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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

As we sift through the details of the Flynn court documents we inevitably see them through a distorted prism because we know 2017 as it happened rather than as the Trump team intended it to unfold. This is particularly important for the roughly three months between candidate Trump’s election victory on November 8th, 2016 and Mike Flynn’s ouster on February 13th, 2017.

We see Flynn’s covert communications with Ambassador Kislyak; we see the escalation of the FBI’s scrutiny of Flynn; we know other top Trump officials, like Jared Kushner, were meeting with Kislyak and others and also possibly trying to execute financial transactions with Russian government officials. It’s all sort of a jumble. But the logic of events only really comes into focus when we realize that there was a sort of race taking place between the Trump team’s effort to arrange a rapid rapprochement with Russia in the first weeks of January and February and a mix of the intelligence community, the national security apparatus and the press piecing together what had happened during the 2016 election. Imagine it as a starting pistol firing off on the morning of November 9th, with both teams racing to get more of their critical work done by the end of January.

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Note a few things we now know from the follow-on reporting on the Flynn plea agreement.

The senior transition official who Flynn called into to confer on his conversations and negotiations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak was KT McFarland. Flynn conferred with McFarland and McFarland conferred with a group of other senior officials which, as I noted last night on the basis of the contemporaneous pool reports, appears to have been Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Reince Priebus.

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The key question out of the Flynn plea agreement is the identity of the person referenced as a “senior official of the Presidential Transition Team” and another termed a “very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team”.

Here’s why this is important.

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Statement from Trump lawyer Ty Cobb …

“Today, Michael Flynn, a former National Security Advisor at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration, and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI.

“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn. The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”

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There’s no way to know for sure. We’ll never know definitively. But this morning, before the Flynn news broke, I was thinking that President Trump’s behavior has seemed more wild and erratic in recent days. Yes, the baseline standard is pretty high. But over the last week or so we’ve seen a number of reports of Trump saying wilder things in private to associates and advisors. He seemed to be gravitating back to the kinds of transgressive behaviors and assertions he makes when he’s under threat or pressure.

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I.F. Stone famously said “All governments lie.” This may be the first time I’ve heard this maxim invoked as a defense. The initial spin from the Trumpers about the Flynn plea deal is “everyone lies!”

Watch.

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We are just getting the initial information about about this Mike Flynn charge – one count of providing a false statement to the FBI. CNN has just reported that Flynn is expected to plead guilty to this crime.

Here is some important context for understanding what is happening here.

Given everything we’ve seen reported over the last year about Mike Flynn, this is a relatively minor charge. Lying to the FBI is a serious crime, with significant penalties. In theory, Flynn faces up to five years in prison on this one count. But if the bulk of reporting on Flynn is close to correct, there’s a lot more that Mueller could have charged him with.

It certainly seems like Flynn is getting off pretty easy here, relative to what he could have been charged with. That strongly suggests a cooperation agreement and one in which Flynn agreed to and showed he was in a position to offer a lot of critical information and/or testimony.

That’s not the only possibility. Maybe there’s much less here with Flynn than we’ve been led to believe, based on press reports. But the first possibility seems much more likely.

Another key point: If the premise of significant cooperation is correct, you can only get a deal like this if you help with more significant crimes which almost always means people higher up the chain. We should resist the idea that that has to mean President Trump. But it’s a very small group of people including Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and maybe a very few others. This is simply because Flynn was at the very top of the campaign.

ed.note: This post initially referred to two counts of providing false statements. That was incorrect. It is one count for which two examples are provided.

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Mueller charges Mike Flynn with making false statements to FBI.

We’ll be bringing you more info as it comes out. On its face, this seems almost certainly like Flynn is being charged with a good deal less than he could be charged with – presumably because of a cooperation deal. I stress “seems”. What we know is that he’s been charged with lying to the FBI.

9:19 AM: Flynn to appear in court this morning at 10:30 AM, according to Jeff Toobin on CNN.

Here’s a quick backgrounder (sub req.) on how to interpret what we’re hearing in terms of the larger Russia investigation.

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