Streetwise Professor

December 3, 2017

Flynnsanity

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:29 pm

Friday was a bonanza for dry cleaners, as the media and the political class collectively wet themselves in glee at the news that ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn plead guilty to lying to the FBI.

Alas, their fondest desires ran well ahead of the reality–which is the norm for this lot.

As was the case with Manafort, Flynn plead guilty to lying but not to any underlying crime, least of all a conspiracy with the Russians. The most reasonable inference for this is that there WAS no underlying crime and no conspiracy.

Indeed, Flynn will testify that he lied about two conversations with the Russian ambassador, Kirlyak, neither of which was illegal or even unethical.

In the first conversation, he spoke not just to Kirlyak, but to the ambassadors of every nation on the United Nations Security Council, including Senegal, Egypt–and wait for it–Ukraine. The subject was not Russia, but the stink bomb of an anti-Israel resolution that the outgoing Obama administration supported  but the incoming Trump administration opposed.

And it was the incoming Trump administration, because this conversation took place in December, 2016.

Flynn allegedly contacted the ambassadors at the direction of Jared Kushner.

So this contact is about Israel, not Russia. Flynn talked to Russia only because Russia was on the UNSC. As it (or the USSR) has been since its creation in 1945.

But the breathless media coverage was almost all headlined “Flynn spoke to Russia,” insinuating that his plea showed that Trump was canoodling with Putin.

In econometrics, omitting variables leads to biased inferences. Here, omitting that Flynn also spoke to every other nation on the UNSC about an issue that had noting to do directly with Russia definitely led to biased inferences. And that was exactly the intention, which demonstrates the bad faith of virtually the entire journalistic establishment.

The other conversation was about Russia directly. Specifically, Flynn asked Kislyak that Russia not overreact to Obama’s out-the-door sanctions on Russia. Trump wanted to avoid an escalatory dynamic, which is perfectly reasonable, especially given the fact that Obama almost certainly levied these sanctions with the intent of making life difficult for Trump.

Since these events happened after the election, they did not advance the collusion narrative. The media and the political class dealt with this in two ways.

First, they just lied. Brian Ross of ABC News reported–and the rest of the media repeated–that Flynn was going to testify that he had spoken to Russians during the campaign. WRONG. He will merely say that the Trump team had discussed plans to improve relations with Russia post-election. Big difference.

But this is a classic case of Twain’s dictum about a lie getting around the world before the truth got its boots on. And isn’t it funny how all the lies are in the same direction?

This is in fact a huge benefit to Trump, because what better illustrates his assertions that the mainstream media is a firehose of fake news?

Second, they harrumphed about the Logan Act, a likely un-Constitutional historical curiosity dating from January 30 . . . 1799–and which despite its longevity has never resulted in an indictment, let alone a conviction. The law forbids private individuals from negotiating with foreign states in a dispute with the US. About its only relevance to today is that it was adopted in fevered political times (the wars of the French Revolution, which also spawned the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts) which bear some similarity to today’s febrile political climate.

Further, it is common–and indeed imperative–for incoming administrations to establish contact with foreign governments, including–and perhaps especially–those with whom the US is experiencing tense relations. Indeed, the Trump team received permission from the Obama administration to make such contacts, and an administration spokesman said publicly that Obama had no objection to such contacts, including specifically with Russia.

So if anything, the Flynn plea actually substantiates what Trump et al have been saying all along, and provides no evidence of pre-election collusion, let alone an illegal pre-election conspiracy.

The main conclusions here are: (1) Flynn was an idiot for lying about something that was perfectly legal and ethical, and (2) to avoid outbursts of idiocy, when the FBI comes knocking, don’t talk–there’s no upside, and a big potential downside.

As for the conspiracy theory that excites the imaginations of today’s McCarthyites and Birchers, it is a big fat nada. Zip. Zero.

But that will not deter them. They are so invested in this theory that nothing will disprove it in their eyes. They will react exactly the same to the next hyped non-event, and dry cleaners everywhere will cheer.

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3 Comments »

  1. D’uh!!

    Assuming the prof is absolutely right and there was no underlying crime, nothing in breach of the law, there is a question which is absolutely begging to be asked. Why lie in the first place?

    You’re sitting in a room across the table from a couple of guys in white shirts from the FBI. They ask you a question about which your conscience is so white it could appear in a TV advert for detergent. You are compos mentis and your memory while perhaps not quite so sharp as it once was is still functional. Yet you lie. And in such a stupid way you get caught in the lie. And you’re a Lieutenant General who once headed the DIA who knows or at least should know that the Gov’ment has ways and means of catching people in lies.

    Doesn’t make any sense at all …. unless there was something Flynn wanted to hide i.e. something he believed might be construed as a crime.

    Comment by Simple Simon — December 9, 2017 @ 10:51 am

  2. You say:

    “As was the case with Manafort, Flynn plead guilty to lying but not to any underlying crime, least of all a conspiracy with the Russians. The most reasonable inference for this is that there WAS no underlying crime and no conspiracy.”

    I hardly think this is the most reasonable inference. You should read what some prosecutors say. In short: they hold more cards, so that if Flynn doesn’t produce the information he’s promised to produce, they continue to have leverage over him. Remember, it has to be worthwhile to both parties. I’m pretty sure that’s a more reasonable inference. I’m willing to bet on it.

    Comment by samsp — December 12, 2017 @ 4:13 pm

  3. Just how deeply enmeshed Flynn was with the Russians is now coming into focus. Public embarrassments like appearing at the 10th anniversary gala for RT, Moscow’s propaganda network—including sitting at the head table with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president—were just the tip of the iceberg. That Flynn took Kremlin money for that controversial appearance should have hinted at worse misdeeds.

    For instance, Flynn was lobbying for Russian interests, including lucrative nuclear power deals around the world. This is hardly a normal retirement job for pensioned U.S. Army generals. It now appears Flynn was involved with this while serving as Trump’s national security consigliere. He’s reported to have texted a business colleague that a big nuclear deal was “good to go,” meaning Flynn could now get sanctions lifted off Russia, in the middle of Trump’s inaugural address last January.

    What makes Flynn’s implosion especially shocking is this represents his second major career blow-up in five years. His initial fall from grace came in August 2014, when President Barack Obama cashiered him as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency after two difficult years in that job. Although Flynn, in his usual dissimulating fashion, portrayed his firing as a political act—weak President Obama, unserious about the jihadist threat, was threatened by Flynn’s straight talk about terrorism, the story went—the truth is Flynn was dumped from DIA for incompetence. That seldom happens in Washington, and it is nearly unheard-of at top levels of our Intelligence Community. http://observer.com/2017/12/michael-flynn-shady-past-at-dia-and-before-reveals-he-was-a-fraud/

    Comment by Anders Dahl — December 12, 2017 @ 5:43 pm

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