Trump backers last week found their (latest) smoking gun in a supposedly vast law-enforcement conspiracy to take down President Trump: A judge asked for more information about Michael Flynn’s guilty plea after Flynn’s attorney implied his client had been tricked into lying.
This was quickly and prematurely hailed as the event that could lay bare the whole tawdry affair. The Wall Street Journal editorial board and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) suggested that Flynn had been “entrapped.” Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro lauded Judge Emmet G. Sullivan as the man who could soon expose “prosecutorial misconduct” and throw out Flynn’s guilty plea. Mike Huckabee told Pirro that the Justice Department had been “sucker-punching a wonderful, fine public servant and military hero like General Flynn. It’s disgusting.”
Just two days later, the Flynn-as-innocent-dupe narrative suffered a major setback.
In a newly unsealed document that comes a day before Flynn is due to be sentenced, Flynn’s business partner Bijan Kian has been charged with illegally acting as an agent of Turkey. Kian has also been charged with conspiracy for an effort to get Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, extradited from the United States. Erdogan has accused Gulen of fueling a 2016 coup attempt against him.
None of this is hugely surprising. Flynn’s original guilty plea a year ago noted that he lied to investigators about his work for Turkey — in addition to other lies. It was also assumed this was one of two investigations with which Flynn was cooperating that had been redacted from a recent sentencing filing by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team.
But the indictment is further evidence that the idea that Flynn was just some guy going about his business who waltzed into an FBI trap is fanciful; it implicates his own eponymous business in an illegal lobbying operation. The Flynn Intel Group is referred to as “Company A” in the filing, and Flynn is referred to as “Person A.”
The indictment lays out a kickback scheme that made it seem as if a Turkish businessman was the Flynn Intel Group’s client, when, in fact, it was the Turkish government. It says Flynn and Kian met with high-level Turkish officials in New York in September 2016 about the effort — despite Flynn having said that it was just to gain background about the country.
The indictment demonstrates the extent to which Flynn was secretly working to advance the interests of his Turkish clients while publicly serving as a key surrogate to Donald Trump and auditioning for a role in his administration. According to the newly unsealed court document, Flynn was texting and emailing frequently about how to advance the Turkish agenda throughout the final weeks of the presidential campaign.
Flynn authored an op-ed about Gulen that ran in the Hill newspaper on Election Day — Nov. 8, 2016. That raised red flags, given that it parroted Turkish talking points and Flynn was a central figure on Donald Trump’s campaign who stood a great chance of joining his administration. The Flynn Intel Group didn’t register its foreign lobbying until March 2017 — after Flynn had been relieved of his duties as national security adviser for lying to the White House about his contacts with Russia.
In Flynn’s plea, the government said his lies and omissions included “falsely stating that [Flynn Intel Group] did not know whether or the extent to which the Republic of Turkey was involved in the Turkey project, the Turkey project was focused on improving US business organizations' confidence regarding doing business in Turkey, and an op-ed by Flynn published in The Hill on November 8, 2016, was written at his own initiative” and “omitting that officials from the Republic of Turkey provided supervision and direction over the Turkey project.”
These lies now pertain to criminal charges against his former business partner, who at the time was working alongside Flynn on the very subject about which Flynn lied. Flynn himself isn’t incriminated in it, but it’s entirely logical to suggest that he carried criminal exposure here — and that this was perhaps part of the leverage that investigators had over him.
In other words: This isn’t just about Flynn having lied about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador; there is a pattern of behavior that suggests he wasn’t just some heroic general who misspoke once or twice and has been railroaded. At the worst, it suggests someone who was doing quite a bit of double-dealing and saw the need to cover it up by lying repeatedly.