x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 December 2017

Legal experts on Mike Flynn deal with Mueller: “It doesn’t get higher than this”

Experts share with The National what they think will happen next in the extraordinary story rocking Washington

Former US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs court after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Former US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs court after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

As Washington reels from the plea bargain made between US president Donald Trump's former senior aide Mike Flynn and the special prosecutor in the justice department's Russia probe, Robert Mueller, four US legal experts speaking to The National weighed in on the developments:

Paul Rosenzweig, former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security and founder of Red Branch Consulting

This is a very good deal for Mike Flynn — the promise seems to be no jail at all if he co-operates with the investigators. Given that, he must have offered Robert Mueller very good co-operation in exchange. And the statement of offence says he did — talks with "senior" and "very senior" officials [during] the transition [show he has named names]. There aren't that many more senior than Mr Flynn was.

Brandon L Garrett, White Burkett Miller professor of law and public affairs, University of Virginia

Aside from the obvious, that we are now seeing criminal convictions of close advisers come out of this investigation, another point worth noting is that a plea deal would only have been offered once there was real co-operation. Mr Flynn must have already provided valuable co-operation in the investigation if a plea is being finalised and he must have promised to continue to provide that co-operation.

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Ken Gude, senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress with a focus on law and security

Mike Flynn’s agreement to co-operate indicates that he possesses additional information that is very useful to the Special Counsel [Mueller], otherwise he would not have received such leniency. The details released today accompanying the guilty plea clearly implicate President Trump and many other senior Trump officials in a cover-up of secret co-ordination with Russia during the presidential transition.

The statement of facts released by Mr Mueller shows that Michael Flynn was in direct contact with Trump transition officials at Mar a Lago on Dec 29 and they had multiple conversations about what Mr Flynn should say to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about Russia's response to US sanctions and the results of those conversations. Mr Trump was there and it is impossible to believe he was not at a minimum informed of those conversations or participated in them. Their later multiple denials of knowledge of the contents of Mr Flynn's calls with Mr Kislyak are false and evidence of a cover up.

Andrew McCanse Wright, associate professor, Savannah Law School

The president’s first National Security Adviser just plead guilty to lying to the FBI about Russian contacts. That’s the kind of scandal moment that ends up in the president’s encyclopedia entry and obituary.

Michael Flynn’s agreement to plead guilty to felony false statements to the FBI suggests to me he is co-operating with the Special Counsel. First, it is an information, not an indictment. That means Flynn is waiving his right to have a grand jury test the government’s evidence. They are typically used by prosecutors lock down charges used to leverage the co-operation agreement. The fact that it is a single felony charge is consistent with my experience with federal plea offers. We can also infer Mr Flynn’s co-operation by what is not charged. We know from public reports that Mr Flynn has a ton of Turkey-related criminal exposure. None of it is charged. Flynn is singing like a bird to Mueller.

The offence statement casts a light backwards on Russia’s active measures during the campaign: Russia is getting its payoff by means of a surreptitious effort to undermine existing US policy from the incoming president’s senior advisers. It casts light on the thinking and conduct of the Trump transition.

And, perhaps of most immediate significance to the White House, it puts president Trump at the centre of the controversy. Is Flynn going to testify that president Trump told him to contact the Russians? Is he going to say the president directed him to lie to the FBI? It is also going to call into question the knowledge and conduct of current senior officials, including White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, attorney general Jeff Sessions, and perhaps even vice president Pence.