It's not an uncommon response for those facing possible prison time to turn to their faith. So it was not much of a surprise when Michael Flynn, the former White House national security adviser, said his “faith in God” would help him right his wrongs.
Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and is cooperating in the ongoing probe of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election. While it's not clear what sentence Flynn will receive, lying to the FBI is a felony and carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.
The retired general said in a statement:
“I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right. My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
Large percentages of Americans who share Flynn’s Christian faith — he grew up in a large Catholic family — do not view this investigation favorably. Nearly 4 in 10 — 37 percent — of white Catholics do not approve of special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III’s handling of the investigation, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Flynn’s admission could be an unfortunate sign for the White House, given that he is cooperating in the investigation. But despite the expanding probe, 59 percent of white Catholics — a group that Trump won in the 2016 election — don't believe that the president committed a crime in connection with possible Russian attempt to influence the election. That number is close to the percentage of white Catholics who voted for Trump in 2016 — 60 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.
Flynn has been a major target of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, with the major concern for investigators being whether any Trump associates coordinated with Russian officials to attempt to sway the presidential race.
Although investigators have yet to find a declarative answer to that question, the most important religious demographic in Trump’s base — white evangelicals — have made up their minds. Seven in 10 white evangelicals do not believe there is clear evidence of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
And the group is overwhelmingly more likely to believe in Trump’s innocence in the Russia probe. Nearly 8 in 10 — 79 percent — of white evangelicals believe it is unlikely that Trump committed a crime.
But it’s not because white Christians hold Russia in high regard. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, white Catholics, like most religious groups, have an overwhelmingly negative view of Russia. More than 6 in 10 white Catholics have an unfavorable view of Russia. The numbers are comparable to black Protestants, 66 percent, and white evangelicals, 63 percent. Most white mainline Protestants view Russia unfavorably, but in lower numbers — 57 percent.
The country does not have a track record of being open to those practicing their Christian faith. In April, the Kremlin effectively banned Jehovah’s Witnesses from the country. Later in July, Russian President Vladimir Putin ushered in tighter restrictions on evangelism, Christianity Today reported.
The lack of confidence in investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the election is more related to white evangelical and white Catholic support for Trump. Both groups backed Trump in the 2016 election and continue to give him favorable ratings. But with the probe expanding and new individuals being charged, it remains to be seen whether Christians who backed Trump will remain faithful to him.