CNN could barely contain its joy, or its exaggerations, when arguing Mike Flynn's guilty plea . The cable channel provided wall-to-wall coverage, with just one look at the other big news: the first big tax bill in decades. The only thing missing was a Bronco chase on the L.A.
President Trump's apologists and his lawyers were turning just as hard in the other direction. "Nothing to see here.
In the days since the news was announced, both parties have remained faithful to their points of conversation and have turned the volume up to 11.
We are going to divest ourselves of the partisan hyperbole and resolve what we really know.
First, with Flynn's plea along with the accusation of Paul Manafort Robert Mueller and the Office of the Special Council have trapped the two biggest fish they could catch, outside of their own Trump family. They are using every decoy and network that a prosecutor has. Manafort and Flynn have every incentive to expel any dirt they have, and Flynn's deal promises to do so. If that does not concern the inner circle of the White House, they should be in a bunker.
Oh, but what dirt does the prosecutor have? Only Mueller, Trump and their inner circles know this. Only they know if Trump's top advisers have committed underlying crimes or have given false testimony. CNN does not know. Fox does not know. ABC does not know and had to withdraw an incorrect report that the president himself was involved. (The stock market did not have fun). Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) Does not know, although he smiled from ear to ear on television and did everything but dance and shake a "Mission Accomplished" banner.
What worries the Trump team most is that Mueller probably would not offer Flynn such a nice deal if he did not have valuable information to offer to the superiors. And there are not many people above the national security adviser.
Third, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying, but what Flynn lied to (contacting the Russian ambassador after the election) was not a crime. What should be a serious crime, but it is not, is to take money from an almost adversarial regime like that of Erdogan in Turkey while serving as the president's main foreign policy adviser. Manafort, who had been fired from the Trump campaign before, was taking money from pro-Russian Ukrainians and channeling some through the lobbying of the Podesta Group, but his accusation says that all this happened long before joining to the campaign. If you had contacts with these sources during the campaign itself, we have not heard anything about it.
Fourth, so far, Mueller has no motive and no accusation on the matter that led to the appointment of the special lawyer in the first place: alleged collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. No one, outside the two opposing inner circles, can say if there was serious cooperation and, if there was, if it was criminal. Mueller's office has been leaking as if it were directed by James Comey, but they have not said a word about it.
We do know that the Russians tried to meddle in the US elections. UU We know that the Trump campaign sought information about Hillary Clinton from anyone who had it, including (apparently) sources from WikiLeaks and the Kremlin.
The Clinton campaign also received information, or pseudo-information, from the Russians, but it did so much more skillfully, using several layers of cuts: a law firm, which hired an oppo research company, which hired a former British intelligence agent, who paid for the Kremlin's sources. The company then distributed the unverified information and could have triggered the subsequent investigation by sharing it with an unsuspecting FBI. The FBI and the Justice Department still do not say whether this Clinton oppo investigation was used to secure search warrants in the Trump campaign and the transition team.
Fifth, despite Flynn's accusation, we simply do not know the scope of the publication – Electoral contacts between the transition team and the Russians, or if any of them violated the law. Flynn pleaded guilty only to lying about these contacts, but the contacts themselves do not appear to be illegal. At least, they have never been processed before, and they are not uncommon in transitions. Obama's State Department said, at that time, that he had no problem with the president-elect and his team reaching out to foreign governments. If the contacts were really illegal, surely Mueller would have included them in the plea agreement, since they would pose a serious threat to any Trump official involved in the discussions.
Court documents suggest that Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner worked with Flynn in Russia and other international affairs. If that activity was criminal (and nothing, so far, indicates that it was), or if Kushner lied to federal agents about it, then he is in danger because of Flynn's statement. If not, it is not. Also, unlike Flynn, it can not be spent in the debtor's prison for attorney's fees, the tactic that Mueller apparently used on Flynn, along with threats to prosecute Flynn's son.
To the extent that Flynn had substantial discussions with the Kremlin, they came after the election and immediately after President Obama sanctioned Russian diplomats in the United States, following Trump's soft stance on Russia, he urged Putin to Do not hit back When Putin retained reprisals, Trump praised Vlad's wisdom. That could suggest that Flynn had discussed what Trump would do after the Inauguration and urged Putin not to sour relations before then. That's unseemly, we have a president at the same time, but it's not a crime.
Should Trump Team be petrified by the fact that two high-ranking aides have taken a turn? Only if Flynn and Manafort know of serious crimes that put President Trump or his family in danger. So far, there is no public evidence that they do. Mueller's team has penetrated the president's closest collaborators but has not told us anything about the issue that really matters to us. Does a presidential campaign cooperate intimately with a geopolitical adversary to make US elections?