The Many Developments of Michael Flynn
Matt Shaw
29 May

The Flynn case can be hard to follow. Mark Reinstein/Shutterstock.com

The 2016 presidential election took place on 8 November. Throughout Donald Trump’s campaign, Michael Flynn, former U.S. Army lieutenant general, had made himself known as an enthusiastic supporter.

Trump returned the enthusiasm, but not without warning. In an Oval Office meeting on 10 November, former President Barack Obama cautioned against appointing Flynn to the role of national security advisor.

Nevertheless, eight days later, the president-elect offered him the job.

It wasn’t long before the consequences became clear.

This timeline explains who’s who, what’s what and why.

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The background

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Michael Flynn and his firm, the Flynn Intel Group, are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by a Turkish company to “examine Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive Islamic cleric who lives in exile in rural Pennsylvania”, according to USA Today. Turkey’s president sees Gülen as responsible for an attempted coup. This work benefits the Republic of Turkey.

Flynn does not register as a foreign lobbyist.

On 8 November 2016, election day, The Hill publishes an op-ed by Flynn, with the headline: “Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support”. In the article, Flynn heavily criticises Gülen and emphasises the importance of being allies with Turkey.

Months later, Flynn retroactively registers as a foreign lobbyist.

Michael Flynn at a Trump campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona. 29 October, 2016. Image by Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The basics

On the 29 December 2016, following Russian attempts to interfere in the election, Obama imposes sanctions on two leading Russian intelligence services.

At the same time, Flynn communicates with Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador, advising against retaliation, according to former and current administration officials.

The next day, Russian President Vladimir Putin uncharacteristically announces no reprisal.

On 12 January 2017, The Washington Post publishes an article that sheds light on Flynn’s phone calls with Kislyak.

Flynn lies to Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, who goes on to repeat the lies in an interview on ‘Face the Nation’ by CBS.

Flynn is sworn in as national security advisor on 22 January, but interviewed by the FBI about the 29 December phone calls just two days later. He continues to deny that the sanctions were discussed.

On 13 February, Flynn resigns, amid swirling controversy over the phone calls and lies.

The guilty plea

On 14 February, as a federal investigation into Flynn builds, Trump privately meets with James Comey, the FBI director at the time. According to The New York Times, Comey writes in a memo that Trump told him: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go […] He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

On 9 May, Trump fires Comey.

Flynn pleads guilty to making false statements to the FBI on 1 December, agreeing to cooperate with the Mueller investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.

In turn, Mueller recommends on 4 December 2018 that Flynn serve no prison time, because of his “substantial assistance”.

A William Barr cutout at a Kremlin Annex protest. 18 May, 2019. Phil Pasquini/Shutterstock.com

The attorney general

William Barr is confirmed as attorney general and head of the Department of Justice (DOJ), for the second time on 14 February 2019, having previously held the position under the George H. W. Bush administration. He vocally criticises the Russia investigation.

A few months later, Flynn adopts a new, more aggressive tactic, hiring fresh lawyers who fling accusations of withheld evidence at the prosecutors.

On 24 October, under the watch of Barr, DOJ officials transform an administrative review of the Russia investigation into a criminal inquiry.

Five days later, Flynn’s defence team flip their legal case, now claiming that he is a victim of a “plot to set up an innocent man”. Prosecutors lambast the reversal, arguing that Flynn “makes this claim despite having admitted his guilt, under oath, before two federal judges”.

Later in 2019, Barr takes aim at the investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign again, calling it a “travesty”. He also says the Trump campaign was “clearly spied upon”.

On 14 January 2020, Flynn moves to withdraw the guilty plea he made more than two years ago.

The other friend

Meanwhile, William Barr’s Justice Department intervenes in a similar case involving Roger Stone, a long-time friend of Donald Trump.

Stone was convicted in November 2019 of attempting to sabotage a politically-threatening House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He was also convicted of lying to investigators under oath and trying to prevent a witness testimony that would have exposed his earlier lies.

Despite prosecutors requesting a punishment of seven to nine years, the DOJ steps in, recommending an unspecified term instead. As a result, four prosecutors withdraw from the case.

Stone is ultimately given a 40-month sentence - less than half the original demand.

Roger Stone at a book signing party. 14 September, 2017. Cornelius O'Donoghue/Shutterstock.com

The decision

On 14 February 2020, The New York Times reports that Barr has assigned an outside prosecutor to inspect the Flynn case.

Donald Trump Tweets on 15 March that he is considering a full pardon.

On 7 May, the DOJ drops the case against Flynn, as Barr makes a second critical intervention. Questions are raised about Barr’s intentions and loyalty to the president.


The theory

The Flynn case fuels a new theory among President Trump and his supporters: ‘Obamagate’.

In essence, the theory is that Obama used his remaining days in office to investigate the incoming administration, with a view to kneecap it. The Flynn and Stone cases are used as examples.

On 10 May, Trump Tweets that it is the “biggest political crime in American history, by far!”

Two days later, when asked by a Washington Post reporter to describe the crime, Trump replies: “You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.”

On 14 and 16 May 2020, the president Tweets simply “OBAMAGATE!”

The Trump administration  declassifies an email, 19 May, that is touted as the ‘smoking gun’ - the crucial piece of evidence that incriminates Obama and proves he spied on the incoming administration.

The email, sent by Susan Rice, former national security advisor to Barack Obama, was addressed to herself, and seemed to serve as a way of  memorialising a 5 January 2017 Oval Office meeting between Obama, Comey, Biden and Rice, among others.

In the email, Rice writes: “The President stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a  law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book.”

Despite the contents of the email contradicting the theory, ‘Obamagate’ continues to spread.

OPINION
The Many Developments of Michael Flynn
Matt Shaw
29 May

The Flynn case can be hard to follow. Mark Reinstein/Shutterstock.com

The 2016 presidential election took place on 8 November. Throughout Donald Trump’s campaign, Michael Flynn, former U.S. Army lieutenant general, had made himself known as an enthusiastic supporter.

Trump returned the enthusiasm, but not without warning. In an Oval Office meeting on 10 November, former President Barack Obama cautioned against appointing Flynn to the role of national security advisor.

Nevertheless, eight days later, the president-elect offered him the job.

It wasn’t long before the consequences became clear.

This timeline explains who’s who, what’s what and why.

Get The Locus sent straight to your inbox
Thanks for subscribing to The Locus!
Something went wrong. Sorry about that.

The background

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Michael Flynn and his firm, the Flynn Intel Group, are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by a Turkish company to “examine Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive Islamic cleric who lives in exile in rural Pennsylvania”, according to USA Today. Turkey’s president sees Gülen as responsible for an attempted coup. This work benefits the Republic of Turkey.

Flynn does not register as a foreign lobbyist.

On 8 November 2016, election day, The Hill publishes an op-ed by Flynn, with the headline: “Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support”. In the article, Flynn heavily criticises Gülen and emphasises the importance of being allies with Turkey.

Months later, Flynn retroactively registers as a foreign lobbyist.

Michael Flynn at a Trump campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona. 29 October, 2016. Image by Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The basics

On the 29 December 2016, following Russian attempts to interfere in the election, Obama imposes sanctions on two leading Russian intelligence services.

At the same time, Flynn communicates with Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador, advising against retaliation, according to former and current administration officials.

The next day, Russian President Vladimir Putin uncharacteristically announces no reprisal.

On 12 January 2017, The Washington Post publishes an article that sheds light on Flynn’s phone calls with Kislyak.

Flynn lies to Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, who goes on to repeat the lies in an interview on ‘Face the Nation’ by CBS.

Flynn is sworn in as national security advisor on 22 January, but interviewed by the FBI about the 29 December phone calls just two days later. He continues to deny that the sanctions were discussed.

On 13 February, Flynn resigns, amid swirling controversy over the phone calls and lies.

The guilty plea

On 14 February, as a federal investigation into Flynn builds, Trump privately meets with James Comey, the FBI director at the time. According to The New York Times, Comey writes in a memo that Trump told him: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go […] He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

On 9 May, Trump fires Comey.

Flynn pleads guilty to making false statements to the FBI on 1 December, agreeing to cooperate with the Mueller investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.

In turn, Mueller recommends on 4 December 2018 that Flynn serve no prison time, because of his “substantial assistance”.

A William Barr cutout at a Kremlin Annex protest. 18 May, 2019. Phil Pasquini/Shutterstock.com

The attorney general

William Barr is confirmed as attorney general and head of the Department of Justice (DOJ), for the second time on 14 February 2019, having previously held the position under the George H. W. Bush administration. He vocally criticises the Russia investigation.

A few months later, Flynn adopts a new, more aggressive tactic, hiring fresh lawyers who fling accusations of withheld evidence at the prosecutors.

On 24 October, under the watch of Barr, DOJ officials transform an administrative review of the Russia investigation into a criminal inquiry.

Five days later, Flynn’s defence team flip their legal case, now claiming that he is a victim of a “plot to set up an innocent man”. Prosecutors lambast the reversal, arguing that Flynn “makes this claim despite having admitted his guilt, under oath, before two federal judges”.

Later in 2019, Barr takes aim at the investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign again, calling it a “travesty”. He also says the Trump campaign was “clearly spied upon”.

On 14 January 2020, Flynn moves to withdraw the guilty plea he made more than two years ago.

The other friend

Meanwhile, William Barr’s Justice Department intervenes in a similar case involving Roger Stone, a long-time friend of Donald Trump.

Stone was convicted in November 2019 of attempting to sabotage a politically-threatening House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He was also convicted of lying to investigators under oath and trying to prevent a witness testimony that would have exposed his earlier lies.

Despite prosecutors requesting a punishment of seven to nine years, the DOJ steps in, recommending an unspecified term instead. As a result, four prosecutors withdraw from the case.

Stone is ultimately given a 40-month sentence - less than half the original demand.

Roger Stone at a book signing party. 14 September, 2017. Cornelius O'Donoghue/Shutterstock.com

The decision

On 14 February 2020, The New York Times reports that Barr has assigned an outside prosecutor to inspect the Flynn case.

Donald Trump Tweets on 15 March that he is considering a full pardon.

On 7 May, the DOJ drops the case against Flynn, as Barr makes a second critical intervention. Questions are raised about Barr’s intentions and loyalty to the president.


The theory

The Flynn case fuels a new theory among President Trump and his supporters: ‘Obamagate’.

In essence, the theory is that Obama used his remaining days in office to investigate the incoming administration, with a view to kneecap it. The Flynn and Stone cases are used as examples.

On 10 May, Trump Tweets that it is the “biggest political crime in American history, by far!”

Two days later, when asked by a Washington Post reporter to describe the crime, Trump replies: “You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.”

On 14 and 16 May 2020, the president Tweets simply “OBAMAGATE!”

The Trump administration  declassifies an email, 19 May, that is touted as the ‘smoking gun’ - the crucial piece of evidence that incriminates Obama and proves he spied on the incoming administration.

The email, sent by Susan Rice, former national security advisor to Barack Obama, was addressed to herself, and seemed to serve as a way of  memorialising a 5 January 2017 Oval Office meeting between Obama, Comey, Biden and Rice, among others.

In the email, Rice writes: “The President stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a  law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book.”

Despite the contents of the email contradicting the theory, ‘Obamagate’ continues to spread.

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