Sunday, April 02, 2017

Sussing Out Michael Flynn's Blab-For-Immunity Bombshell: Choose Your Flavor

Is Michael Flynn's bombshell offer to testify about what he knows in return for immunity the end of the beginning or beginning of the end of the Russia scandal?  Is Donald Trump's disgraced national security adviser really prepared to turn on him?  Or is the offer none of those things?   
The answer to all these questions is "yes." 
That is to say that a case can be made that Flynn is prepared to throw Trump over and a case can be made that the offer merely is showmanship in an effort to get out ahead of a black hole of a scandal centering in Russia's multi-pronged effort to influence the presidential election that is now sucking in people at a prodigious rate in the two weeks since FBI Director James Comey blew things wide open. 
Of one thing am I certain: For someone who spent a lifetime in intelligence, Flynn isn't very smart, although he is a rocket scientist compared to his former boss, who if nothing else has proven himself to be downright stupid in a mean-spirited sort of way.   
The former general packs the Islamaphobic zealotry that made him such a good fit in a White House full of knuckle draggers who put ideology before country, he has disparaged the use of immunity as being for cowards "who have probably committed a crime," he bellowed "Lock her up!  Lock her up" at the Republican convention of Hillary Clinton and now he could get locked up himself.  And lied when he didn't have to. 
While unnecessarily lying has become something of a badge of honor in the Age of Trump, Flynn is on the outside looking in these days not because of a gross security breach, but because he dishonored the vice president by fibbing when asked whether he had chatted with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislak.  Trump likes to boast that "honor" really matters to him even if he has distorted the meaning of that noble noun beyond recognition. 
Anyhow, there are several flavors to choose from regarding Flynn's offer, which was made through lawyer Robert Kelner, to blab in return for immunity.  But before you decide which flavor you like -- and whether you want that flavor on a soft or sugar cone -- it should be noted that two key elements of the offer remain unknown.   
First, we don't know what Kelner proffered.  A proffer is an agreement between investigators, be they the House and Senate Intelligence Committees or Justice Department, under which an individual will tell the government about their knowledge of crimes with some kind of assurance that their words will not be used against them. 
Second, we don't know what that some kind of assurance is, specifically the kind and degree of immunity that Kelner made as a condition for Flynn blabbing.  Transactional immunity (no prosecution in return for identifying a bigger target) presumably would be offered by Justice, while more limited use immunity (testimony given before a committee that cannot be used at trial, although other incriminating stuff can) presumably would be offered by the intel committees, but only after a supermajority vote.  
All of this makes choosing a flavor even more difficult, and there are four of them: 
PLAIN VANILLA: Flynn may have been Trump's longest serving foreign policy adviser, joining the nascent campaign in August 2015, but he knows bupkis. His call with Ambassador Kislyak was not incriminating even if they may have discussed the sanctions that President Obama had just imposed for Russian meddling in the election. 
CHERRY VANILLA: The Kislyak call was incriminating but outside the scope of the scandal insofar that Flynn merely violated the Logan Act, a rarely enforced 18th century law that makes it illegal to "influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government" or "defeat measures of the United States" in disputes with an adversary.
STRAWBERRY: Flynn can testify about the interactions of Trump associates like Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone, to name just a few, with Russians who are connected to the Kremlin's efforts to disrupt the election, but is unable to produce bigger fish.  
CHOCOLATE WITH SPRINKLES: In a drug case, someone is granted immunity in return for their identifying the kingpin, not some guy in the projects selling nickel bags, and so Flynn will be giving up the only perp above him -- Trump.  This flavor is enhanced by Kelner being an avowed Trump hater.
"General Flynn certainly has a story to tell," Kelner has said, "And he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit." 
Kelner's offer was made to the Justice Department and Senate Intelligence Committee. Not surprisingly, the Senate panel already has turned it down because, according to committee sources, it is "wildly preliminary" and "immunity is not on the table."  At the moment.  Meanwhile, the House Committee is in disarray because of the orchestrated pratfalls of chairman Devin Nunes.
The most famous precedent for what Flynn and Kelner may be attempting is the case of Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a National Security Council staffer in the Reagan White House who lied under oath and altered official records concerning Reagan's secret sale of weapons to Iran to fund the anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua.   
North seemed to be headed for prison until a joint House-Senate investigative committee decided that his information was "vital to the public interest" and granted him use immunity before the FBI could build a case against him.  North testified before the committee at a widely watched televised hearing and declared he was merely doing his patriotic duty to great huzzahs, effectively undercutting the FBI's criminal case.   
You are welcome to choose your own flavor, but it may not matter which if Kelner is attempting to pull an Ollie North for Flynn.

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