TV cameras swarmed a federal courthouse on Friday to witness former national security adviser Michael Flynn arrive to plead guilty to a felony count of lying to the FBI about conversations he had with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The stunning news comes only a month after a federal grand jury indicted two top Trump campaign staffers—Paul Manafort and Rick Gates—on charges related to their foreign lobbying work, while lower-level aide George Papadopoulos also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Flynn is now cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and the court documents say he had called Kislyak on the orders of an unnamed senior transition official. What does this latest development mean for Flynn and, more importantly, for President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly denied that his campaign had any improper dealings with Russia? And what’s Mueller’s next move? We asked legal experts—practicing attorneys, law school professors, legal consultants—to interpret today’s bombshell news. Here is what they told us. —Taylor Gee
‘Flynn wasn’t flying solo’
David Sklansky, professor at Stanford Law School
This is a major development. Flynn has now admitted that he had direct conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about American sanctions, and about an important United Nations vote, in the closing weeks of the Obama administration, and that he then lied about those conversations when he was interviewed by the FBI. Moreover, the statement of facts that Mueller’s office filed in court in support of Flynn’s guilty plea makes clear that Flynn wasn’t flying solo: He kept other senior members of Trump transition team in the loop about his conversations with Kislyak, and some of those contacts were actually directed by someone the pleading describes as a “very senior member” of the Trump transition team.
So this is a defendant, and now a cooperating witness, who, at a minimum, was directly involved in contacts with the Russian government on behalf of the Trump transition team and who then lied about those contacts in an effort to cover them up, and who may have been the focus of personal efforts by the president to obstruct justice. He can hardly be dismissed by Trump and his associates as a bit player; he’s a very major player. Where Mueller and his team go from here depends on what they’ve learned and will continue to learn—from conversations with Flynn and otherwise—about potential crimes within the ambit of their investigation. But it seems very, very unlikely to end with Flynn.Read More