After President Donald Trump kinda-sorta-maybe admitted defeat in the election, we now enter the all-out pardon phase of the Trump presidency. On Tuesday, there were the first hints of this transition with reports coming out of the White House that Trump plans to pardon his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn, of course, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of lying to the FBI about his conversations with then-Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. The retired lieutenant general appeared to violate the Logan Act, which prohibits American citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, in his dealings with Kislyak during the transition and in the early days of the Trump presidency.
Transcripts of Flynn’s calls with the Russian ambassador, coming on the heels of numerous questionable ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow-linked characters, revealed the incoming national security adviser undermining the Obama administration as it ramped up sanctions on Russia for election meddling. As this was happening, Flynn discussed improving relations between Washington and Moscow with the Russian diplomat, undermining the U.S. position on a U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and, crucially, the future of those Obama sanctions. On one call, Flynn “dismissed Russia’s operations to interfere in the American election—stealing Democratic emails and sowing division on social media—as ‘this current issue of the cyberstuff,” the New York Times reports. “In one of the calls, Mr. Flynn asked that Moscow avoid retaliating in response to the sanctions. ‘Don’t go any further than you have to because I don’t want us to get into something that has to escalate on a, you know, on a tit for tat,’ Mr. Flynn said. ‘You follow me, Ambassador?’ Mr. Kislyak said he understood.”
When asked about those conversations, Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence, saying he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak. Pence then relayed this denial to the media, a lie that the FBI worried opened the new national security adviser up to possible extortion by the Russians. When interviewed by the FBI about the situation, Flynn again lied to agents about the nature of his conversations. Flynn ultimately lasted just 24 days on the job before he was fired. But, as with all rotten things in Trumpworld, his misdeeds at some point boomeranged and became a point of inverted pride in conspiratorial right wing circles.
The change of heart in the far right media vortex, aided by Trump tweets, now posited Flynn was a hero, not a felon, and an innocent victim of the “Russia Hoax!” Flynn, sensing a shift in tone and what was possible, changed lawyers midstream, hiring Sidney Powell. Powell has been in the news recently as one of the public-facing lawyers involved in Trump’s attempt to concoct voter fraud and overturn the election. Powell went so far as to claim that Biden’s victory was enabled by a vast global conspiracy that altered “the algorithm” of American voting systems in key states that Trump lost. According to Powell’s version of the world, the conspiracy somehow involves former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, and even Georgia’s Republican governor and secretary of state were in on it, and taking bribes. Powell said in court that she had discussed a pardon for Flynn with the president, but had improbably asked Trump not to pardon her new client.
With the power of Sidney Powell’s imagination in his sails, Flynn moved to withdraw his guilty plea in January 2020 and, months later, Attorney General Bill Barr withdrew the Department of Justice’s charges against Flynn even though the case had been done and dusted for years and all that was left was the much-delayed sentencing.