The indictment and guilty plea of General Flynn represent what I suspect is the high water mark of the Russiagate scandal.
A few weeks ago, following the indictments issued against Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, I speculated that Flynn would be the next person to be indicted, and so it has proved.
Flynn’s guilty plea has come with an apparent agreement to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Inevitably this is giving rise to speculation that Flynn has “flipped.” Is that speculation warranted?
Firstly, it needs to be said that the indictment against Flynn and his guilty plea have absolutely no bearing on the allegations of illegal collusion during the 2016 Presidential election between the Trump campaign and the Russians which are at the centre of the Russiagate scandal.
Instead they concern what is purely a "process crime": that Flynn falsely denied to the FBI that he had asked Russian ambassador Kislyak for Russia to react with restraint to the sanctions imposed on Russia in December 2016 by Barack Obama, and – much more interestingly – that he also falsely denied having asked Kislyak for Russia’s help to block or delay a vote on a Resolution in the UN Security Council.
The indictment does not say what this resolution was. However the timing strongly suggests that it was Resolution 2334 passed on 23rd December 2016, which declared Israeli settlement activity unlawful, declared all Israeli settlements built since the 1967 Six Day War illegal, and which specifically ruled out recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Note that the indictment refers to a conversation between Flynn and Kislyak on 22nd December 2016, the day before the vote in the UN Security Council on Resolution 2334 took place.
At the time the UN Security Council voted for resolution 2334 I wrote a lengthy article for The Duran in which I said that though I happen to agree with every point made in Resolution 2334, I still thought the decision to put Resolution 2334 to the vote on 23rd December 2016 was wrong since it was transparently a device by Barack Obama to box in and embarrass his successor, the soon-to-be President Donald Trump.
Reading through the tea leaves it seems that someone in the Trump transition team – almost certainly Jared Kushner – incensed by Obama’s actions, asked Flynn to speak to the Russians to see whether there was any chance they might be persuaded to use their influence in the UN Security Council to get the vote on Resolution 2334 either delayed until after President elect Trump took office or blocked altogether.
The result was to set in train the now famous series of telephone conversations between Flynn and Kislyak over the course of one of which Flynn also asked Kislyak for Russian restraint in response to Obama’s December 2016 sanctions against Russia.
That this is indeed what lies behind this whole affair is confirmed by recent information that Special Counsel Mueller’s team is looking into Kushner’s contacts with Israeli diplomats, and that Kushner has recently been interviewed by Mueller’s team for 90 minutes about information which would supposedly "exculpate" Flynn of illegal dealings with the Russians.
What does any of this have to do with the Russiagate collusion allegations?
The short answer is absolutely nothing.
To those who say that Flynn is cooperating with Mueller in order to prove those allegations, and that Flynn’s conduct amounts to treason, I would point out that there is nothing in the indictment that makes the least reference to those allegations, and that in his statement which he released today Flynn categorically denied those allegations and that he had committed treason.
After over 33 years of military service to our country, including nearly five years in combat away from my family, it has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of “treason” and other outrageous acts. Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done and stood for.(bold italics added)
This is not a confession that Flynn engaged in illegal collusion with the Russians or that he was involved with other people in the Trump campaign or the Trump transition team in carrying out such collusion. On the contrary it is a categorical denial that he did or was.
Personally I would go further and say that it is also a denial by Flynn of any knowledge of any illegal collusion taking place since I cannot see how Flynn can call accusations against him “outrageous” and “false” if he knows that they are true of other people he was working with.
To my mind what this episode best shows is the extraordinary inexperience and amateurism of the people who made up Donald Trump’s transition team.
Kushner and Flynn should have known that asking the Russians to postpone the vote in the UN Security Council on Resolution 2334 was to ask the Russians the impossible.
Though Vitaly Churkin – Russia’s ambassador to the UN Security Council – made known Russia’s unease at the way the Obama administration had railroaded through the vote on Resolution 2334 before the transition in Washington had taken place, given Russia’s longstanding position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict there was never the slightest chance that Russia would act either to delay or to block the vote on Resolution 2334.
As to the legal implications of all this, Kushner may have been foolish and amateur in getting Flynn to talk to Kislyak in this way but I cannot see that any crime was committed by it. The suggestion Kushner will be prosecuted under the Logan Act for inappropriate dealings with the Israelis looks to me incredibly farfetched.
The only potential point of concern for the Trump administration concerns the extent of Donald Trump’s knowledge of Kushner’s and Flynn’s activities.
It is surely likely that Jared Kushner discussed with Trump what he proposed to get Flynn to do, and it may be that Trump’s attempt to talk Comey out of pressing the case against Flynn stems from Trump’s embarrassment that Flynn landed himself in trouble because he acted on the instructions of his son-in-law.
To those looking to construct a case against Trump for obstruction of justice there might just be a glimmer of an argument here, and it may be that this why Mueller has chosen to indict Flynn for his false statements about his conversations with Kislyak rather than over his failure to register properly his lobbying work for Turkey under FARA and to declare properly the payments he received from RT.
However against that no one, least of all Comey himself, has ever said that Trump actually ordered Comey to drop the case against Flynn.
It bears repeating that nothing Flynn said to Kislyak – or which he might have been asked by Kushner to say to Kislyak – amounted to a criminal offence, a fact all but admitted by the indictment itself, which makes no charge about it.
On the contrary as Ty Cobb – Trump’s lawyer – has correctly said, the only crime for which Flynn is being charged – lying to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak – is the same one for which he was previously sacked by the White House.
My guess is that over the next couple of weeks the focus of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation will increasingly become Kushner. Doubtless it will be about his dealings with Kushner that Mueller will be asking Flynn questions, with Mueller wanting to know how and why Kushner came up with his crack-brained idea of asking the Russians to block Resolution 2334.
However there is no evidence of any illegal collusion by Kushner with the Russians either before the election or after it, and it bears repeating that everything that has been discussed in this article and which has arisen from Flynn’s guilty plea and indictment happened after the election. It cannot therefore have any bearing on the Russiagate collusion case against the Trump campaign, or the claims that the Russians meddled in the election to help Donald Trump. On the contrary, the fact that the Russians turned down Kushner’s and Flynn’s suggestion that they act to block Resolution 2334 if anything argues the opposite.
Indeed if the entirety of the case against Kushner turns on steps he and Flynn took however incompetently to try to protect Israel – as I strongly suspect – then given the political realities in Washington I doubt it will go anywhere.
Reprinted with permission from The Duran.