The Administration

Don’t give Michael Flynn immunity — lock him up

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Michael Flynn has some nerve.

Instead of considering immunity for the embroiled former lieutenant general, investigators should be pushing for him to be locked up for treason.

First, let’s remember who this guy is: Flynn was pushed out of his position as director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) — probably due to a combination of his brash managerial style and his outspoken crusade to convince Barack Obama’s people that al Qaeda and other Islamic jihadist groups were more of a threat then they realized. Flynn was ultimately proved right, as the rise of ISIS shows, but his lack of diplomacy and maverick behavior ruffled feathers.

Once he was forced to retire, he became, as Colin Powell put it in a hacked email, “right wing nutty.” Like Steve Bannon, Flynn became fixated on the threat of Islam to the West. During the campaign, Flynn showed his “nutty,” tweeting recommendations to fellow conspiracy theorists on the extremist right (including at least one anti-Semitic opponent of the “Liberal Jewish media”), sharing false stories (claiming a United Nations program was aiming to create a single world religion banning Christianity), and declaring that fear of Muslims is rational. 

Flynn also joined the Trump team’s campaign of smears and outright banana republic-style attacks on Hillary Clinton. At the Republican convention, the former DIA head used his speech to lead the “lock her up” chant against the former secretary of State. And he not only launched Twitter smears at Clinton, he also started paying a former FBI agent two weeks before the ex-agent made a public revelation of a government exchange over redacting parts of a Clinton email — an incident that conveyed an impression, but no actuality, of wrongdoing. Ironically, Flynn also made exaggerated comments like, “if I did a tenth of what she [Clinton] did, I’d be in jail today.”

The strange thing, though, was that this patriot started raking in money as an intelligence consultant for Russian, Turkish and other foreign businesses linked to their governments. 

{mosads}He was paid by Russia’s English-language propaganda arm, RT, for appearances as a commentator (and famously sat next to Vladimir Putin at an RT celebration event). And there is evidence that the money corrupted. 


Before Flynn was pushed out as DIA chief, he had been warning of Turkey’s passive support for Islamists and jihadists in Syria. He originally came out in support of those behind the failed coup against Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian leader. But Flynn switched his opinion after he was basically put on the Turkish payroll: he wrote an op-ed published in The Hill on Election Day — without advising the publication that his company was being paid by Turkish interests — supporting President Erdoğan’s call for the extradition of his scapegoat, Fethullah Gülen, a self-exiled Turkish cleric who lives in Pennsylvania.

So that’s who Flynn is. A failed chief of the Pentagon’s primary intelligence unit, his maverick personality made him powerless to change U.S. policy, and now he’s almost certainly resentful at having been pushed out. But he lost his moorings after his ouster, and took money from former enemies and questionable sources. And when Donald Trump designated him as the incoming National Security Council director, Flynn seems to have also lost respect for the traditions of American democracy. At a minimum, he was back-channeling the Russian ambassador before Trump took office, telling him not to get too worked up about the Obama sanctions and that the president would be reviewing them.

The intelligence agencies appear to have made the judgment that Flynn didn’t commit treason, because he didn’t explicitly promise to reverse or contradict current U.S. policy. But the very act of talking to the Russian diplomat should not have happened without the knowledge of the U.S. State Department. Especially given the announcement of a U.S. response to Russian interference with our election, complete transparency with the State Department in that sensitive moment was required.

Although the Trump campaign should have reported all high-level contacts with Russian intelligence or diplomats to State, Flynn didn’t even tell the vice president-elect that he talked about sanctions. Why did Flynn lie to Mike Pence, and the rest of the country, if there was nothing wrong with what he did?

Flynn has become the embodiment of the monsters in the swamp that President Trump was supposed to drain. It is sickening that this high-level military intelligence official not only sold his intelligence expertise to enemy interests, and that the money led him to flip-flop on public views of other regimes, and that he paid an ex-FBI official to smear a political opponent, he failed to reveal the foreign payments to the public and even to the Trump campaign. And, remarkably, Flynn did not stop working for the foreign interests through most of the campaign — even when he was leading the “lock her up” chant at the Republican convention, his firm was taking foreign money.

Flynn’s Russian conversation represents an act of treason. He was clearly signaling to Putin that Trump will take a softer line than Obama, and was advising Putin not to start a cycle of retaliatory actions — ones that would increasingly box Trump in after the inauguration. Flynn was a private citizen undermining the policy of the United States toward a foreign country. Period. 

Lock him up.

Once Flynn is headed for prison, we might ask if he wants to tell us some stories about Trump and other campaign aides, in exchange for a reduced sentence. But to offer immunity now to someone who has committed treason implicitly, if not explicitly, is not a step the congressional committees should take at this early point in the investigations.


Mark Feinberg, Ph.D., is a research professor of Health and Human Development at Pennsylvania State University. Reach him on Twitter @MrkFnbrg

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Immunity Intelligence Mike Pence Russia treason

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