Trump Pardoning Flynn, Amid Pandemic, Would Be Blatant Corruption
As the nation struggles to address the dangers of the spreading COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump decided to tweet Sunday that he was “strongly considering” a pardon for Michael Flynn, his former White House national security advisor.
Such a pardon now would be a flagrant act of corruption, not only because Flynn was a close Trump aide, but also because Flynn potentially has damaging information about the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia. A presidential pardon could help buy Flynn’s silence forever.
Trump has been worse than useless during the coronavirus crisis, consistently making false statements or unwarranted assurances about the spreading virus, in misguided attempts to appear strong and to keep the stock market from plunging, and simply because he is incompetent.
Underscoring his utter lack of leadership in a time of national urgency, Trump also continues to act in a childish and divisive manner, denying responsibility for bad decisions relating to the virus, attacking a reporter who asked a legitimate question about one such decision, and continuing to tweet angry assaults on his political foes.
Now it appears that Trump may use the fog of the coronavirus emergency to sneak in a pardon of Flynn.
Based on Trump’s endless complaints that he, his family, his associates, and various corporate and conservative cronies have been Treated Very Unfairly, many have expected Trump to issue a wide range of pardons after the election, win or lose. But Trump’s biggest concern about close associates like Flynn may be less about how they have been treated and more about how they might end up treating him if they face imprisonment.
Trump has dangled the promise of pardons to associates including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and long-time pal Roger Stone. Each likely has damaging information about Trump, and each has refused to cooperate with prosecutors. Manafort is now in prison, and Stone was sentenced to three years and may be locked up soon if he loses a pending motion for a new trial. Both likely hope Trump will spring them when the political coast is clear.
Trump presumably does not want a repeat of what occurred with his long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, who, facing a range of serious federal charges, did cooperate with federal prosecutors and implicated Trump in a criminal scheme to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels without disclosing the payment as a 2016 campaign expense. Trump labelled Cohen a rat and denied any wrongdoing. But reasonable observers thought Cohen, under oath in court, told the truth about the payoff and Trump’s role.
Flynn was the Trump campaign’s lead national security adviser; he led a rousing “lock her up” chant at the 2016 GOP convention after he attacked Hillary Clinton from the podium. Against the strong advice, reportedly, of both Barack Obama and Chris Christie, the original head of the Trump transition, Trump installed Flynn as the White House national security adviser.
Four days after Trump was inaugurated, the FBI questioned Flynn about conversations he’d had in December 2016 with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak regarding the Obama administration’s imposition of retaliatory measures in response to Russia’s interference, to aid Trump’s chances, in the election. Flynn lied, telling FBI agents that he did not ask Kislyak to refrain from escalating the confrontation.
Presented with evidence that he lied to the FBI, Flynn admitted the crime and made a deal in November 2017 to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors. U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan accepted the plea, but later Flynn changed lawyers and began an intense effort to wriggle out of the agreement. His new lawyer sought to withdraw the guilty plea and pursued dubious claims that the FBI concealed or altered notes of their interview with Flynn. Judge Sullivan reviewed the evidence and strongly rejected those claims in a December decision, finding that FBI records “and Mr. Flynn’s own admissions of his false statements make clear that Mr. Flynn made those false statements.”
Justice Department prosecutors had originally asked Judge Sullivan to send Flynn to prison, but more recently, after Trump Attorney General Willam Barr intensified his involvement in the remainders of the Russia case, the DoJ lawyers suggested that a sentence of probation might be sufficient punishment. Meanwhile, Judge Sullivan still has under advisement Flynn’s motion to withdraw his plea.
Trump’s invocation Sunday night of Flynn’s discredited conspiracy theory about missing FBI records suggests he may latch on to it as a pretext for a pardon.
The New York Times reports that “Initially aides believed Mr. Trump was likely to pardon Mr. Flynn after the November election, but officials now say it may be sooner.”
Every day there is more evidence and more reminders that Trump is crooked — fresh allegations that his Trump Organization bribed New York City tax assessors; a continuing lawsuit against Trump for his participation in the ACN direct-marketing scheme, which ripped off aspiring entrepreneurs; documents revealing that the Trump organization price-gouged taxpayers for Secret Service stays at Trump properties; a new ad highlighting evidence that Trump and family are profiting off his presidency. Crimes, and cover-ups, are Trump’s stock-in-trade.
But we have never quite gotten to the bottom of the Trump-Russia story — what the presidential candidate knew and when did he know it.
Russia special counsel Robert Mueller’s mistaken understanding of the concept of rectitude led him to pull his punches regarding the compelling evidence of the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia — Trump’s open call for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, the notorious Trump Tower meeting between campaign leadership and Russians peddling supposed dirt from the Kremlin, Trump’s business ties to Russia, and more — as well as the president’s extensive effort to conceal the facts. But more evidence may exist in the recollections of Manafort, Stone, and Flynn — as well as of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr., and President Trump himself, none of whom Mueller adequately questioned and held accountable.
Trump pardons of any of these men, including himself, will make it less likely that we ever learn the truth about the his own troubling conduct, about Russia and otherwise, during the campaign and afterward. That’s why pardoning Flynn or other associates with knowledge of Russia dealings would be supremely corrupt.