In the run-up to Tuesday's sentencing of Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump and his allies seemed to be convinced that the former national security adviser would stand up in court and renounce the plea deal he had agreed to more than a year ago in which he admitted to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential transition in late 2016.
"Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn," tweeted Trump. "Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion in our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign. There was no Collusion!"
Flynn did no such thing.
"The defendant has no intention to withdraw the guilty plea," said one Flynn attorney. Asked whether FBI investigators had "entrapped" Flynn, another member of his legal team was blunt: "No, your Honor." (The Flynn legal team had suggested in filling last week that because Flynn was questioned by FBI officials in January 2017 without a lawyer present and without being fully apprised of his full legal peril that he might qualify for additional leniency from the judge.)
Those facts may wind up getting lost amid the maelstrom that followed. The judge lectured Flynn about his actions, suggested he might be a traitor before rescinding that comment and told the former national security adviser that "not only did you lie to the FBI, you lied to senior officials in the incoming administration."
And in the end, nothing happened.
Flynn's lawyers accepted the deal offered to them by the judge to delay Flynn's sentencing until the full breadth of his cooperation with federal officials can be properly evaluated. That won't be until March.
The real news out of the hearing was that Flynn did nothing even close to backing away from his guilty plea. In fact, he agreed to keep cooperating -- in an effort to ensure that he has the best chance of avoiding prison possible. (The Mueller special counsel team has recommended that Flynn not serve any time due to his cooperation with several ongoing investigations.)
Facts be damned, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had this to say about the Flynn sentencing hearing during a rare press briefing on Tuesday afternoon: "The FBI broke standard protocol in the way that they came in and ambushed General Flynn."
This is clearly the version of events Trump wants to believe. He has always, for whatever reason, had a soft spot for Flynn.
Remember that, according to former FBI Director James Comey, Trump asked him to back off a federal investigation into Flynn because the former national security adviser had already suffered enough. ("I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Trump reportedly told Comey. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.")
Unlike his harsh treatment of former lawyer Michael Cohen, who Trump referred to as a "rat" in a recent tweet, the President has said nothing but kind things about Flynn since the latter's plea deal.
"So General Flynn lies to the FBI and his life is destroyed, while Crooked Hillary Clinton, on that now famous FBI holiday 'interrogation' with no swearing in and no recording, lies many times...and nothing happens to her?" Trump tweeted in December 2017. "Rigged system, or just a double standard."
The operative question is why? Why is Trump so vengeful toward Cohen (and his plea deal) while he is so praiseworthy of Flynn and still seems to believe that his plea deal was coerced somehow (even though Flynn said it wasn't)?
Honest answer: I don't know.
It could be that Trump believes -- as he so often says -- that he is totally and completely innocent of any wrongdoing in regard to Russian interference in the 2016 election and therefore has concluded that Flynn's cooperation can't hurt him in any way, shape or form.
Or, and I think this is more likely, Trump has a blind spot when it comes to the danger that Flynn's cooperation with Mueller presents the President's inner circle. To Trump, Flynn is a loyal deputy -- a guy who was with him when no one else was at the start of the presidential campaign, a guy who served his country in the military, an honorable man. And Trump thinks the honorable thing to do -- in all situations -- is to defend him no matter the costs. Hence a lack of concern about what Flynn is telling Mueller.
I'd argue that aside from Cohen -- and possibly not aside from Cohen -- Flynn is the most important witness in the Mueller probe. Flynn is the only one of the seven people who have pleaded guilty who worked for the Trump campaign, the presidential transition and in the White House. That gives him a unique and longer-barrel perspective of the Russian interference attempts, and how they were met across those three phases of Trumpworld.
Trump may not be able to see that big picture -- but you know who does? Robert Mueller.
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