Opinion writer

The Post reports:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Tuesday recommended that former national security adviser Michael Flynn serve no prison time, citing his “substantial assistance” with several ongoing investigations, according to a new court filing. ...

Tuesday’s filing is heavily redacted, continuing to shroud in secrecy the details of what Flynn told Mueller’s team about his interactions with [President] Trump and other top officials.

But the document noted that Flynn has assisted the special counsel with its “investigation concerning links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.”

You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that a witness does not meet with federal prosecutors 19 times for nothing. Flynn’s “substantial assistance” with investigations into communications with Russia and the transition team with the approval of a high-level official (Jared Kushner, perhaps?) goes to the heart of a possible “collusion” -- call it conspiracy -- case. Former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance observes: “Mueller says Flynn provided substantial assistance, which is a term of art for federal prosecutors. It often means assistance that makes it possible for prosecutors to make cases on other defendants. ... His assistance looks like it’s centered on the core charge Mueller was given — to determine whether there was a conspiracy between Russia and anyone on the campaign, in an effort to influence the 2016 election.”

The number of interviews is quite extraordinary. Former FBI special agent Clint Watts tells me: “Flynn averaged more than one meeting a month with Mueller’s team. That would suggest seeking out Flynn for clarification or as a secondary source on other investigative leads.” He adds, “Documents also suggest there are multiple dimensions to Mueller’s investigation, which if true, would mean the belief this investigation will be over soon is incorrect.” Alternatively, Watts reasons, “Mueller might conclude his initial investigation fulfilling his mandate and hand over/refer out additional investigations to the [Justice Department].”

The Flynn filing is one more reminder of how little we and Trump know about the investigation, which is as buttoned up and leak-free as one could imagine. White observes: “Flynn’s deal strongly implies there is more to come from Mueller. The memo, with its many redactions, tells us something significant and important is coming, even though we don’t know exactly what it is.”

Neither Mueller nor Flynn has leaked anything, and it is highly doubtful that the Trump team has any idea what Flynn has told Mueller. We do not know whether Flynn has implicated Trump, but it is hard to imagine that Mueller would alleviate Flynn of any jail time unless the information was very useful in snaring a very big fish.

Mark S. Zaid, an attorney who specializes in national security matters, advises: “Flynn was one of, and at times, the senior national security official in both the Trump campaign, transition and Administration. He knowingly interacted with Russian officials and, as the filing makes clear, cooperated with several offices regarding multiple criminal investigations in 19 interviews." Zaid concludes, "The redactions alone should create pause and concern not only to those in the president’s inner circle but to anyone who believes Mueller’s investigation is almost over.”

The latest revelation also underscores how foolish and counterproductive are Trump’s public attempts to sway potential witnesses such as Michael Cohen and Roger Stone. As for the latter, Trump seemed to suggest that good things would be in store for him if he hung tight:

As for Cohen, Trump sounded as if he’s pressuring his own Justice Department and/or the courts to sentence Cohen to jail time, an act of retaliation for cooperating with prosecutors. ("He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”)

There has been some debate as to whether these public messages in and of themselves constitute witness tampering and/or an effort to impede the investigation (i.e. obstruction of justice). One might conclude that these missives are direct pressure on potential witnesses (not only Stone but others) to clam up and get a pardon, or alternatively, to cooperate and risk some jail time. The better argument, however, is that these exemplify the president’s ongoing corrupt intent to deflect and impede the investigation (be it by firing James B. Comey as FBI director, writing a phony explanation of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, smearing the prosecution when the Paul Manafort jury was out debating, or dozens of other actions). Trump’s tweets about Cohen and Stone practically screamed, “Don’t tell them what you know!

The irony is that while Trump’s tweets might incriminate him, they are entirely ineffective in disrupting the investigation, which does not turn on one or even two witnesses. The enormous amount of evidence that Mueller must be accumulating -- including information from 19 interviews with Flynn -- remains out of Trump’s reach. He not only cannot affect many witnesses' testimony nor block Mueller’s receipt of other forms of evidence (e.g. bank records); Trump has no idea what Mueller knows.

The answers that Trump has supplied in writing could well be contradicted by multiple pieces of evidence. Trump’s inability to keep his mouth (and Twitter feed) shut and to stick to the truth (or even one version of it) puts him at serious risk.

Moreover, Mueller is ensuring that both Congress and the public get a good sense of the seriousness of the investigation and the evidence out there that might implicate the president. This is both a way of making sure that evidence is squirreled away in the event Mueller is fired, and putting Congress on notice of avenues to pursue (i.e. impeachment) in the event that Mueller’s final report is bottled up. Both the American people and Congress are getting their road map as to potential wrongdoing bit by bit. With each new filing, Trump’s situation looks more perilous. One should not be surprised that his tweets are becoming more hysterical -- and riskier. The picture one has is of a desperate man who knows he’s being cornered by an adversary far better armed and utterly resistant to his threats.

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