Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was set up by corrupt FBI agents — and they almost got away with it.
On Wednesday, a handwritten note was released by court process from then-FBI Counterintelligence Director Bill Priestap from January 2017. The note concerned the pending FBI ambush interview with Flynn that became the basis for the criminal charges to which he later pled guilty. The note should have been produced to Flynn and the court years ago. “What’s our goal?” Priestap wrote. “Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” There is no more damning evidence of the FBI’s corrupt intent to destroy an innocent man.
Their working theory was that Flynn had violated the dormant 1799 Logan Act – which makes it illegal for private citizens to have official dealings with foreign officials – in a series of phone calls starting in December 2016 during the presidential transition period with Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. The FBI thought they had Flynn in a jackpot – he either lies about his contacts, or they make a Logan Act case. Priestap wrote, “If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give facts to DOJ & have them decide. Or, if he initially lies, then we present him [redacted] & he admits it, document for DOJ, & let them decide how to address it.” This document proves the Bureau was out to get Flynn, one way or another.
The Logan Act was all the buzz during the Trump transition period as the “Russian collusion” insurance policy was being implemented. For example, Trump nemesis Peter Strzok had been circulating a white paper on the Logan Act by the Congressional Research Center to various Justice Department officials, including Priestap.
But the “Logan Act” predicate for the Flynn ambush was specious. There was ample precedent for Flynn to reach out to Kislyak as part of his transition duties. For example, president-elect Barack Obama openly used emissaries to meet with foreign leaders during his transition. Even candidate Obama discussed policy with numerous foreign dignitaries before the 2008 election. The Logan Act wasn’t in play against Obama’s team.
The handwritten note was part of a Justice Department production of exculpatory evidence that had just been turned over to Flynn’s attorneys, and it bears heavily on their motion to withdraw his initial guilty plea. The plea was obtained through a combination of bullying from the Bureau, Flynn’s ignorance of the law, his impending bankruptcy and poor representation from his original legal team at Covington and Burling bordering on malpractice. Even this month, Covington and Burling discovered documents the firm failed to turn over to Flynn’s defense team that they were required to produce a year ago.
There is also the matter of how the transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls to Kislyak were illegally leaked, focusing on the Obama-era director of the DOD Office of Net Assessment, James Baker. This week, Judicial Watch released 143 pages of new Defense Department records showing extensive communications between Baker and Washington Post reporter David Ignatius, whose January 12, 2017 story set in motion events leading to Flynn’s firing and prosecution. This leak is reportedly the object of a criminal investigation by U.S. Attorney John Durham.
President Trump has long defended Flynn, and the new evidence has prompted him to consider “a full pardon.” Of course, if the Flynn team successfully argues the government’s “bad faith, vindictiveness and breach of the plea agreement,” the charges could be vacated.
But that would hardly constitute justice being done. Flynn might consider legal action against the people who set him up, and against his incompetent, conflicted original legal team. Also, it is imperative to expose the full story of Flynn’s takedown in the context of the larger “Crossfire Hurricane” plot against the Trump campaign and administration. The Flynn imbroglio is a useful case study in the institutional corruption and political bias that had infected the FBI and Justice Department during the Obama administration and which is still being rooted out. We can’t begin to talk about justice until the responsible parties have been punished for their actions. This would go a long way to restore public faith and trust in the justice system. But for now, it is clear that Michael Flynn was one of these rogue officials’ first casualties. He should be exonerated forthwith.
Editor’s note: This piece has been corrected to reflect the fact that the Congressional Research Center provided the white paper circulated by Peter Stzrok, not the Capital Research Center.
Chris Farrell is director of investigations and research at Judicial Watch, a nonprofit government watchdog. He is a former military counterintelligence officer.