What Questions Does Flynn’s Plea Agreement Raise?

Michael Flynn’s plea agreement, announced Friday, brought with it new documents, new details, and so many new questions.

The really big ones stem from the statement of offense, which Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team released Friday. It outlines things Flynn lied to FBI investigators about in January and provides a timeline of his phone calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during a crucial moment during the presidential transition. The timeline clearly indicates that Flynn had not gone rogue, communicating with the Russian government independently. Instead, he was consulting with “senior members of the Presidential Transition Team” about what to say to Kislyak and relaying back to them any information he learned. Flynn was coordinating policy positions with Kislyak on new U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration in December because of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election, as well as a UN Security Council resolution on Israeli settlement construction. The foreign policies the Trump administration was pushing with the Russians appear to have been a bold attempt to directly undermine U.S. diplomatic efforts at the time.

Here are some of the questions that Just Security’s editors are asking based on what we learned Friday. 

Questions:

What else does Flynn know about any contacts or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the campaign that he may have given to Mueller in exchange for the plea agreement?

What about these events did President Trump know when he reportedly asked FBI Director James Comey to let Flynn go in February and when he asked senior intelligence officials to get Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn in March?

Did President-elect Donald Trump in fact authorize or direct his chief national security transition official (Flynn) to contact a foreign adversary to undermine U.S. foreign policy? Did Trump do so directly or through Jared Kushner?

If Trump was the one directing actively undermining of the Obama administration’s foreign policy with foreign governments, what was his motivation? Was it a good faith policy disagreement, anti-Obama animus, Russian capture of Trump advisers, or Russia’s ability to blackmail Trump?

If Trump believed that was appropriate behavior for a president-elect, then why hide it or lie about it later?

Is the Logan Act viable in this case? Is it viable as applied to a presidential transition?  Does it apply to a president-elect? Even if the Act is not enforced criminally by Mueller, what is the legal and political significance of a brazen violation of the Logan Act if that’s what these actions amount to?

Did President-elect Trump direct Flynn to lie to the FBI during his Jan. 24 interview?

Is that why the White House took no action on Flynn after Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told them the national security adviser was compromised until the Washington Post published their story?

Who was the “Presidential Transition Team” official on the phone with Flynn discussing what he’d say to Kislyak on Dec. 29? Who else from Trump’s transition team was with this official at Mar-a-Lago when he was on the phone with Flynn? Did these officials make false statements to the FBI if and when they were asked about the same events in Flynn’s plea agreement?

Did Flynn ever report directly to the president?

Who else did Flynn inform of his contacts with the Russians before and after the election?

Did Flynn operate with the understanding there was some form of verbal agreement or quid pro quo of any kind with the Russians? If so, toward what end?

What did Vice President Mike Pence know? When did he know it? Was Pence in the loop on Flynn’s contacts with the Russians?  

On Jan. 15, Pence told Fox News, “I talked to General Flynn yesterday, and the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to new U.S. sanctions against Russia and the expulsion of diplomats.” If Pence knew nothing of the Dec. 29 transition team conversation at Mar-a-Lago, why was he kept out of the loop on such a high-level foreign policy conversation?

If Flynn did deceive Pence about his calls to Kislyak, what was his motivation?

What did Jared Kushner know?

What did Reince Priebus know?

What did Jeff Sessions know?

What did Steve Bannon know?

What did Don McGahn know?

For that matter, what does White House attorney Ty Cobb know, even now?

 

Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

 

About the Author(s)

Kate Brannen

Editorial Director of Just Security; nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council; previously senior reporter covering the Pentagon for Foreign Policy Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).