Flynn’s indictment tightens the noose on Trump’s White HouseHeat Profit
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It is hard to say which is worse for Donald Trump. On Friday, Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, became the fourth Trump associate to be indicted by Robert Mueller, the special counsel. That tightens the Investigative noose around the White House. Late on that night, the Republican Senate passed Mr Trump’s tax cuts. Having helped clinch the one reform that binds Republicans, Mr Trump is no longer so useful to them. The odds that he will be impeached have risen sharply.
The most ominous aspect to Mr Flynn’s plea bargain is how generous it was. The fact that Mr Mueller indicted him on the relatively minor count of having lied to FBI Investigators suggests the retired general has juicy information to share. Mr Flynn could have been nailed on several other counts, including undisclosed work for a foreign government, Turkey, which paid him $530,000 in fees. That Mr Mueller kept the charge relatively light speaks volumes. Mr Flynn has something to give in return. This is likely to include two elements.
The first is to advance Mr Mueller’s case that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Mr Flynn was in the thick of the Trump campaign’s Russia communications. According to his indictment on Friday, Mr Flynn took directions from a senior member of the Trump campaign in his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak. That is likely to be Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and the president’s all-purpose consigliere. If, as many suspect, Mr Kushner is the next figure to be caught in Mr Mueller’s net, the Trump administration could start to disintegrate.
The second element is to help Mr Mueller prove that Mr Trump tried to obstruct justice, which is also an impeachable offence. Indeed, the evidence for this is already compelling. James Comey, the former director of the FBI, whom Mr Trump fired in May (on the strong advice of Mr Kushner), has already testified that the president pressured him to drop his Investigation of Mr Flynn. Were the latter to reveal why Mr Trump was so keen for the FBI to drop its probe, that could seal the case. As America learned during the Watergate hearings, the cover up is often worse than the crime. Obstruction of justice was the first item on the impeachment charge sheet against Richard Nixon. As the intended beneficiary of Mr Trump’s cover up, Mr Flynn can tell Mr Mueller what it was he was trying to conceal.
Even then, however, impeachment would be a leap. Mr Mueller can indict anyone he likes except the sitting president. That job belongs to Congress. While Capitol Hill remains in Republican hands, the chances it will begin proceedings are slim. There is as yet no revelation on the scale of the Oval Office tapes that turned Republican senators against Nixon. But Mr Trump is a combustible figure. In the build-up to Mr Flynn’s plea bargain last week, Mr Trump’s behaviour was unusually erratic. Among other moves, he triggered a row with the UK after retweeting Islamophobic videos produced by a British far-right group. He implied a well-known television anchor should be Investigated for the death of an intern. He also exhumed the “birther” claim that Barack Obama was not born in America.
Might he fire Mr Mueller? The last time Mr Trump contemplated sacking the special counsel was in July when the FBI raided the home of Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s former campaign chairman, who was indicted on several counts in October. As the Investigative noose tightens, that temptation will return. Axing Mr Mueller would be an obstruction Congress would be hard-pressed to ignore. Yet Mr Trump may find it hard to resist it. As the quip goes, Mr Trump’s Maga slogan — “Make America great again” — is turning into something different: “Many are getting arrested”.