In recent months, a certain narrative has taken hold in the GOP — that former Trump national-security adviser Michael Flynn is a victim of FBI perfidy. The real outrage isn’t that he lied to the FBI — something he’s confessed to, by the way — but rather the way in which the FBI approached him and the manner of its interrogation. This claim gained additional currency when Flynn filed his sentencing memorandum and pointedly noted that the FBI agents who interviewed him didn’t warn that lying to the FBI was a crime.
General Flynn, one of the premiere intelligence officers of his generation, didn’t need that warning. Moreover, don’t think for a moment that he was somehow tricked into lying. Instead, remember, that he regurgitated to the FBI lies that he told others. Today, the special counsel’s office filed its reply to Flynn’s memorandum and set the record straight:
The defendant made his decision to lie about his communications with the Russian ambassador two weeks before his interview with the FBI. On January 12, 2017, The Washington Post published a story asserting that the defendant had spoken with the Russian ambassador on December 29, 2016, the day the United States announced sanctions and other measures against Russia in response to that government’s actions intended to interfere with the 2016 election (collectively, “sanctions”). See David Ignatius, Why did Obama Dawdle on Russia’s hacking?, WASH. POST (Jan. 12, 2017). The Post story asked whether the defendant had undercut the sanctions and whether his actions violated the Logan Act. The defendant asked a subordinate member of the Presidential Transition Team to contact the Post on the morning of January 13 and convey false information about the defendant’s communications with the Russian ambassador. The “UPDATE” included at the end of the Post story later reported that two members of the Presidential Transition Team stated that the defendant “didn’t cover” sanctions in his conversation with the Russian ambassador. Id.
Over the next two weeks, the defendant repeated the same false statements to multiple members of the Presidential Transition Team, including Vice President-Elect Michael Pence, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Those officials then repeated the defendant’s false statements on national television.
Moreover, this statement from the special counsel is self-evidently true:
A sitting National Security Advisor, former head of an intelligence agency, retired Lieutenant General, and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents. He does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents to know the importance of telling them the truth. The defendant undoubtedly was aware, in light of his “many years” working with the FBI, that lying to the FBI carries serious consequences. See Def. Sent Mem. at 8. He, unlike Van der Zwaan and Papadapoulous, was a senior national security official with extensive federal government experience, had led an intelligence agency, had worked with the FBI, and was steeped in the importance of accurate information to decision making in areas of national security.
The decline and fall of General Flynn is an American tragedy. He was, in fact, a “master intelligence officer.” The men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan owe him a debt of gratitude. He made the American military a more effective and lethal war-fighting machine. Nothing he did in the Trump campaign or the Trump administration can change the fact that he served his country with excellence for a very long time.
And now, by cooperating with the Mueller investigation, he’s doing the right thing again. He deserves immense credit for his military service. He deserves credit for accepting the responsibility for his crime. He is not, however, a victim of federal law enforcement. He is a man who did wrong and is now paying his debt to society. That’s not exploitation. It’s justice.