But Flynn stands apart from the rest, because his whole story contains so much of the Trump era in microcosm.
And in pardoning Flynn, Trump has waged what may be his final biggest act of war on our country.
Back in 2016, Flynn was given a close advisory role to the Republican candidate, mostly because he was one of the few retired flag officers who would stand behind Trump. The fact that he was a loony conspiracy theorist and venomous Islamophobe (he once said Islam is “a malignant cancer”) only helped. At the time, he was also secretly working on behalf of the Turkish government.
Flynn’s 24-day tenure as national security adviser came to an end when routine government surveillance of the Russian ambassador discovered the two officials in conversation before Trump was inaugurated. When the FBI questioned Flynn about it, he lied to the agents about the substance of their conversations, as well as to others in the Trump White House.
Flynn pleaded guilty to his crime, and that could have been the end of it. But then — and this is where his story becomes even more a Trump story — he was adopted by the far right as a martyr, a victim of the so-called deep state, a hero whose only crime was service to Donald Trump.
Attorney General William P. Barr injected himself into the case this past May, seeking to undo Flynn’s guilty plea. To say it’s unusual for the nation’s chief prosecutor to come to the side of someone who has already pleaded guilty would be an understatement. Along with the commutation given to Stone, it was as vivid an illustration of the corruption of the Justice Department as one could imagine.
But before Flynn’s case could be resolved by the court, Trump stepped in with a pardon. Not because Flynn was innocent. Not because he received some draconian sentence (he hadn’t been sentenced yet) and justice demanded it. But simply because he’s one of Trump’s guys, one of a long list of criminals and thugs with whom this president has surrounded himself.
In the end, the Flynn pardon is perhaps best understood as one final act of venal, malevolent, retributive warfare waged by Trump on the country that just rejected him, and even on the rule of law itself, which he could not ultimately subvert to quite the degree he’d hoped.
Humiliatingly rejected in an election where an unprecedented 80 million people voted against him and on track to lose by as many as 7 million votes, Trump has seen his effort to steal the election outright implode into ignominy and vaudevillian buffoonery.
So, while Trump has long telegraphed this move, his final pulling of the trigger can be understood as a howl of impotent (relative to what he’d hoped to accomplish) fury. It’s a declaration to supporters that while his power is dribbling away like the hair dye or makeup or whatever it was streaking down Rudy Giuliani’s face as he gushed with stupid lies about countless legitimately cast ballots, Trump still has just enough power left to trample the rule of law one last time.
Trump will never concede that the rule of law rightly triumphed against his effort to steal the election, of course. Instead, his message to supporters has been that there cannot be a legitimately neutral electoral outcome in which he lost, that you are either a winner or a sucker and there are no valid, lawful outcomes, that the idea of conceding to a legitimate loss — out of respect for the rule of law, democracy, and the peaceful transfer of power — is for losers. So he would fight to overturn the votes of millions by any illicit means necessary.
This having failed, the Flynn pardon sends pretty much the same message. Except the only winner is Trump’s felon crony.
Here’s the final insult.
All this is the culmination of a day Trump spent spewing still more deranged lies about the election, claiming he won the election “easily” and also that, of course, GOP legislatures should have overturned the votes on his behalf based on his lies about them.
Yet while Trump has been off spinning these fantasies and preparing to pardon his cronies, it has fallen to President-elect Joe Biden to urge Americans to take precautions against the coronavirus pandemic during the holiday, stepping into the leadership role that Trump has refused to fill himself for most of the year, to extraordinarily destructive and catastrophic effect.
Fortunately, Trump’s single most ambitious assault on this country and the rule of law failed. But, for now, we can only hope that the Flynn pardon is the very worst act of retributive warfare he intends to wage against the country before he’s gone.