Michael Flynn and the dizzying descent into chaos

Opinion: Even if the Michael Flynn testimony proves a catalyst in the Mueller probe, America’s politics may never return to normal

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 29: General Mike Flynn, Donald Trump's new national security adviser, flashes a sign to the media after arriving at Trump Tower on November 29, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

General Mike Flynn, Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, flashes a sign to the media after arriving at Trump Tower on November 29, 2016. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It was almost exactly one year ago today that Michael Flynn bid reporters adieu as the doors to the Trump tower elevator closed before him, and sealed him off from the prying eyes of what was still then—still perhaps is now—a stunned pool of media. As the doors closed, he threw out a peace sign.

At that moment, in late November, 2016, the discussions about “fake news” and Russia that have dominated 2017 were still in their infancy, but there was already a consensus about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. “Of all the disturbing scenes in the presidential campaign, the Republican Convention speech by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn stood out,” the New York Times editorial board wrote days earlier, when Flynn had been tapped as Trump’s national security adviser. “During a fiery address in which he lamented the decline of American exceptionalism and lambasted the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, General Flynn joined the crowd in chants of ‘lock her up!’ Smiling slyly, he shouted: ‘Yeah, that’s right, lock her up!”

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On Friday morning, Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in January, about discussions he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak—a charge that carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. As the news rocketed around the world, the early analyses suggested it was the lesser of the potential charges Flynn could have faced, and ABC News quickly reported that not only had Flynn agreed to “full cooperation” in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into potential Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign, but that Flynn is also “prepared to testify that Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians, initially as a way to work together to fight ISIS in Syria.”

Much may hinge on the qualifier at the end of that last sentence. Was that all he spoke about with the Russians? What about the reported discussion with Kislyak about sanctions—was Flynn directed in any way regarding those? We don’t know, yet. Perhaps Mueller does—or soon will. As far as Kislyak is concerned, chatting with Flynn about sanctions, at least—as the Washington Post reported in early February—was no big deal. “So what?” he asked recently on a Russian TV program. “What serious diplomat doesn’t try to establish contacts with a new president’s team? This is standard diplomatic work.”

While we wait to find out whether that’s the case, there is something else to consider: that nothing may change even if we have the answers to all our questions. In fact, things may get even worse.

It can be difficult to imagine that happening, because the prevailing assumption is that when someone is caught dead-to-rights—that is, if there is ever enough evidence to prove collusion or something similar between Donald Trump and the Russian government—they are subject to the full force of the law. They are, we have been taught by both history and popular culture, taken to prison or at the very least taken down, and the world rights itself again. Yet that may not occur in this case.

As Vox writer David Roberts speculated in November, Mueller may make his case, and it might still not be enough. Impeachment, for instance, would require the Republican-controlled Congress to vote in favour, and despite everything that Trump has done so far in his short term as president, Republicans in Washington remain—with some exceptions—supportive of him. In the wake of Trump’s tweets earlier this week that amplified a racist British fringe political group, Orrin Hatch maintained that Trump is “one of the best” presidents under which he has served. “He’s not afraid to make decisions,” Hatch told MSNBC. “He’s not afraid to take on the big mouths around here.”

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Worse, and more dizzying for the general populace, would be the prospect that even if Trump were to be impeached—if Mueller’s evidence was enough—the political and ideological split that has opened in the United States would widen further. The rhetoric would escalate, with allegations of a “deep state” coup or a liberal-media conspiracy to oust a president they simply didn’t like. The chaotic dialogue that has dominated 2017 would be refreshed anew, and the focus of attack from both sides of the divide would no longer be a foreign entity, but more and more, domestic.

Given all that has occurred in the last few months, this outcome—an ever-deepening divide and ever-crazier allegations from both sides—seems inevitable in either case. In fact, at this juncture, it appears the only guaranteed outcome – even if, as some have suggested, all that happens is that Flynn is charged under the archaic Logan Act.

On TV in Russia, Kislyak was asked to explain how Russia became so toxic in America—how the country had become the focus of so much anger and skepticism. Kislyak (inaccurately) pointed to the story of his phone call with Flynn as the starting point. That story, he said, “was followed by many speculations, scares, made up stories, a lot of falsehood, and continues to live on. And it was fuelled by … the war between Democrats and Republicans, with part of the Republicans on the team of their president, the liberal press versus the White House, and in this toxic atmosphere, they made us toxic.”

As we have seen, there is reason to believe the stories were not made up, nor mere speculation. But while Kislyak’s blame was aimed squarely at American political society, falsely casting Russia as just an innocent player, he was still onto something, anyway. That is, whether or not the end goal of the purported Russian operation was to have Trump in office, it was a destabilizing of the status quo that probably mattered more. The ultimate outcome was a weaponizing of an existing toxicity between the tribes—directed first toward Russia, and eventually, catastrophically, inward.

Mueller may find the smoking gun, and maybe Flynn is it. But even if so, there may be no way for America to right its political world again.


Michael Flynn and the dizzying descent into chaos

  1. The Trump card has been played in this house of cards, and who didn’t see this coming? Now watch Trump wag the dog, and see who his guns will be set on first, and i don’t mean anyone in the Democratic party either, who is going to see the the first military invasion by Trump, it’s only a matter of time, not when, or will we see a coup d’etat by the military, sit back people, put your seat belts on, because i think the US is in for a bumpy ride.

    • Something doesn’t smell right here!

      This guy was on Obama’s payroll for 2 years. He gets fired for insubordination. Creates his own consulting firm and employs Woolsey (Clinton’s former CIA director) and Kelley (lawyer and former Obama embassy staff in Baghdad). These are all card carrying Democrats!

      This means these guys were lobbying Congress on US Foreign Policy for years under Obama.

      What does Obama know? Did he inform Trump of these guys influence as part of the transition? Why didn’t Obama move on these guys before the election?

    • Yep – and here comes the retractions! ABC has aleady posted their retraction. CNN broadcast the exact same story from the AP. They haven’t posted their retraction yet.

      “Willie Wilson ABC said Flynn was asked by Trump to talk to Russia while Trump was a candidate. That was a lie. Flynn talked to Russia as a part of the transition and that is a normal course of action during transition, the conversation was vetted and approved by the Obama admin. Nothing was illegal about it. He is in trouble only for lying to the FBI. The ABC fake report, left out there, retweeted and repeated by other networks, caused the stock market to take a tumble. ABC did not come out to correct their story for 6 or 7 hours.”

      • Right on the money. How do you collude to win an election by talking to Russian AFTER the election!!!

  2. ‘Lock her up’ the men chanted, while the flames crept up the stairs.

    • Oh look it’s the drama queen

  3. “America’s politics may never return to normal”. Wow!

    No one can accurately define the phrase, ‘normal American politics’. Why should it surprise anyone that when a group of non-politicians, i.e., a real estate tycoon, a group of generals, and an assorted group of lawyers become the main portion of government? The status quo is the last thing needed.

    “… dizzying descent into chaos”. Really? Words suitable for a digital cartoon methinks. But, certainly not a serious political statement.

    American economics are better than they have been for decades, even with an opposition party that, short of a coup d’etat, will do anything to introduce stumbling blocks. Foreign policy appears unstable but, if studied closely, we have no idea what could be on the mind of The Donald, nor should we … there is such a thing as national security, especially as far as North Korea is concerned.

    Rocketman is in lockstep with Presidents Xi and Putin. As soon as he has made it patently obvious that he has WMD powerful enough to destroy anyone he wishes to, he will shift his focus to improving the life of his people. He has no nuclear ambitions other than that because, by that time (probably decades from now) America would not consider a surprise pre-emptive strike possible.

  4. This occurred after the election and as Trump has stated perfectly legal. What’s the confusion? And no the US political world is just fine, regardless of how many hysterical articles are written.

  5. Does the media think people are as stupid as this article?

    What do you mean we never know what Flynn talked about? They HAD all the conversations recorded!!! What exactly do they need? When FBI asked Flynn what he talked about they ALREADY had transcripts! Those transcripts proved he did nothing wrong! So why ask Flynn about what he talked about when you ALREADY have transcripts?

    How can this article be so silly that we never know what Flynn talked about then they were wiretapping all his calls?

    In fact the BIG QUESTION is why FBI asked Flynn what he talked about to the Russian ambassador when they ALREADY knew! The only reason is for entrapment (and that exactly what occurred).

    As pointed out, ABC messed up. Flynn talked AFTER Trump was elected. How can you collude to win an election by talking after Trump already been elected? (Does the MSM think readers are THAT stupid?

    What the FBI did was entrapment – they already had transcripts of the conversions.

    And Mueller Cleary is grasping at straws.

    You don’t charge your star witness with lying!!! You charge him with j-walking or something else. The INSTANT you charge your star whiteness with lying is the VERY instant that you burned that witness and cannot use Flynn for anything else. That means Mueller case is very weak and Flynn is of zero use to Mueller.

    And Flynn was supposed to talk to diplomats – that’s what incoming administrations have done for 100+ years – it is their job!!!

    More important that both FBI and Trump canned Flynn for the same act. As soon as Trump found out Flynn withheld details of what he talked about to Russian diplomats – Trump fired him. And as soon as he withheld THE SAME details to the FBI, they charged him with lying. This SUPPORTS and COVERS Trumps actions!

    Flynn’s discussion to Russia were 100% legal and part of his job. Flynn was changed with a “process” crime – lying about what he said to Russia (but what he said was 100% legal).

    Flynn committed no crime in regards to Russia – but only what he said and did not say to Trump and the FBI – both FBI and Trump thus reacted on this withholding of information.

    The FBI has wiretap transcriptions of everything Flynn talked about – so they would have charged Flynn with ANYTHING but lying since that means your star witness is of ZERO USE to further indict Trump.

    A big fat nothing burger.