Flynn case boosts Trump's bid to undo Russia probe narrative

FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2017, file photo, former President Donald Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves federal court in Washington. The Justice Department's dismissal of the Michael Flynn case has been swept up in a broader push by President Donald Trump and Republican allies to reframe the Russia investigation as a plot to sabotage his administration. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — When Michael Flynn was forced from the White House, Vice President Mike Pence said he was disappointed the national security adviser had misled him about his talks with the Russian ambassador. President Donald Trump called the deception unacceptable.

Now Pence says he’d be happy to see Flynn back in the administration, calling him a “patriot,” as Trump pronounces him exonerated.

What a difference three years makes. The Justice Department’s move to dismiss the criminal case against Flynn marks another step in his transformation, in the eyes of Trump and his allies, from rogue adviser to victim of runaway law enforcement.

The dismissal rewrites the narrative of the case that Trump's own Justice Department had advanced for the last three years in a way that former law enforcement officials say downplays the legitimate national security concerns they believe Flynn posed and the consequences of the lies he pleaded guilty to telling. It's been swept up in a broader push by Trump and his Republican allies to reframe the Russia investigation as a “deep state” plot to sabotage his administration, setting the stage for a fresh onslaught of election-year attacks on past and present Democratic officials and law enforcement leaders.

“His goal is that by the end of this, you’re just not really sure what happened and at some gut level enough Americans say, ‘It’s kind of messy,’” said Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer.

Scrambling to manage the coronavirus and economic crash, Trump has been eager to shift the focus elsewhere. He has repeatedly called Flynn “exonerated” and pushed the development as evidence of what he deemed “Obamagate,” an allegation the previous administration tried to undermine him during the presidential transition.

Trump has tried to rally his supporters around the claim to revive enthusiasm among voters disappointed by his handling of the pandemic. He used the first 20 minutes of a recent Fox News interview to attack the Obama administration rather than offer updates on the pandemic.

An investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller found Russians interfered in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, though it did not allege illegal coordination with Trump's campaign. Mueller examined multiple instances of potential obstruction of justice and pointedly noted that he was unable to exonerate Trump.

But advisers believe painting the previous administration as corrupt can distract from a pandemic crisis that has killed tens of thousands of people in the U.S., and is an effective line of attack against Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, who was Barack Obama’s vice president, according to four current and former administration officials and Republicans close to the White House not authorized to discuss the matter by name.

The hope is to revive some of the pre-pandemic arguments to cast Trump, even now as an incumbent, as the political outsider being attacked by the establishment.

Trump has increasingly lashed out in the year since Mueller's report did not accuse him of a crime or allege a criminal conspiracy between his campaign and Russia. Revelations since then have exposed problems with early days of the FBI's probe, including errors and omissions in applications to surveil an ex-Trump campaign adviser.

Republicans have echoed the attacks and scrutiny.

National intelligence director Richard Grenell has declassified a list of names of Obama officials who reportedly asked for Flynn's identity to be unredacted in intelligence documents, while Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley told the Senate the “rule of law is at risk if the federal government can get away with violating the Constitution to do what they did to Lt. Gen. Flynn."

Republicans have generated a “thick fog of propaganda," said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D- Md. “Trump and his enablers in Congress have a strategy of never admitting anything and always going on the attack."

Attorney General William Barr has said dropping the case against Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about having discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition, was in the interests of justice. The department says the FBI had insufficient grounds for interviewing Flynn about his “entirely appropriate” calls and that any imperfect statements he made weren't material to the broader counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.

But the decision stunned former law enforcement officials involved in the case, including some who say the Justice Department is rewriting history and omitting key context.

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said the FBI was obligated to interview Flynn about the Russian ambassador over sanctions imposed for election interference.

And because White House officials, including Pence, were inaccurately asserting that Flynn had never discussed sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, U.S. officials were concerned Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail since Russia also knew what was discussed.

“Mr. Flynn was set to become the national security adviser, and it was untenable that Russia — which the intelligence community had just assessed had sought to interfere in the U.S. presidential election — might have leverage over him,” Mary McCord, the Justice Department's top national security official at the time, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece in which she accused Barr of misrepresenting her viewpoints.

She acknowledged an internal quarrel over whether to disclose details of Flynn’s calls to the White House and about the FBI's move to interview Flynn without coordinating with Justice Department leadership. But she said there was broad agreement that Flynn was a potential counterintelligence threat.

A judge has yet to rule on the Justice Department's dismissal request, opening the door Tuesday to outside individuals and groups to file briefs.

But in the meantime, Flynn's revival in Trump's orbit is perhaps not surprising.

From the moment he took the stage at the 2016 Republican National Convention and led a “Lock her up!” chant aimed at Democrat Hillary Clinton, Flynn has been exceedingly popular among many Trump supporters. For many, his forced resignation and guilty plea only added to his stature as a martyr and cause celebre.

Discussions have been held about potentially welcoming him back to a post within the administration or the reelection campaign, according to the officials. Nothing has been finalized.

———

Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

(16) comments

Steve Neilsen

The Republicans are just pissed that it was Obama that caught Flynn. If only they cared more about treason.

jagman

There have been a lot of documents released in the last week from the Flynn set up, the shifty-shiff show and now the unmasking listings with Biden. We also know the whole Russia hoax that was created using the Steele Dossier was put in motion on January 5th, 2017 during a meeting with Obama at the helm (the insurance policy).

Slowly, there will be more evidence revealed in the weeks and months to come.

Expect the DNC propaganda machine (MSM) to do everything possible to spin it away. Expect liberal sheeple to continue to believe the Russia hoax. Why? They have nothing else to fall back on. It's going to be the final screams before the roof collapses.

Worse yet for the democrats is the rapidly failing Biden disaster. Latest polling within democrat circles show they are now at 30% who don't want this guy. After what they did to breadline bernie in March, how do they turn that around?

Even better has been the absolute draconian lockdown orders forced on citizens in many states that are now doubling down on stupid. Pennsylvania is nearing open rebellion. Michigan is close behind. Wisconsin had a state election this week with a republican win in the double digits. Even California lost a dem seat (the weird throuple trio girl) to a republican in a wide margin (Congressional).

PA and MI are important swing states that will now go more red that before due to all this. Minnesota will flip red, Wisconsin will go red with a wider margin than last time.

It's just like watching a slow motion train wreck with all the usual dem stooges sitting in the first car.

I know the dem symbol is a donkey but this time they will resemble what's left of a rented mule.

xJacky1

Talk about lazy reporting. The latest documents to be declassified present a totally different picture. Now that the exalted one, Obama, is out of office we can indite him for his malfeasance. He and his cronies would look good in orange.

gary4books

Piffle.

xJacky1

Nice try, documented that your team broke the rules. Does Obama take a 44 Long in a jump suit?

Jleftwich

*indict

Jleftwich

You’re just believing what ever the Republicans tell you. This type of thing (unmasking) is routine, and unremarkable. They’re pretending it’s scandalous, in order to deflect from Trump’s abysmal response to the Covid crisis. The thing that isn’t routine is leaking to the press about it.

Will we hear about the justification for the unmasking?

jagman

No. We are looking at the evidence that has been revealed. The FBI's own documentation in setting up Flynn. The previously hidden testimony from the shiff show (why was he hiding it?) showing none of those people who lied on TV had any evidence whatsoever. The revelation of the January 5th meeting.

Look, for many of us, we understood perfectly well from the very beginning the Russia story was a hoax. It was clearly the most absurd story in the history of American politics. It had legs because the Trump-hating media pushed it 24/7. Trump-hating lefties (like you) bought it hook line and sinker. You still buy it even with clear evidence you were lied to.

It no longer matters that people like you are willing to accept being lied to. The American people with common sense know what happened. They will render a decision on November 3rd based on that information.

Jleftwich

You think I'm a lefty? Boy have I got news for you! (I mean my nickname for years has been Lefty, but I digress).

I'm not surprised Trump is going for this Hail Mary. I'm just surprised he's doing it so soon. It just shows the desperation. He's even goading Graham into launching a hearing and calling Obama. Lindsey isn't having it though.

Trump better be careful what he wishes for. The harried release of the unmasking docs points to other suspect stuff that Flynn was engaging in. Have you forgotten that Flynn was a paid (unregistered) agent for Russia and Turkey? And he was the former director of the DIA. Used to be people such as he (i.e., someone with sensitive clearances) could not travel to Russia ... without permission.

jagman

Hail Mary? Give me a break. All the docs revealed thus far are from actual government records: FBI files & notes, House testimony (previously hidden by the despicable schiff). Unmasking records. Hardly a Hail Mary. The real question is why it took so long to come out.

Lindsey Graham? Hah! He's just a big talker. He sat back and watched it all happen. Just like the other RINOS. Same with Gowdy. Nothing but talk. No action.

Face it. Ric Grenell has done more to expose this whole charade in 3 weeks than the RINOS in the Senate have done in three and a half years. They should be ashamed.

As far as your Russia concerns, maybe you should have spent as much time concerned about communist China. They are a bigger threat than a second world country such as Russia. Look. I don't like Russia's leadership. Putin is a thug. But he's no real threat to the USA and he knows it. He's an "Eddie Haskell" type of leader. You do know the Soviet Union collapsed nearly 30 years ago, right?

Flynn's failure to register? How about your buddies the Podesta brothers? Same crime. perfectly OK because they're dems.

The reason they had to destroy Flynn is because he knows where the bodies are buried from the obama administration.

jagman

I might note, leftwich, that I base my opinion of your politics on 100% of your comments over time. 100% of them are 100% left-wing positions. No matter what the subject. There is no variation. You are extremely predictable.

Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck. Oh yeah. It's a duck!

I would further note that I am predicable as well. Pro American, pro free market, pro individual liberty. Pro personal responsibility. There is no question that America is the greatest country on Earth. That labels me a "radical republican" by one humorous poster on here. Apparently it's "radical" to believe in America first, Americans first and American exceptionalism.

I am , however, an extreme "leave me alone" libertarian. If there ever happens to be an article about social issues and/or real civil rights, my comments will get me labeled a crazy liberal.

The cool thing about being libertarian is getting to irritate both sides of the establishment organ.

bosco

Jagman, another benefit of being a libertarian is that all it takes to PO either side is to quote their own leader back to them - such as all women must be believed.

jagman

Yep, bosco, I've been PO'ing people all my life by simply exposing the lies.

No one wants to be told the baby's ugly.

bosco

"Yep, bosco, I've been PO'ing people all my life by simply exposing the lies" That's all it takes sometimes. I am so glad that the true hypocrisy of the Democrats is finally coming to light and everyone can see how shifty Schiff really is.[thumbup][ninja]

secpol1970

You are in denial of the treason of the democrats.

jloo

Clueless.

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