Earlier this month, another major development happened in the ongoing Russia investigation. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been looking into the issue of possible election meddling for several months now, and there have already been four indictments for criminal activity. While the White House seems to think that this investigation is wrapping up, it's clear to nearly all observers that things are getting a lot more intense now. Flynn has plead guilty to one count of lying to the FBI (but there were several other offenses he could easily have been charged for). Just like we did with the Manafort indictments, we'll break down this new development as well.
So who is Michael Flynn? He is a retired Lt. General in the U.S. Army and served as the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) under Obama and as National Security Advisor under Trump. The big controversy surrounding Flynn starts in 2014 when he was fired from his position as director of the DIA after openly criticizing the Obama administration's Middle East policy while serving in his position. After that, Flynn and his son started up a policy consulting firm whose major clients included companies closely tied to the Russian government. During this time, he also received large payments for speaking a dinner in honor of the Russian propaganda outlet Russia Today (RT). Naturally, this behavior would give him a prime position within the campaign of Trump.
On the campaign trail, Flynn served as a key foreign policy and national security advisor for Trump and his family. After the surprising results of the election, it was widely believed that Flynn would be chosen as the next National Security Adviser. As part of the presidential transition, Trump sat down with Obama in the Oval Office to discuss the transfer of power. During this meeting, Trump was explicitly cautioned against hiring Flynn due to his sketchy foreign policy dealings. Nevertheless, Trump persisted. We now know from Flynn's guilty plea that he spent these transition months making contacts with Russian officials to alter current policy and make promises of future sanctions removal. Supposedly, it is Flynn lying about these meetings that ultimately led to his removal from the NSA position and lying about these to the FBI has resulted in his current predicament.
Why is this behavior potentially significant? Well, there is a very shaky case to be made about something called the Logan Act. This is a very old act that essentially seeks to prevent private citizens from working with foreign governments to undermine or alter American foreign policy. This can get pretty vague, so it's no surprise that nobody has ever actually gone to jail because of this act. There is also the case of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). This act, passed just as the Second World War was heating up, seeks to gather information on people who work in the interests of foreign governments and fail to disclose it for official government positions. It's basically a given that Flynn violated this act, so the fact that he hasn't been indicted for it strongly indicates that a plea deal was made.
Essentially, plea deals work by getting someone to plead guilty to one crime in exchange for information on other crimes people may have committed. This is a very common tactic used to bring down criminal organizations where it's tough to pin something on the people at the top, but way easier to get charges for others in the organization. If Flynn has turned into a witness for the Special Counsel, it could prove to be very damaging to those above him in the campaign/presidency. Any there aren't many people left outside of Trump's own family at this point.
What's irrefutable now is that some people have committed wrongdoing, but we don't yet know for certain who else has committed crimes or if this is the end of it (though I certainly wouldn't bet on it). The text of the plea deal admits to the fact that some of Flynn's directions were coming from higher up in the campaign. It's still not clear whether or not this points to criminal wrongdoing. But the fact of the campaign's attempts to work so closely with a known adversary of the United States government should be concerning in itself. But typically, plea deals like this don't happen if the prosecution thinks everyone else is innocent.
So what's next? It looks like the investigation is starting to reach a critical stage. The next people up in the organization are Trump family members, and there are credible sources reporting that information is being gathered about Trump related bank accounts from Germany's Deutsche Bank (which is already under investigation for laundering money for the Russian mafia). Meanwhile, the president and some republicans are obviously trying to discredit the investigation. For now, these attack's don't seem to be working outside of the core political base. Trump may try to remove the special counsel, but that action is likely to trigger immediate protests, articles of impeachment, and probably a constitutional crisis. Unless there is absolutely nothing else left in the investigation, we're bound to see a political showdown here eventually. If there is one thing we can predict about this administration, it is that it wouldn't go down without a fight.