It was supposed to be Donald Trump’s big night.
Finally, the U.S. Senate delivered the big legislative win he had been yearning for — a vote to approve a massive tax reform package championed by the president.
But the victory was marred by a big worry for the Trump White House, and undoubtedly one of the most troubling moments of his first ten months in office.
Hours before the vote, it was announced that retired general Michael Flynn — his fired national security advisor — had agreed to a plea deal with Robert Mueller, the special counsel looking into possible coordination between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia. Flynn is the fourth person who worked on the campaign to be indicted, but of the four, he is the only one to make the transition to the White House.
Flynn’s rise in the Trump orbit was quick. He became a top foreign policy advisor during the campaign, known for his fiery rhetoric and anti-Islamic views. At last year’s Republican National Convention, he was a crowd pleaser, bringing delegates to their feet as they chanted “lock her up!” about Hillary Clinton.
But signs of trouble came early. On the very day Donald Trump won the presidency, a Capitol Hill newspaper published a piece by Flynn that parroted the policies of the Turkish government. Flynn’s article — which appeared in the paper’s opinion section – set off alarm bells at the Justice Department.
By the time he had assumed his new job as White House national security advisor in January, investigators were looking into the possibility that Flynn was doing lobbying work for Turkey without registering his activities, as required by law.
Meanwhile, FBI agents wanted to know about a different matter: the telephone conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak between the election and inauguration day.
Flynn downplayed the calls and said they never discussed the sanctions the Obama administration had imposed on Russia for its election interference. THAT was his big mistake.
It turned out the government had recorded the calls and they DID talk about sanctions. When the story came out, President Trump fired Michael Flynn from the top White House job he had held for just 24 days… and the retired general ultimately found himself bargaining with Mueller, a former FBI chief and a dogged investigator with a stellar reputation.
In the end, Flynn agreed to plead guilty to one charge of lying to the FBI. The Turkish matter was dropped, although court papers indicate there were misstatements as well in his belated foreign-agent registration.
No one knows for sure what sort of evidence investigators were able to compile on Flynn’s Turkish connections. Flynn has acknowledged that his consulting firm — Flynn Intel Group — signed a $530,000 contract in the final months of the 2016 campaign to collect information about Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in the United States. The Turkish government considers Gulen responsible for an attempted coup last year, and has demanded his extradition.
Perhaps this was one of the bargaining chips Robert Mueller used to convince Flynn — who once was one of Trump’s biggest supporters — to cooperate with an investigation the president has labeled “a witch hunt.”
And what was Donald Trump’s response to the plea deal?
For 24 hours he was quiet. And then he exploded on Twitter.
Trump chastised the investigation, painted Flynn as a victim, and said the FBI’s reputation for fairness is “in tatters.”
The irony of the tweets was not lost on White House reporter Michael Shear who wrote in the New York Times: “a president who has positioned himself as devoted to law and order is now in a public dispute with the country’s top law enforcement agents.”
The fact of the matter is the closer Mueller’s investigation gets to Trump’s inner circle, the more likely he is to lash out.
And while he has steadfastly denied that there was any cooperation — or collusion — between his presidential campaign and Russia, there is already evidence of a pattern of lies.
Democrats are talking less and less about the whole issue of possible Trump campaign links to Russia, and more and more about obstruction of justice.
It turns out there is no law against collusion. But presidents have been impeached for cover-ups and lying to federal investigators.
Their names may sound familiar.
Perhaps Donald Trump should put down his smartphone, and brush up on presidential history.