Flynn and Context
Information on significant issues, like the Mueller probe, comes at us so quickly and in such volumes that the context often gets lost in the shuffle. The Michael Flynn guilty plea falls into that category. I’ll get to that in a second, but first, I can’t resist commenting on the rhetoric surrounding the Trump tax reform deal.
Both sides are spinning the tax plan. Team Trump is trying to portray the proposal as a benefit to the middle class, not a tax cut for the “rich” and a step toward simplifying the code. I think Trump is missing a golden opportunity to make radical changes in the tax code to more significantly lower rates and eliminate deductions, but perhaps this is the best he can do when the swamp is so dependent on the leverage of the code for campaign contributions from special interests, so I’ll take it. The middle class will see some benefit, but this is primarily a business-oriented tax reform loaded with continuing special interest bennies — hardly the massive postcard simplification Trump is trying to sell. The middle class is getting a tax cut, but it is far less than what businesses are getting, and much of the benefit is the once removed bonus of higher incomes and opportunity from what should be major increases in economic activity. Nothing wrong with that, and there is plenty to be positive about. No need to guild the lily or mislead the folks.
The Democrats are in unison against the plan, and assuming that the near-term impact will yield less withholding, higher take-home pay and increased GNP, that will backfire in the 2018 elections. Economics rules, as Bill Clinton often mentioned. The Democrats of this year would have been smart to have paid attention. And the rhetoric assumes the voters are idiots. Democrats claim that the middle class will be hurt relative to the rich because the lower individual rates supposedly will go away in 10 years while the business cuts are permanent. Forget the fact that no one cares about what happens in 2027 and that the goodies over the next 10 years will be front and center — the statement assumes that Congress will not extend the personal rates in 2027. It might be the best soundbite material the Democrats have now, but it’s a terrible policy argument; accurate but totally misleading.
Ditto for the absurd claim that a tax cut for the middle class is “Armageddon” and “thousands will die” if enacted. No explanation is provided as to exactly why this is so, but the phrasing is also insulting to our intelligence. If you believe that the tax cut will cause folks to die, at least add the clarification “as compared to what would happen if the cuts didn’t exist,” and prove it. The fact is that everyone dies, so it is a truism either way that thousands will die if the tax cut goes through. Bad argument; worse grammar.
Back to Flynn. ABC News notwithstanding, let’s acknowledge that Flynn’s Russia contacts were encouraged by Trump or Trump campaign folks and that contact occurred after the election, just a couple weeks before the inauguration, which was perfectly legal. Every day the media tries to spin related communications as nefarious examples of Russian collusion, when there has been zero real evidence after 18 months of intense scrutiny. Take the revelation yesterday about the involvement of Trump advisor at the time, K. T. McFarland, in Russian collusion.
An aside: Don’t you just love the word “collusion”? It has been the key word implying illegal Trump/Russia quid pro quos since the beginning but has absolutely no legal meaning. It’s a catch-all that has come to symbolize the probe but has been used primarily to deflect the Mueller investigation from having to meet the higher legal threshold of “conspiracy,” which does have legal meaning. But I digress.
Back to McFarland. The media is breathlessly portraying emails from her to Flynn in December 2016 as evidence that she knew what was going on between Flynn and the Russian ambassador and also knew that it was a cover-up of Russian efforts to conspire with Trump to influence the election. The key excerpt from the emails reads that Team Trump needs to stop ratcheting the sanctions because “a tit for tat escalation will make it difficult for Trump to improve relations with Russia, which JUST THREW THE ELECTION TO HIM” (caps mine). Of course, if McFarland really meant that she believed Russia threw the election to Trump, she just might have contained her urge to put it in writing. Of course, she was referring to the claims from the Democrats and media (and perhaps Mueller’s crowd) that the Russians influenced the election — no different really from Trump’s offhanded sarcastic comment during the campaign that he hoped Russia would find and turn over Hillary’s lost emails. Both claims are ridiculous on their face.
As for context, lest we forget, it was the Obama administration that deliberately fired the first shot that put Trump in this box. Let’s rewind the tape. For almost a year before Trump took office, it was clear to Obama from FBI investigations that Russia was attempting to disrupt the election, yet he did nothing until the eleventh hour. The why is obvious: Hillary was the favorite to win, and any hint of Russian influence would taint her victory.
After losing the election, Hillary made up the Russian accusation and screamed from the rafters that the Russians were responsible since they wanted Trump all along as an excuse to deflect attention from her own failures. Late in 2016, Obama was suddenly shocked to find the Russians in the mix and proceeded to enact sanctions by shutting down a couple Russian buildings in Virginia, kicking out a few dozen Russian “diplomats” and banning 4 Russian intel officers who never travel to the U.S. from traveling to the U.S. But if you read his speech that announced the sanctions carefully, while he mentioned Russian campaign interference as his rationale, he primarily stressed payback for Russian “hassling” of our diplomats in Moscow. It was both a veiled confirmation of Hillary’s claim that the Russians did it and a shot across Trump’s bow by putting him in a box — he either had to possibly screw up future Russian relations by escalating sanctions or look complicit in Russian meddling if he didn’t.
So, the word went out for Trump reps to chat with the Russians to deescalate the tit-for-tat and preserve options after he took office — perfectly legal regardless of whether you agree with the approach. Flynn, likely through McFarland, was the messenger. The tone of the media coverage and the Obama tactic also could be the reason why Flynn lied to the feds about his mission. If the McFarland email portrayed the state of play, Flynn may have tried to simply avoid the media firestorm that would have ensued if his suggestion to the Russians to back off were made public. A terrible lapse in judgement, particularly since he must have known the NSA was listening, but it’s perhaps the only logical explanation.
And none of that changes the fact that the FBI knew full well what Flynn had discussed with the Russian ambassador before it questioned him, so the investigative benefit of asking him about something it already knew was zero. It was solely a vehicle for trapping Flynn. Maybe that tactic has merit if the FBI knew there were bigger crimes they were looking to prove, like a mafia probe, but to ruin someone’s life over a fishing expedition doesn’t seem like a proper use of government power.
And now Mueller is supposedly looking into Trump’s relationships with Deutsche Bank in financing his real estate projects years before he even thought about running for office. My sources tell me that the rationale for Mueller’s new probe is that Trump’s brother-in-law once had an accountant whose uncle’s best friend knew a guy who had a bank account through a Deutsche Bank branch in Kiev at the same time that Putin stayed at a hotel in the same block. If true, that of course would be very troubling, as Dianne Feinstein might say. But that’s just me.
Perhaps Sessions is taking his recusal criteria a tad too far, but if not him, then someone in authority needs to review the entirety of what the Mueller investigation is turning into before the reputation of, and trust in, the U.S. justice system is completely trashed.