Washington (CNN)Michael Flynn’s downfall Friday exacerbated grave political and legal dangers that represent the most serious threat to some administration for at least 40 years, and may finally imperil the Trump presidency itself.
The plea deal cut by the French security advisor with Special Counsel Robert Mueller undermines a lot of what the White House has stated concerning the Russia controversy engulfing the presidency.
This means there’s currently no credible way of President Donald Trump
to claim the Russia investigation is a hoax, composed, fake news or a witch hunt.
It raises questions about who higher up the chain of command from Trump’s orbit — possibly even involving the President himself — will be in Mueller’s sights later he agreed to what appears to be a fairly favorable deal with the retired general
New details about Flynn’s conversations with then Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak and involvement in a controversy in the United Nations between Israel meanwhile raise the chance that the nascent Trump administration tried to seize control of the levers of state authority before it was inaugurated.
Above all, Flynn’s plight guarantees the dark Russia cloud which has overshadowed everything the administration has done for 10 months is not likely to lift soon — and may well thicken.
Friday’s shocking developments didn’t prove that Trump or other senior aides colluded with Russia to throw the 2016 election — the centerpiece of Mueller’s mission.
But they make clear that the Mueller probe is marching deep inside the President’s tightest inner circle and is threatening officers and relatives
it would be impossible for him to dismiss as marginal, junior players.
“Not many months before, the President wanted to call this ‘fake news’ and also a bogus investigation and also a ‘witch hunt.’ As of today there’s no fake investigation, there isn’t any fake news, there’s no witch hunt,” former US Attorney Michael Moore told CNN.
“Mike Flynn, a high-ranking member of this Trump administration, in control of our national security, has now come in and admitted the allegations are in fact true,” Moore stated.
Mueller’s choice to bill Flynn with one count of lying to the FBI on four different occasions is a relatively restricted move that indicates he hopes to get significant and sweeping info in return.
The fact that a former national security advisor — among the very senior members of this authorities — is not Mueller’s primary target, as evidenced by the plea deal, indicates Flynn is being used as bait for a larger fish.
It may be a signal Mueller doesn’t intend to finish his investigation only by indicting people on the charges lying under oath, as some previous independent prosecutors of government wrongdoing do.
“Normally, somebody who’s a national security advisor would be one hell of a Moby Dick … he’s currently lure,” said CNN legal analyst Laura Coates.
The charges which Mueller did choose to lay against Flynn are also revealing.
He specifically picked lies connected to Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak roughly US sanctions against Russia along with a UN Security Council vote on Israeli settlements in the tail end of their Obama administration. That is potentially significant as it may widen the circle of this Mueller investigation to people around Trump who were involved in these issues — possibly involving Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, along with his son Donald Trump Jr..
CNN reported Friday the Kushner
— a top Trump political advisor was the “very senior advisor” who led Flynn to speak to the Russians concerning the Security Council vote.
“The four lies which he chose tell you something very important, that this is an ongoing investigation that implicates a lot of people in the Trump inner circle,” said former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin. “This portends a lot of bad news for a lot of people for lots of factors.”
In a prosecutor statement released Friday, it was disclosed that Flynn predicted senior transition officials on December 29 final year to discuss his conversations with Kislyak and that there were multiple conversations with the transition team while he was speaking with the Russian envoy about sanctions.
The statement didn’t identify those officials but it sparked intense speculation in Washington about if Trump was in any manner involved in directing Flynn’s role in these conversations, or was aware of their content.
“This reveals a Trump associate negotiating with the Russians contrary to US policy and interests prior to Donald Trump took office and afterwards it was declared that Russia had interfered in our election,” said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a statement. “That’s a stunning revelation and may be a violation of the Logan Act, which discourages unauthorized US citizens from negotiating with a foreign power.”
Flynn’s admission that he was in close relationship with senior transition team officers also undermines a possible line of defense against the administration — which he was freelancing and acting on his own volition in his connections with Kislyak. It also exposes key characters who were in the transition of Trump and then followed him into Mueller’s probe to the White House.
The concentrate on Russia sanctions can also be potentially significant.
US intelligence quotes assess that a Russian attempt to meddle in the election was mostly motivated by a desire to foster the raising of US sanctions against top members of President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle that also had a damaging impact on the Russian market.
Flynn’s downfall can also be a weightier legal threat into the White House than the preceding indictments of former campaign manager Paul Manafort along with his associate Rick Gates in October. Those Mueller goals were mostly indicted for business and lobbying activities and on fiscal charges not directly connected to the Trump effort or his transition and presidency.
It was therefore possible for Trump’s staff to argue that they were peripheral not only into the White House but also to the central question of if the President or partners colluded with Russia to meddle in the election.
Such a case can’t be made about Flynn, because his charges relate directly to action during the transition and he has admitted lying to the FBI while actually serving as national security advisor.
Likewise he cannot be ignored as a small player, or even a “coffee boy,” as former Trump foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos was when he entered a plea deal with Mueller in October.
Flynn was the President’s constant companion during the effort. The President asked the FBI chief before Comey was fired by him to go easy on Flynn. And Flynn was the guy responsible for keeping, and acting upon, the nation’s most closely guarded national security keys.
The legal problems raised for the President and his partners by news of Flynn’s plea deal that burst on Washington may actually pale beside the political dimensions of this now more serious threat posed by the Russia probe.
Despite protestations to the contrary, the White House is under siege and its influence on the political effectiveness of this administration can’t be ignored.
Disclosures about Flynn’s behavior only deepen the central intrigue of this the whole episode: Why have the President, his loved ones members and aides repeatedly lied about the scope and nature of their connections with Russians?
The shocking developments were reflected from the unconvincing early spin from Trump’s defenders.
A source close to the President advised CNN’s Gloria Borger that everybody else lies in Washington.
A individual familiar with the mood from the West Wing told CNN’s Sara Murray which men and women in the construction were “very happy” since the charges were about making false statements and not improper actions.
Such a view, however, ignores the potentially sweeping implications of Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller.
The President’s attorney Ty Cobb issued a statement noting that the charges against Flynn involved the exact same false statements that led to his firing, after he lied to Vice President Mike Pence, about his Kislyak calls in February.
Cobb also attempted some political damage management, pointing out that Flynn functioned for only 25 days as national security advisor and was a former Obama administration official. But a senior aide to the president noted who Obama advised Trump not to hire him and had fired Flynn as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
So far, there’s not been any response to the fall of his former close aide from Trump himself. However, the President has spent with people events and his Twitter feed to malign the investigation and incite his followers against it seemingly in an effort to delegitimize its eventual decisions.
Some observers have speculated that Trump’s volatile week, that has included retweeting anti-Muslim videos from a British hatred group
and making a racially disparaging remark during an appearance with Native American war heroes
, could have represented a mind scrambled by indications which Flynn was going to enter a plea deal.
The impact on Trump’s character and mood — in a period of a dangerous nuclear crisis involving North Korea
— along with the possibility of this hottest Russia revelations to further distract him — will probably be even more closely watched today.
The absolute magnitude of Friday’s events left Trump’s defenders in his celebration with yet another infuriating distraction in their relationship with the President.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina, who’s leading his own probe to the Russia dilemma, denied multiple requests by CNN’s Manu Raju to comment on Friday’s bombshell progress.
It’s a measure of this shocking importance of this Flynn news that it completely obliterated two other enormous political developments — the seemingly imminent passage of this most sweeping tax reform bill for 30 years
in a hugely significant victory for Trump and the breathtaking public humiliation of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
by the White House.
In many ways that’s the story of this Trump presidency itself — everything was overshadowed by Russia.
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