In what we can only hope will be his last official degradation of his office, the president pardoned Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, on Wednesday, the afternoon before Thanksgiving. Mr. Flynn freely pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators, a felony, about whether he discussed anti-Kremlin sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “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,” Mr. Flynn said then. “I accept full responsibility for my actions.” But then he took it all back.
Mr. Flynn switched lawyers, hiring Sidney Powell — yes, the same Sidney Powell who last week alleged a vast international communist plot to flip the 2020 presidential election to President-elect Joe Biden — and insisted that he was the victim of FBI manipulation. Of course, no one forced him to lie to counterintelligence investigators. But Mr. Trump, who had privately pushed then-FBI Director James B. Comey to go easy on his former confidant, waged a public campaign against prosecuting Mr. Flynn, tying it into his efforts to discredit the Russia investigation. Finally, Attorney General William P. Barr bailed out Mr. Flynn, moving to drop the case against the former Trump staffer, despite his previous guilty plea.
Mr. Flynn’s judge balked, igniting a debate about whether he could stop the Justice Department from showing such obvious favoritism for one of the president’s friends based on legal reasoning the department rejected in other cases. A former federal judge hired to advise the court found Mr. Barr’s justifications “an unconvincing effort to disguise as legitimate a decision to dismiss that is based solely on the fact that Flynn is a political ally of President Trump.” No matter: Now the case is closed. Mr. Trump steamrolled the facts and debate, deploying one of the least reviewable powers of his office — his pardon authority — to officially end the Flynn drama. He enabled an admitted felon to walk free solely because he was a loyal Trumpist.
As he so often does, Mr. Trump grounded his decision in a half-baked conspiracy theory, insisting Wednesday through his press secretary that Mr. Flynn was “the victim of partisan government officials engaged in a coordinated attempt to subvert the election of 2016.” In fact, Mr. Flynn was caught scheming with the representative of a foreign government that actively tried to subvert the 2016 election. Then he lied about it to the FBI.
So it remains in Mr. Trump’s America, at least for a couple more months: Guilty is innocent; lies are truth; traitors are patriots. The question is not whether Mr. Trump has degraded the presidency. The question is how much long-term damage he has done. Will future presidents now feel free to use the pardon power — or the other vast powers of office — with such nakedly crooked motives? How many will calculate that they can make corruption appear to be patriotism as long as enough of the country wants to believe the lies they tell?