Law Professor Analyzes Details Flynn Provided To Russia Probe
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has been so helpful to the special counsel investigation that Robert Mueller is now recommending that he serve no prison time. Flynn has helped with several ongoing investigations, too, not just the Russia inquiry. According to prosecutors, that includes at least one criminal investigation. All this was detailed in a sentencing memo that Mueller's team released late last night. We're going to take a closer look at the implications of all this with Kimberly Wehle. She's a professor of law at the University of Baltimore and a former assistant U.S. attorney. Kim, thanks for coming in.
KIMBERLY WEHLE: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So it looks, from this memo, like Flynn gave Mueller information that went well beyond his time on the Trump transition team. What has stood out to you in this?
WEHLE: Well, there's three issues. One is what he actually pleaded guilty to, which has to do with lies relating to his communications with then-Russian-ambassador as well as his dealings with the Republic of Turkey. So he talked about that. But in his 19 interviews, he also talked about a different topic related to the Mueller investigation, so something related to that referral from Rod Rosenstein.
And then the document indicates there's a separate criminal investigation that we don't know anything about - it's all redacted - that may or may not be part of the special counsel. It might be something that has been farmed out to another part of the Justice Department.
MARTIN: Which we have seen happen before, in particular when it came to Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen.
WEHLE: Right. It - presumably, it has to do with something a little bit afield of the scope of the investigation itself. But it does suggest that he's - the cooperation is ongoing. The memo indicates that he's still working with them. This isn't the end of the line for Mr. Flynn. And certainly, I don't think we're even close to the end of the Mueller investigation itself.
MARTIN: All right. So let's drill into one piece of this. The primary problem with Michael Flynn is that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about whether or not he'd been in communications with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the transition. Can you just remind us why that kind of communication is not OK?
WEHLE: Well, he lied - the actual charge was lying to the FBI about that communication.
WEHLE: But there's a couple aspects of it that are indicated in the memo which he wasn't charged with. One has to do with a statute called the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the idea being if you're going to - if you're in a political campaign and you're talking to foreign governments, you need to let our government know. And then the second is something called the Logan Act, which arguably, he was dealing diplomatically without disclosing that.
And the memo indicates, as the legal system in the United States, we want to know this information as voters. When we're voting, we want to know who our political leaders or would-be political leaders are communicating with. And if it's a hostile interest, that should be made public. It's quite serious.
MARTIN: Right. So - and just to affirm what you said, the crime wasn't lying to Vice President Pence. The crime was lying to the FBI, which Michael Flynn was accused of doing. What does the fact that Flynn is cooperating - what could it mean for those other people who were part of the Trump transition team?
WEHLE: Well, again, the document indicates that there was - that he's provided substantial assistance relating to other communications between the transition team and the Russians. So I think we know a few things now. When people talk no collusion, no collusion, I think that voice is getting fainter and fainter and getting drowned out by what's made public.
One is that we know for sure that information was withheld from the American public. We know that from the Cohen plea last week. We also know that from this document. We know, number two, that there were communications between the Russians and the president's transition team and people on the election team. We know that for sure.
MARTIN: When we say transition team, we mean Jared - Jared Kushner. We mean Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie, Ben Sessions - or Jeff Sessions, rather. These are a lot of high-ranking folks.
WEHLE: Yeah. Ben Carson as well, yeah. All of these people were on the transition team. So we know, number two, there were communications. What we don't know is the motive - right? We know that this stuff was lied about. We know the president has downplayed any issues with Putin. He's sort of been solicitous of Mr. Putin. So the question has to do with motive. We know from last week, there was, potentially, a question about getting the Moscow Trump Tower deal. Maybe there was a quid pro quo there.
And then here, the question really is, in exchange for lifting sanctions, did the Russians do something for the president's transition team or the campaign? - the idea being, listen. We will float dirt on Hillary Clinton. We will do the WikiLeaks if we can get something in exchange. That's the bigger issue, I think, that we just don't know right now that Mr. Mueller's looking into.
MARTIN: Democrats, in particular, point to the Russia probe, the Mueller investigation and these continuous revelations as a test of the American democracy. Do you see it that way?
WEHLE: Absolutely. I think that the question right now is, is this sustainable? How will our democracy sustain it? There's four ways this could go. We could tolerate it, which I think is really problematic for a lot of reasons that we've been discussing. We don't want foreigners interfering in our election. Number two, there could be a resignation, three - impeachment, or four, an indictment. And we'll just have to see if there's accountability for this stuff.
MARTIN: Kimberly Wehle, professor of law at the University of Baltimore, thank you so much, as always.
WEHLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.