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Opinion Flynn could deliver a knockout blow to Trump

Lying to the FBI is bad, but Michael Flynn was accused of worse. Post editorial writer Quinta Jurecic on what she thinks is behind his Russia probe guilty plea. (Video: Adriana Usero, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

The Post reports, “Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI. … Flynn’s admission … is an ominous sign for the White House, as court documents indicate Flynn is cooperating in the ongoing probe of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election.” ABC News reports, “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.’ ” That could be direct testimony implicating the president of campaign collusion.

Flynn’s plea marks a dangerous turn. Flynn was a White House adviser, not a campaign aide. Moreover, there is no passing him off an errand boy or bit player. “Trump developed a close rapport with Flynn on the campaign trail, where the general delivered fiery denunciations of Hillary Clinton, including leading a ‘lock her up’ chant at the Republican National Convention, and he gave Trump much-needed national security credentials,” The Post reports. “Flynn, however, had a mixed reputation among other Trump aides, who thought he gave the president questionable information and questioned some of his business dealings.”

'Lock her up': How Michael Flynn talks about law enforcement (Video: Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

We don’t know for certain what cooperation Flynn is providing on what topic, but surely it would be hugely helpful to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. A series of news reports recently described potential liability stemming from Flynn’s failure to register as a foreign agent, his alleged involvement in a scheme to return to Turkey a cleric whom its president blames for a coup and promoting a nuclear power project on behalf of a client when Flynn was in the White House. To put all that aside, Mueller — not known as a pushover in plea deals — would have had to be confident that Flynn could implicate high-ups.

National security gurus with whom I spoke suggest Flynn could be of help in several areas. He might provide details of Russian influence actors — how they operated and how they contacted and connected with him. (We should remember this is still a counterintelligence investigation.) Flynn’s help could be related to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has already been indicted for financial crimes relating to his connection with Russian players. Alternatively, Flynn’s help might be related to his dealings with President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, either with regard to alleged efforts to set up a “back channel” or with regard to Kushner’s own financial dealings with Russians. And, of most concern to Trump, Flynn could provide evidence relating to interference with the Russia probe, including Trump’s efforts to get then-FBI Director James B. Comey to lay off Flynn. The ABC News report, if accurate, suggests it is the latter, with fatal consequences for the Trump presidency.

Trump’s defenders will argue that this still does not touch on the underlying issue of collusion with Russia. That’s true but misses the point. If there was collusion, Flynn almost certainly would have known about it. He was both Trump’s closet foreign policy adviser and a pro-Russia operator who traveled to Russia to give a lavishly compensated speech and appeared on RT, Russia’s propaganda network, which he asserted was no different than any American news outlet. (RT has since been required to register as a foreign agent.) Trump can claim all he wants that the Russia investigation is a hoax, but if Flynn provides direct evidence implicating Trump, the president’s days in office are numbered.