Spring is here, and the fresh new look this April is legal immunity. Disgraced National Security Adviser and noted uniform-wearer Michael Flynn petitioned Congress and the Executive for protections. The Senate Intelligence Community just rejected the request, but Flynn also offered to speak to the Justice Department, and they have yet to rule. We’ll see how that goes.
Although this is unlikely to bring down the House of Trump—The President tweeted “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!”—this move raises more questions than it answers about what’s going on inside the Republican Party, the National Security state, and the halls of power. Why does Flynn need protection? Is this the beginning of the end?
“Some experts cautioned against drawing hasty conclusions about Mr. Flynn’s request for immunity,” wrote Mazzetti and Rosenberg for the Times.
“At this early stage, I wouldn’t read anything into this request beyond smart lawyering,” said Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer who specializes in national security cases. “In such a politically charged, high-profile national security case, I couldn’t imagine not first asking for immunity.”
Flynn—a former Army lieutenant general long known for his supporting role in terrible productions of “The American Military!”—was booted from Team Trump after it was revealed he’d had lengthy flirtations of the weirdest kind with Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Flynn talked with Kislyak about removing Obama’s Russia sanctions, and then misled Vice President Pence about those discussions.
Or so the story goes. Flynn plowed through his three weeks of official glory with an almost religious zeal; it was the shortest tenure for any occupant of that position. Imagine summer camp for National Security, and you’ve got his time there. Nobody’s sure exactly what happened, but since he got the ax, the ogling of his record has been a constant. Concerned parties are concerned for a reason. Since last summer, the FBI has been involved in a long investigation focusing Russia and the election. The confluence of possibilities seems too attractive for the curious-minded to ignore.
And now, immunity. Or at least the seeking of it. According to Fox:
Attorney Robert Kelner said Flynn “certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” but claimed he’s operating in a “highly politicized, witch hunt environment” and wants assurances.
What does this mean for Flynn? Uncertain. Hunting for legal shelter does not a John Dean make. Upon reflection, Flynn does not seem like a man who wants to deploy the beans; rather, this is the gamesmanship of a not-terribly-bright guy who is used to covering his own escape route.
What makes this especially interesting is the hunger of the opposition. In Flynn, Democrats smell blood. Longing for the patriarchs in Moscow to absolve you of your mistakes has been a common theme in Russian religious history, but this is the first time it’s happened in the Democratic Party.
It’s more likely that Flynn’s request for legal dispensation is simple insurance, rather than the beginning of a wild impeachment fantasy. Asking for sanctuary when you testify in front of Congress or Justice is, frankly, a smart move. Playing with national security in politics is dancing in traffic. Flynn wants protection. Horowitz, writing for the Boston Globe, notes that “there are lots of reasons to be skeptical of the idea that Flynn is ready to reveal some momentous truth, some piece of evidence that would finally answer the question of whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians to swing the US election.” For one thing, the deal is public.
Look at the man himself. Look at his career. Ask yourself, is this the guy who would give up the world? Flynn is a big-decoration officer—the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, a three-star general—who spent most of his time in operations. He was infamous for deploying his own alternative scenarios during his command days: “Flynn Facts,” they were called.
He’s a Pentagon careerist, which makes him a sub-species of the larger genus of Washingtonis careeris. Odds-wise, Flynn is probably seeking a shield for his revelations so he won’t be sent to a badminton-playing penitentiary buried somewhere deep in the garden zone of Connecticut. This is the most likely scenario. Self-love is Flynn’s engine, not deep truth.
Who knows what the Justice Department will do? They won’t proffer their blessing without clear indicators of what Flynn knows. Flynn fears the D.C. version of a Lifetime Movie: a man in a suit with connections is trapped inside of a courtroom. No way out. But while this political game of telephone is dangerous for him, it is unlikely to topple the Republic, or undo everything Trump has built. What Flynn is doing—asking for immunity—is dramatic, but hardly unique. It’s politics.
Someone once argued that the long-term tragedy of the 1938 Munich Agreement was not that it led to World War II. Rather, it was that the idea of “Munich” became key to all national interaction afterwards. Negotiation was discredited, because Munich was always hanging there, in the background. Nobody could see any other option. Wars were begun because leaders were always asking themselves: is this another Munich? Everything in international politics was understood through that singular, unfortunate lens.
I wonder if the tragedy of Watergate is that every political collusion is seen as a cold, planned strategy, instead of what political mistakes usually are: collisions of common interests which are indifferent to the rules. Trump and Flynn’s involvement with Russia and foreign interests strikes me as being this kind of mess—a dumb, careless Venn diagram of Washington cluelessness and feckless Manhattan investment, not the calculated, Napoleonic strategy of a chessmaster in Moscow. Illegal, probably. Impeachable? Unlikely.
Perhaps Flynn knows about a wide, overarching conspiracy, and this part is prologue: I would be delighted, were that the case. But as curious as I am about the Russia connection—and as much as I would like to see it pay off—my instincts tell me the excitement over Flynn is more about the catharsis of the opposition party than it is about the possibility of bringing down this Presidency. Flynn knows something, and it needs to be heard. But until I see more evidence, his role as the First Domino is unlikely.