A New York Times report on Thursday evening revealed that attorneys for Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, had cut ties with the president’s lawyers, notifying them that they “could no longer discuss [Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s] investigation into possible Russian collusion. The report stated that it was the first clear indication that Flynn might be “negotiating a deal” with Mueller. Experts claim it could spell trouble for Trump.
“Mr. Flynn’s lawyers had been sharing information with Mr. Trump’s lawyers about the investigation by the special counsel […],” the Times wrote. “…That agreement has been terminated, [four people involved in the case] said.”
As the outlet noted, defense lawyers “frequently share information during investigations, but they must stop when doing so would pose a conflict of interest”, as it would be considered unethical for one party to share knowledge of a case while working directly with prosecutors.
That could signal a larger problem for the embattled Flynn, who has been the target of criticism for some time now.
Flynn — a longtime Trump supporter, former Army lieutenant general, and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama from 2012 to 2014 — served as the president’s national security adviser for less than one month before resigning in February. He was forced to leave his post after U.S. officials discovered he had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before officially being sworn in. Trump, for his part, claimed that he had only asked for Flynn’s resignation because Flynn had misled Vice President Pence about the nature of those communications later on. In a press briefing, then-press secretary Sean Spicer said it was more of a “trust issue” than a “legal issue.”
In the months that followed, additional information surfaced that showed Flynn may not have been forthcoming about his financial ties to Russian entities. According to official documents, Flynn failed to report payments from RT, a media network run by the Russian government; a subsidiary of the Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab; and the Ulyanovsk-based Volga-Dnepr Airlines on his financial disclosure forms. Kapersky Lab, whose products have often been used by U.S. agencies, was accused earlier this year of having ties to Russian FSB security forces and 2016 election meddling; The U.S. government dropped the company from its list of authorized vendors in July.
Early in March, Flynn also registered as a foreign agent for lobbying work on behalf of a “Dutch consulting firm owned by a Turkish businessman with ties to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” USA Today reported at the time.
Since that time, Flynn has become a key target in Mueller’s Russia investigation. In August, the Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller was “examining what role, if any, former national security adviser Mike Flynn may have played in a private effort to obtain Hillary Clinton’s [leaked] emails from Russian hackers”, and that the special counsel had sought to figure out whether Flynn’s alleged contacts had also communicated with anyone else on the Trump campaign. More recently, on November 10, the Journal reported that Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., had been part of an alleged scheme to “forcibly remove” Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen — seen by Erdogan as a political enemy — from his home in the United States, and “deliver him to Turkey in return for millions of dollars.” Flynn’s lawyers vigorously denied those claims.
Because of the outsize number of connections Flynn has to the Russia investigation, his sudden decision to cut ties with Trump could signal a troubling development for the president, who in May, referring to the investigation into Flynn, told fired FBI Director James Comey, “I hope you can let this go.” Some have suggested it could mean Flynn is ready to flip on Trump and his associates, in order to lessen whatever consequences he himself may be facing (though it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll actually be able to finalize a deal with Mueller).
Norman L. Eisen, board chair of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, suggested on Friday that the revelation was “bad news” for Trump.
“Flynn may or may not have dirt on the [president], but he surely will roll over on Kush[ner], who will flip like a pancake on [Trump’s alleged] obstruction,” Eisen tweeted. “…I negotiated a cooperation deal for a target with Mueller’s office when he was US [attorney], and lemme tell ya, he’s not gonna give one to Flynn unless he implicates someone up the ladder.”
Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney who was fired by Trump in March, tweeted on Friday that, for someone as burdened as Flynn, “flipping on others and cooperating with the prosecution is the only sane and rational move.”
“Also, prosecutors accept cooperation only if you can provide ‘substantial assistance.’ Higher up in the food chain,” he added. “Stay tuned….”
In a comment to the Washington Post on Thursday, Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal attorney, stated, “This is not entirely unexpected. No one should draw the conclusion that this means anything about General Flynn cooperating against the president. It’s important to remember that General Flynn received his security clearance under the previous administration.”
Flynn’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.