Donald Trump with Michael Flynn during the 2016 campaign
Donald Trump issues a Twitter pardon to his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a central figure in Trump-Russia cooperation who twice pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI.
Trump tweeted on Wednesday, “It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon.”
The act was expected after Attorney General William Barr, in an extraordinary intervention, failed to quash Flynn’s conviction. Defying a concerted public campaign by Trump and his right-wing allies, Judge Emmet Sullivan held up Barr’s demand that the guilty pleas be set aside. An appeals court refused to halt Sullivan’s review of the basis for the Attorney General’s move, which led to the resignation of four Justice Department prosecutors.
Flynn was the only White House official convicted in the investigation of the Trump campaign’s interaction with Russian officials in 2016, including about Moscow’s hacking and dissemination of information stolen from the campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Despite the attempt by Trump and Barr to bury the 446-page report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Flynn was a reminder of the extent of the cooperation. In December, he spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, including five conversation on the 29th. The discussions focused on the incoming Trump Administration lifting sanctions on Moscow, imposed by President Barack Obama over Russia’s interference in the election.
Moscow had already identified Flynn, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency as a possible conduit for their approaches to shift US foreign policy. In December 2015, he was paid $45,000 to be a guest of President Vladimir Putin at a celebratory dinner for the Russian State outlet RT. The following summer, US intelligence agencies monitored Russian conversations about how to use Flynn and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to their advantage.
In July this year, Trump commuted the sentence of his friend Roger Stone over seven felonies, connected with Stone’s involvement in the dissemination of the stolen Russian information by WikiLeaks.
“Pardon Does Not Erase Truth”
Amid revelations about the Trump-Russia connections, Flynn was dismissed as National Security Advisor on February 13, 2017, just over three weeks after Trump’s inauguration. In late January, he had been questioned twice by the FBI about the conversations with Kislyak, lying on both occasions.
While removing his ally, Trump told FBI Director James Comey 24 hours later, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Less than three months, Trump fired Comey, hoping to quash the Trump-Russia investigation.
But with Mueller taking up the inquiry, Trump distanced himself from Flynn, tweeting December 2017:
I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, ignoring Flynn’s guilty pleas. proclaimed “an end [to] the relentless, partisan pursuit of an innocent man”.
Republican legislators celebrated the cutoff of further legal proceedings with Flynn’s pardon. Rep. Jim Jordan tweeted, “God bless Michael Flynn!” while Trump friend Sen. Lindsey Graham cheered, “Very good use of the pardon power by President Trump. General Flynn was NOT a Russian agent. Instead, he was the victim of a politically motivated investigation and prosecution where the ends justified the means.”
But Democratic counterparts situated the pardon as part of Trump’s abuse of power. Rep. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, summarized:
Flynn lied to the F.B.I. about his communications with the Russians — efforts which undermined US foreign policy after sanctions were imposed on Russia for interfering in our elections.
And Flynn pled guilty to those lies, twice. A pardon by Trump does not erase that truth, no matter how Trump and his allies try to suggest otherwise.
Controversy Beyond Russia
Flynn was controversial well before and well beyond the Trump-Russia affair. He was fired in August 2014 as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency after issuing demands for radical changes and making a presentation that encouraged women to not be “Plain Jane” and wear makeup at work: “No flats….Paint your nails….Brunettes have more leeway with vibrant colors than blondes or redheads.”
In September 2016, as he worked for the Trump campaign, Flynn met envoys from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss US extradition of the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, resident in Pennsylvania and accused by Erdoğan of organizing a coup attempt in July. Flynn was reportedly paid $530,000 to consult for a Turkish businessman in a deal directed by the Erdoğan Government, but never registered as the agent of a foreign entity.
Flynn also lobbied during the campaign for nuclear energy deals, as an advisor for the company IP3 International, run by retired US generals. He texted a business contact that one of the deals was “good to go”.
As soon as he became National Security Advisor, Flynn and longtime Trump associate Thomas Barrack pushed for the export of US nuclear energy technology to Saudi Arabia as part of IP3’s plan for 40 plants.