The huge news buried inside the big news that Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to the FBI seemed to be that Donald Trump was not implicated. But that is wrong and then some because Robert Mueller, who is more than proving his mettle as a brilliant prosecutorial strategist, has now laid the groundwork for Trump's impeachment by documenting that the president-elect's transition team sought to undermine Obama foreign policy with the Kremlin's help. And what's more, one of Trump's closest advisers and a man he once considered to be his vice president will be the special counsel's star witness.
That man, of course, is Michael Flynn.
In agreeing to cooperate with Mueller's investigation in exchange for a wrist-slap charge, Flynn has kicked open a hornet's nest of documentation that Trump's presidential transition team drew on the campaign's by then well-established relationship with Russia to try to sabotage Obama administration foreign policy.
The campaign's collusion with Russia in Vladimir Putin's successful plot to cybersabotage the Hillary Clinton campaign was an unprecedented assault from America's greatest foe on the bedrock of its democracy. But that has failed to move the impeachment needle in an overwhelmingly Republican Congress more interested in enacting a draconian agenda than punishing the president.
But coupled with obstructing justice, undermining American foreign policy is so unambiguously an impeachable -- and textbook traitorous -- offense that Trump's allies in Congress, the very people who forced him to accept their veto-proof sanctions legislation over the summer, will have great difficulty defend that offense even by embracing truth-distorting White House logic. Then there is a third potential article of impeachment if Trump tries to remove Mueller.
The White House's logic has magically transformed Flynn from a Trump pal who happened to be in the room with him almost every day for the better part of a year into a "former Obama administration official" in the words of Ty Cobb, Trump's lead criminal lawyer.
While that won't wash, efforts over the weekend by Cobb and John Dowd, another of Trump's criminal lawyers, to portray Flynn as a rogue actor who had acted independently in his interactions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak are ludicrous because, as emails leaked to The New York Times reveal, Flynn not only was in close touch with senior members of the transition team as their point person for Russia contacts, but the team had ignored a pointed request from the Obama administration to avoid sending conflicting signals to foreign officials before the inauguration.
(One of the juicier emails was from
transition team member K.T. McFarland, the former Fox News national security "analyst" who would become deputy national security adviser, a position she held until May when she was nominated to be ambassador to Singapore. In it, McFarland oopsie-daisies by writing that new Obama administration sanctions for Russia's election interference would make it much harder for Trump to ease tensions with Russia, "which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him." The White House has rushed to say that McFarland was merely referring to how Democrats were portraying the election, but I'm not buying because she certainly was aware of Moscow's interference.)
Dowd, in a ham-handed effort at damage control following yet another Trump tweet storm in the wake of Flynn's plea, all but confirmed on Saturday that Trump himself knew of Flynn's extralegal excursions over two weeks before firing him. What Dowd did not say was that even knowing that, Trump took FBI Director James Comey aside the day after firing him and asked him to halt his investigation into his pal's wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, in a predawn tweet on Sunday, Trump put another potential obstruction-of-justice notch in his belt in issuing another denial that he had asked Comey to do any such thing.
"Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!" the president tweeted in throwing more red meat to the right-wing news media.
Flynn was present at a December 1, 2016, Trump Tower meeting where Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner proposed to Kislyak that the transition team and their Russians confederates set up a back channel to communicate to avoid the messiness of being monitored by U.S. intelligence.
Flynn was on board on December 22 when he contacted Kislyak in the hopes of delaying or killing a United Nations resolution tacitly supported by the Obama administration condemning Israeli's new settlement initiative -- a betrayal of Israel in the view of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- and received Kislyak's reply on December 23 that the Kremlin would try to cooperate.
(Newsweek reported over the weekend that Kushner, in yet another of the now 100-plus security clearance application admissions, failed to disclose his role as co-director of a family foundation from 2006 to 2015, a period when it funded an Israeli settlement considered to be illegal under international law.)
And Flynn was on board when he spoke with Kislyak on December 29, later on the day that Obama had increased sanctions against Russia because of its election interference.
In a series of conversations with Kislyak that were being monitored, interspersed with calls to the transition team at Mar-a-Lago, Flynn asked the ambassador to "refrain from escalating the situation." Kislyak helpfully replied that the Kremlin would moderate its response "as the result of his request." On December 30, Putin said Moscow would not retaliate, prompting Trump to praise the Russian leader in a tweet, saying "Great move on delay (by V. Putin) -- I always knew he was very smart!"
Flynn's lies about the December 29 meeting when FBI agents interviewed him at the White House on January 24, four days after the president was sworn into office, resulted in his guilty plea last Friday.
Court documents filed in connection with the plea -- and for Mueller the devil is in the documents -- reveal that "a very senior member" of the transition team had directed Flynn on the UN resolution and a "senior member" on the other efforts to undercut the incumbent administration.
While Kushner would seem to be the obvious culprit, some media reports are saying it was McFarland, who cemented her reputation for being a nutcase by claiming when she unsuccessfully ran in a 2006 New York Republican Senate primary that then-Senator Hillary Clinton was secretly sending helicopters to surveil her estate in the Hamptons. You can't make this stuff up.
In any event, while Flynn was no naif, both McFarland and Kushner were rank amateurs when it came to foreign policy, as was the case with pretty much the entire transition team, which was led by Vice President-elect Pence and included Donald McGahn, Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Reince Priebus.
And no one more so than Trump himself.
Yet again -- this time with real feeling -- why was Trump so desperate to protect Flynn?§
Loyalty has always been a one-way street for Trump, and taking care of personal interests always has been more important than patriotism. So the staring-you-right-in-the-face explanation is that Trump was trying to protect himself when he repeatedly twisted Comey's arm to lay off Flynn before eventually firing him in a spectacularly self-defeating move that led to Mueller's appointment. This Trump had done at the urging of Kushner, Pence and McGahn, with Bannon dissenting.
"He's a good guy," Trump told Comey of Flynn, but it turns out he would be a dangerous guy if he ever stopped dutifully lying about the extensive ties the campaign and transition team had with Russians. Which he now has.
Flynn's plea agreement on a single felony count was a gift. It touched on only a fraction of all the bad things he did, and conspicuous in their absence was the Fethullah Gülen kidnaping plot he was hatching with Turkey, multiple violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act and influence-peddling charges.
Lost in all the smoke surrounding the agreement are a couple three very important things:
Successive perps who cooperate with Mueller also are likely to get good deals. McFarland, McGahn and Priebus come to mind.
Mueller is using lying to the FBI as a cudgel. Some 24 other Trump associates already have been interviewed, and woe be to them if they too lied.
Foot draggers who resist cooperating will not be so fortunate. And the really big perps like Kushner and Pence will be shit out of luck.
And guess what? Mueller is building a bridge, and it's not in Brooklyn. It's a bridge from the transition team's brazen efforts to undermine Obama foreign policy back to the campaign's collusion using many of the very same Kremlin contacts in both.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, the person who ultimately will determine the course and eventual outcome of Mueller's investigation is Trump himself.
The president has shown signs of becoming totally unglued in recent days in retweeting incendiary anti-Muslim videos, declaring Roy Moore is innocent but Matt Lauer is guilty, claiming that the "Access Hollywood" pussy-grabbing video is fake, and returning to the view that Obama was not born in the U.S. while calling confidantes to boast about his non-existent successes, which is the equivalent of a drunken Richard Nixon wandering the halls of the White House late at night talking to portraits of his predecessors in the closing days of his presidency.
Utterly divorced from reality (by the way, where is that nuclear football?), Trump believes that because he and his advisers have told so many lies, Mueller will never catch up to the truth.
Conservative éminence grise John Podhoretz notes that Trump is out of excuses but not out of office. No president has ever been removed through impeachment, although Andrew Johnson and Clinton came close, while Nixon resigned. The chances of mass Republican defections in Congress seem slim considering that the party and that omnipresent MAGA "base," as comparatively small as it is, have stuck with Trump despite his blatant craziness. (And yes, Roy Moore will win in Alabama.)
But Flynn has taken the long-shot outcome of impeachment from being a liberal wet dream to a possibility. Even if Trump is the last person to realize that.
Click HERE for a comprehensive Russia scandal timeline.