For those hoping to learn something substantial about Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation Tuesday night — which, let’s be honest, is everyone reading this and the author, too — Tuesday’s filing in the Michael Flynn case was kind of a bust.
The sentencing filing, which recommended as little as no prison time for President Trump’s former national security adviser in light of his “substantial” cooperation, was heavily redacted. It didn’t lay out any actual evidence that Flynn provided and alluded only to a few general topics.
But a few sections stick out — and reinforce the idea that Flynn cooperated substantially and that he might help Mueller produce substantial results.
The other investigation(s)
Near the top, the filing says Flynn has cooperated not just in the special counsel’s investigation but also in a “criminal investigation” — all of the details of which are redacted. It also appears to list his assistance in another matter, which is redacted entirely and isn’t even described as a criminal investigation.
These other matters are detailed later in the document, but all of that is redacted, leaving us to guess as to what the secret investigations are.
One possibility raised by Matthew Miller, a Justice Department official in the Obama administration, is that it could refer to United Arab Emirates lobbyist George Nader (who is cooperating with Mueller’s inquiry) attempting to use Republican Party fundraiser Elliott Broidy to push the White House in a more pro-UAE and pro-Saudi direction.
Other possibilities include that one of them refers to the obstruction of justice portion of Mueller’s probe, something involving Flynn’s deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland (who has amended her statement to the special counsel), or some other complicated foreign lobbying issue perhaps involving Turkey, the country Flynn lied about working for.
What does seem evident is that at least one of the other investigations is outside Mueller’s purview. The first mention of the special counsel’s office (SCO) comes after the redacted criminal investigation is mentioned, suggesting that it isn’t a special counsel matter. The two other investigations also can’t be the case involving Michael Cohen — Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” — which was handled by the Southern District of New York, given that that matter is no longer “ongoing” and is public knowledge, which wouldn’t necessitate redaction.
What’s redacted about the Kislyak communications?
Perhaps the most tantalizing redaction comes when the filing describes the situation that got Flynn into trouble in the first place: his lies about his communications with Russia’s then-U.S. ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, about sanctions during the transition period after Trump was elected.
After describing the situation generally — that others (specifically Vice President Pence and then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer) relayed the false information — Mueller’s team redacts four lines. Why are those four lines redacted? Do they point to the usefulness of the information? Do they address whether Flynn promised relief of sanctions? Do they suggest who else knew about Flynn’s contact with Russia’s ambassador, which risked running afoul of the Logan Act?
Given that this is a publicly known event, the fact that the end of that paragraph is redacted suggests Mueller knows something about it that we don’t. Exactly what that is apparently will remain a mystery.
“His early cooperation was particularly valuable because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight regarding events and issues under investigation by the SCO”
There has been a lot of talk about how big it was that Cohen had flipped, given his proximity to Trump; here Mueller’s team reinforces that Flynn was a key figure who was involved at several key junctures of Trump’s rise to the presidency and had “firsthand insight” into some key events.
This may not be hugely surprising, but it’s notable because it suggests Flynn was able to shed some light on key events. And given that he lied to investigators on several counts — including about his Kislyak contacts and his work on behalf of Turkey — the fact that Mueller’s team is requesting no jail time suggests that his information was pretty fruitful.
“Related firsthand witnesses”
At the end of the above paragraph is an allusion to how Flynn’s cooperation “likely affected decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the SCO and cooperate.”
It’s possible that just means that Flynn was among the first to flip, and that it gave others an incentive to get on board early. But former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance thinks its conspicuous that the text says “witnesses” rather than “defendants.” That could suggest this wasn’t just about who cut plea deals, and it suggests that we may not know the extent to which people in the White House or Trump’s orbit are cooperating.