In the latest development of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, retired Gen. Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI on Friday morning. The former national security adviser to President Trump stepped down from the position in February, but Flynn's role in Trump's campaign and nascent administration has been the focus of much speculation surrounding Mueller's investigation.
Though two other members of Trump's campaign team have been indicted — Paul Manafort and Rick Gates — and another, George Papadopoulos, pled guilty, it is Flynn that many have argued would be the most potentially problematic for Trump. Unlike the others, Flynn actually worked in the West Wing, appointed to the prominent role of national security adviser. That puts him in much closer proximity to the president's closest allies and, of course, the president himself.
And as Sarah Westwood, White House correspondent for the Washington Examiner, points out, what Flynn pleaded guilty to occurred while he was in Trump's administration. "The rough part for the WH is that the thing Flynn pleaded guilty to -- lying to the FBI -- occurred when Flynn was serving in the administration, on Jan. 24. Impossible for WH to distance itself from this," Westwood wrote in a tweet on Friday.
Some were also speculating that the single charge Flynn faces — lying to the FBI — may indicate that he has been cooperating with Mueller's investigation, i.e., sharing information that may implicate other members of Trump's administration.
There may be some truth to the idea that Flynn has traded information for a reduced plea bargain. On Nov. 23, the New York Times reported that Flynn's lawyers had stopped sharing information with Trump's legal team. Reporters noted that it is "unethical" for two teams of lawyers to swap information when one client is cooperating with the prosecution and the other is not. "The notification led Mr. Trump’s lawyers to believe that Mr. Flynn — who ... is seen as having significant criminal exposure — has, at the least, begun discussions with Mr. Mueller about cooperating," the authors wrote.
Flynn has been caught up in several investigations. One of the more recently revealed charges came on Nov. 10 when the Wall Street Journal published a report detailing a plot involving the "forced removal" of a Turkish cleric living in the United States. According to their sources, the Wall Street Journal reported that Flynn and his son were plotting an extralegal extradition — some called it simply a "kidnapping" — of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish national who resides in Pennsylvania.
Gulen preaches a "tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, modesty, hard work and education," according to the BBC. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blamed Gulen for fomenting unrest in Turkey and the failed attempted coup in 2016.
However, the fact that Flynn is not facing charges for such an extraordinary type of crime suggests that he has information on his higher-ups that Mueller wanted. At least, that's the view of Seth Abramson, a professor at the University of New Hampshire and contributor to multiple media sites.
Since the only "higher-ups" for Flynn would be Vice President Pence and Trump himself, Abramson appears convinced that the strikingly mild charges against Flynn indicate he had incriminating evidence on one or possibly both of them.
It is impossible to predict when the extent of Flynn's revelations to Mueller will be made public. It's also unknown when or if future indictments will occur, though with Flynn now appearing to cooperate with Mueller, evidence points to more charges to come.
For Flynn, his guilty plea could result in up to five years in prison. What information he traded for that relatively light sentence is sure to be a topic of public speculation in the days ahead.