.
Unless Kushner fibbed to the FBI too, for some unspecified reason.
One reason could be simple inexperience. It’s possible that Flynn and that unspecified upper-echelon official simply didn’t know it wasn’t a problem to speak with Kislyak. It’s possible that they did it without the permission of Trump. Incompetence is always a more obvious answer than malice when it comes to the administration.
But if that upper-echelon official lied to the FBI, Mueller could charge him along the same lines as the charges against Flynn, hoping to ensnare further officials in a chain of lies about contacts with the Russian government that (a) weren’t illegal and (b) were post-election.
This sets off the distinct possibility of a bevy of legal charges based on untruth, but with no underlying crime. This wouldn’t be about collusion or election-rigging, but about ensnaring Trump administration officials in their own words. It would look less like Watergate, and much more like the political prosecution of Scooter Libby, the assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney, who was prosecuted by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for supposedly lying about a phone call with Tim Russert — even though the underlying investigation centered on Richard Armitage leaking CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name to the media. President Bush ended up commuting Libby’s sentence.
We could very well end up in the same situation here. If there is no underlying crime — if this is sheer incompetence followed up by lying to the FBI about sheer incompetence, all based on anger at flimsily-sourced charges of Russian collusion — we could quickly find ourselves in a scenario where President Trump seeks to pardon those around him, fire Mueller, and then be put up for impeachment by Democrats — all without any proof of actual criminal wrongdoing with regard to Russia. That would turn into a massive political conflagration. We’d have a scandal about a scandal about nothing.
We don’t know yet, of course. But everyone ought to wait before declaring that there’s no there there, or that there is certainly a bombshell buried in Robert Mueller’s files.