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The Consequences Of Flynn's Guilty Plea


Michael Flynn, who was President Trump's national security adviser - briefly - is cooperating with the special counsel after taking a plea deal for lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador before Trump became president. Jonathan Turley teaches law at George Washington University and joins us in our studios.

Jonathan, thanks so much for coming in.


SIMON: Can we assume that Mr. Flynn wouldn't have gotten a deal if the prosecutors didn't already know he has something to say about higher-ups?

TURLEY: I think that's a safe assumption. You know, he is what you might call a matinee defendant, someone that usually you cut plea bargains to capture not to have as a witness. And so for a matinee defendant, there's only two reasons to cut a deal. One is that the charges would be difficult to prove against him - that doesn't seem to be the case with Michael Flynn. And the second one is that he brought deliverables - that he can put on the table somebody more valuable than himself. And so there's a lot of speculation on who that might be because this is a very good deal.

SIMON: Yeah. You wrote in The Hill that - look, lying to the FBI is serious. But you said, quote, "there is nothing in this indictment that offers serious support for the allegation of collusion with the Russians."

Now, isn't that what the Mueller investigation is supposed to be about?

TURLEY: It is. And I think that people may be getting ahead of their skis a bit 'cause the coverage was a bit breathless yesterday as people talked about a bombshell development. Most of us expected that Flynn would face multiple criminal charges or he would flip. He was always the one most vulnerable. He was the one that had the most clear criminal allegations against him. So while it was highly significant, it was also highly predictable that he would do this.

The plea itself is a remarkably small footprint. It's a single count under 1001. And 1001 is what most people get nailed for in Washington. You rarely go to jail in Washington for the scandal. It's usually your response to the scandal, and it's usually because you lied about something...

SIMON: Yeah.

TURLEY: ...When investigators came knocking. That's what Flynn essentially pleaded to.

So it is still removed from the White House and the campaign in the sense that there's nothing really substantial there about collusion. The meetings being described in the indictment are not particularly shocking. You know, these were meetings that you would sort of expect a new administration coming in to tell the Russians, look, don't go crazy about any actions taken by the prior administration when they're leaving office. There was an effort to reach out on Israel. These were not the types of meetings we've been associating with collusion allegations.

SIMON: And certainly nothing about the, you know, you help us and fill in the states and you'll have the kind of president that you want.

TURLEY: No. That's right.

SIMON: Yeah.

TURLEY: And I think that both the Manafort and the Flynn indictments, in that sense, are good news for the White House in that Manafort was entirely removed - or essentially removed from the campaign or the White House. Flynn clearly is related to the Russian investigation because the meetings dealt with Russians. But there's still nothing here that moves the ball significantly in establishing any crime associated with collusion. However, the day is still young.

SIMON: Yeah.

TURLEY: I mean, he got a deal for something. And we have to wait to see what that is.

SIMON: And there can be only so many senior officials. Right?

TURLEY: (Laughter) Yeah. We're actually running out of senior officials. So we're down to a relatively small group. A lot of people are looking at Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President Trump. These meetings with the Russians fell within his portfolio of material. There are news reports indicating that Kushner might have been the person that sent Flynn into at least one of the meetings. But once again, even if that's true...

SIMON: We should add they're news reports that NPR has not confirmed. But go ahead, yeah.

TURLEY: That's right. And even if that were to be confirmed, it's not a smoking gun of a crime. These meetings, again, were not collusion meetings of a quid pro quo. They seemed to be fairly standard. And also, if this was a conspiracy, it was an odd way to go about it. You know, this was - apparently, the conversation was held with a group of people at Mar-a-Lago about what we should do about the Russians.

Now having said that, there is a real danger here. And that is - once again, 1001 is the trip wire that people end up getting nailed - getting prosecuted for. If Flynn can come forward with information indicating that someone else has made a false statement, it's clear that Mueller is going to act on it, and he's going to charge it.

SIMON: Jonathan Turley teaches law at the George Washington University. Always a pleasure to see you. Thanks so much for being with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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