Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to a relatively minor charge of lying to the FBI in what appears almost certainly a deal to incentivize him to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
According to ABC investigative reporter Brian Ross:
He is prepared to testify, we are told by a confidant, against President Trump, against members to he Trump family, and others in the White House, He is prepared to testify that President Trump, as a candidate, Donald Trump, ordered him, directed him, to make contact with the Russians.
JUST IN: @BrianRoss on @ABC News Special Report: Michael Flynn promised “full cooperation to the Mueller team” and is prepared to testify that as a candidate, Donald Trump “directed him to make contact with the Russians.” https://t.co/aiagnvr8eS pic.twitter.com/r8u2LWAd0O
— ABC News (@ABC) December 1, 2017
Despite all the excitement, National Review writer Andrew McCarthy, one of my favorite journalists and an actual former prosecutor, thinks the Flynn plea may not mean much. He writes:
As I explained in connection with George Papadopoulos (who also pled guilty in Mueller’s investigation for lying to the FBI), when a prosecutor has a cooperator who was an accomplice in a major criminal scheme, the cooperator is made to plead guilty to the scheme. This is critical because it proves the existence of the scheme. In his guilty-plea allocution (the part of a plea proceeding in which the defendant admits what he did that makes him guilty), the accomplice explains the scheme and the actions taken by himself and his coconspirators to carry it out. This goes a long way toward proving the case against all of the subjects of the investigation.
That is not happening in Flynn’s situation. Instead, like Papadopoulos, he is being permitted to plead guilty to a mere process crime. A breaking report from ABC News indicates that Flynn is prepared to testify that Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians — initially to lay the groundwork for mutual efforts against ISIS in Syria. That, however, is exactly the sort of thing the incoming national-security adviser is supposed to do in a transition phase between administrations. If it were part of the basis for a “collusion” case arising out of Russia’s election meddling, then Flynn would not be pleading guilty to a process crime – he’d be pleading guilty to an espionage conspiracy.
Honestly, I don’t think there was “collusion,” and I never have. But I do think it’s also possible that Mueller had Flynn plea to such a minor charge, even unrelated to the actual collusion case, because his information is valuable. But probably, not.