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Trump backers just had their anti-Mueller hopes and dreams dashed

The Fix’s Aaron Blake breaks down what the sentencing delay for former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn means. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
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On Saturday, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro engaged in a bit of wishful fantasizing.

Earlier that week, Michael Flynn’s attorneys seemed to imply that he was tricked into lying to the FBI. In response, the judge in Flynn’s case asked for more information about Flynn’s interview. Pirro wagered that the judge, Emmet G. Sullivan, might blow up special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s entire case.

She hailed Sullivan as “a jurist unafraid of the swamp, a judge who has a track record of calling out prosecutorial misconduct, a man who does not tolerate injustice or abuse of power.” She suggested Flynn’s guilty plea might be thrown out: “The amazing part of it is, if he does it, then the house of cards of Robert Mueller falls.”

That’s decidedly not what happened Tuesday. In fact, quite the opposite.

At Flynn’s sentencing, Sullivan made a point of making sure that Flynn stated (and restated) that he lied to the FBI, that he knew it was wrong to do so and that he accepted responsibility. Sullivan asked Flynn whether he knew that lying to the FBI was illegal, and Flynn said, “I was aware.” The judge gave Flynn several chances to withdraw his guilty plea, and Flynn opted to proceed.

Then Sullivan went big. “Arguably, you sold your country out,” he told Flynn, adding: “I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain, for this criminal offense.” He even invoked treason, asking the government whether they considered such a charge. (The government said it had not.) Sullivan suggested Flynn was working as a foreign agent while serving in the White House — a claim which he later backed off.

Sullivan was clearly seeking to uproot the seeds of doubt planted by Flynn’s attorneys in the sentencing memo, which alleged that the government treated Flynn differently than other witnesses by urging him not to bring an attorney to questioning and failing to tell him that lying was illegal.

That argument was cultivated by the likes of Pirro and other critics of Mueller’s investigation, including President Trump himself and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. They have argued that Flynn didn’t really do anything wrong and that he’s basically a military hero who has been railroaded by his government in its single-minded pursuit of Trump.

But while Pirro’s speculation might have been the most over-the-top, plenty of others believed that they were witnessing the emergence of a smoking gun that could lay bare malfeasance on the part of Mueller and the FBI.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board even accused the FBI of “entrapment,” which is a very specific legal term that clearly didn’t apply in this case. The more serious allegation, which some made after Flynn’s attorneys filed the memo, was that this amounted to some kind of “perjury trap.” As I wrote at the time, though, the treatment meted out to Flynn was wholly unremarkable. Most people who aren’t in custody aren’t informed that lying is illegal, and the government need not tell you to bring a lawyer. The idea that Flynn, a three-star general who has worked in military intelligence, would need to be reminded of such things was always grasping at straws, both legally and logically.

In the end, Pirro’s monologue might be the most telling. She rightly pointed out that Flynn faced a judge who has shown concerns about “prosecutorial misconduct” and abuses of government power and who is something of a judicial wild card. Even he saw basically nothing objectionable about Flynn’s treatment and nothing small about his lies. Instead, he saw a very guilty man.