- Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
- Legal experts say the former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea is most likely evidence that he’s cooperating with investigators with information concerning much larger targets.
- Targets would most likely be “someone at the center – or close to the center – of this criminal enterprise,” one expert said.
Legal experts told Business Insider that the plea deal struck by Michael Flynn, the former White House national security adviser, with the special counsel Robert Mueller was most likely evidence that Flynn has damaging information to offer prosecutors on other persons of interest in the Russia investigation.
It’s unclear who that would be, but most likely “someone at the center – or close to the center – of this criminal enterprise,” Jens David Ohlin, a professor at Cornell Law School, told Business Insider, adding that the fact Flynn was “charged with and is pleading guilty to such a minor crime suggests a bombshell of a deal with prosecutors.”
Flynn clearly “has something very valuable to offer in exchange: damaging testimony on someone else,” he said.
On Friday, Flynn pleaded guilty in federal court to making false statements to federal investigators about his discussions last December with Russia’s ambassador to the US at the time, Sergey Kislyak.
A charging document filed by Mueller’s office says Flynn “falsely stated” that he did not ask Kislyak during the presidential transition period “to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia that same day.”
It also says he did not recall Kislyak later telling him that “Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of his request.”
It further says Flynn told Mueller’s team he did not ask Kislyak to “delay the vote on or defeat a pending United Nations Security Council resolution” and that Kislyak “subsequently never described to Flynn Russia’s response to his request.”
But Flynn was also heavily scrutinized over his work at his outside intelligence firm and for dealings involving the Turkish government, including his initial failure to register properly as a foreign agent.
The plea indicates that Flynn is cooperating with Mueller’s Russia investigation
The plea means Flynn is cooperating with Mueller’s team, experts said, adding that several other targets – including President Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., and his senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner – could all be in Mueller’s crosshairs.
Soon after Flynn entered his guilty plea in federal court, ABC News reported, citing a source close to Flynn, that he was prepared to testify against Trump.
“This indicates that there is significant cooperation against much bigger targets,” Jed Shugerman, a Fordham University law professor, told Business Insider. “And you can speculate over who those targets are, but someone like Mueller is not just going to take a Flynn plea deal to cooperate laterally. This deal is narrowed to such a minor charge that it is clear it is in return for very significant cooperation against a much larger figure.”
- Thomson Reuters
He added that the plea deal was evidence that Flynn’s cooperation had already been secured.
Though more information related to Flynn could be forthcoming, Shugerman said Mueller may also decide to “keep his cards close to his chest” while he is still interviewing people such as Kushner or Trump Jr.
“Mueller does better by not releasing too much information now that Flynn has given it to him because it allows him to use that information strategically as he’s interviewing other witnesses,” he said.
Robert Chesney, a University of Texas law professor, told Business Insider in an email that the “critical question” moving forward was “whether and to what extent he has agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigations of others in exchange for this deal.”
“So far we do not know, though of course we can speculate that he is, in fact, doing so to some extent,” he said. “One thing it almost certainly does not mean, though, is that the investigation is winding down.”
William Yeomans, a former deputy assistant attorney general who spent 26 years at the Justice Department, said Flynn’s guilty plea “is likely big trouble for several members of the Trump administration.”
“Clearly, others knew about – and may have helped coordinate- the communication with the Russian ambassador, but Trump officials have uniformly denied such contacts and knowledge of them,” Yeomans said in an email.
“This development thoroughly undermines Trump’s unrealistic predictions that the investigation will end soon…it appears likely that many more shoes will drop before Mueller is done. And it is particularly ominous for others that Flynn appears to have gotten a generous deal and appears still to be cooperating.”