What Was Flynn Thinking?

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Carolyn Kaster/AP

We still don’t know what the sentence is. But Judge Emmet Sullivan is positively roasting General Flynn in court right now, all but calling him a traitor and goading prosecutors to say Flynn should lose credit for cooperation for trying to evade responsibility for his crimes in his sentencing memo. This raises a basic question. Why did Flynn try to claim he was set up by the FBI in his sentencing memo? Flynn himself could be naive or impulsive. But Flynn has top flight legal representation. Why would they do that?

At some level this just looks like a monumental error. Even if it originated with Flynn, his lawyers had to go along with it. People just do really stupid things.

But I think we can get some sense of the why if you look at Flynn’s curious path to and through cooperation. Michael Cohen was loyal until he turned and when he turned he left no doubt. Everyone knows that Cohen and Trump now see each other as mortal enemies. Cohen is now vilified by everyone in the Trump world.

Flynn’s role has always been curious and hard to figure. He’s never been vilified by Trump or his cronies. He’s also sent various signals that at least seem to suggest that he remains loyal to Trump’s political movement if not ‘loyal’ in the sense that Trump demands from all his people. His son is still a maniacal pro-Trump conspiracy theorist online. My recollection, though I’m not able to track down an example as I write, is that Flynn has involved himself in pro-Trump political activities during his period of cooperation. Obviously, he has every right to do so. To cooperate he needs to tell the truth not change his political stripes. Admittedly, these are wispy clues. He was mainly just been silent. But they are clues that seem to have gone a long way with Trump and his supporters.

And yet, the Special Counsel’s Office has sent every signal possible that Flynn cooperated totally and on every front. I’ve heard various theories that he somehow played the SCO or didn’t give that much. Not likely. These are extremely sophisticated players.

My best guess is that Flynn felt compelled to do this – toy with Trump’s witch hunt storyline, albeit obliquely, in his sentencing memo – to try to square that circle, to signal – notwithstanding what appears to be lots of cooperation – which side he’s on.

One of my colleagues thinks that this was more a bid for leniency than an effort to go full Deep State. Maybe. I’m not a lawyer. But when the government wasn’t asking for jail time it just seems very hard for me to figure why such an audacious move would make any sense. Maybe it was just a galaxy level strategic error. But I think it was more than that.

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