Mangino column: Newly released Flynn documents, bombshell or dud?
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
On De. 2, 2017, President Donald Trump tweeted, “I had to fire General (Michael T.) 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!”
Flynn served in the United States Army with distinction in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency for two years during the Obama Administration. He served as President Trumps’ first National Security Advisor. His tenure was the shortest in history, lasting 24 days before resigning after it was revealed he misled the FBI and Vice President Mike Pence about the nature and content of his communications with the Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.
In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with Kislyak in the Fall 2016 before Donald Trump was sworn into office. Flynn was being prosecuted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller pursuant to 18 U.S. Code 1001, a federal statute that “makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation,” in this case to the FBI, unlawful.
Flynn’s case has been bogged down in federal court as his new defense team alleges he was framed in a government conspiracy. Last month, Flynn withdrew his guilty plea. According to USA TODAY Flynn’s lawyers accused prosecutors of acting in “bad faith” during their investigation.
Flynn’s attorneys accused the government of forcing him to admit to crimes he didn’t commit and hiding evidence that would’ve exonerated him.
A federal judge rejected those claims. In January, Attorney General William Barr directed the U.S. attorney for eastern Missouri, Jeffrey B. Jensen, to assist federal prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington D.C., who began handling Flynn’s case after Mueller’s office closed in March 2019.
This week documents were released as part of Barr’s review of Flynn’s case. The documents were turned over, under seal, last week to Flynn’s lawyers. Flynn’s supporters, which again includes the president, suggest the documents will exonerate Flynn.
In a sudden change of heart, President Trump retweeted a post from his son Donald Trump Jr. calling for the imprisonment of FBI officials involved in Flynn’s prosecution.
Before GOP’s start popping the champagne let’s take a look at what the documents reveal. The documents relate to how top FBI officials prepared for an interview with Flynn in January 2017.
The FBI was aware that Flynn had talked by phone with the Russian Ambassador during the presidential transition.
Flynn asked Kislyak not to react to sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama Administration in retaliation for Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Flynn’s conversation raised concerns about violating federal law.
The newly released documents indicated that the FBI debated their approach to interviewing Flynn and how to best elicit an admission of wrongdoing.
One handwritten annotation by Bill Priestap, then the FBI’s head of counterintelligence asked, “What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”
Establishing a strategy in anticipation of an interview hardly seems like wrongdoing. Priestap also noted, “If we’re seen as playing games, WH (White House) will be furious. Protect our institution by not playing games.” Clearly Priestap intended to remind agents to play it by the book.
Bradley P. Moss, a partner at the Washington, D.C. law office of Mark S. Zaid, P.C., told The Law and Crime Network, “These tactics, while maybe unseemly to the public, are largely consistent with the very type of deceptive interrogation techniques law enforcement has been permitted to use for at least 50 years.” Moss added, “This isn’t a legal bombshell that is likely to save Flynn in court.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.