What the hell is it?
by Tom Sullivan
Trinity tower, Kremlin, Moscow. Photo by Alex Zelenko via Wikimedia Commons.
Judge Emmet Sullivan knows something you and I do not. He has seen the unredacted portions of special counsel Robert Mueller's 302 filing and probably more. What he's seen made him very, very peeved with former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
During Flynn's sentencing hearing in Washington on Tuesday, Sullivan took eight minutes to read aloud from the lies Flynn pleaded guilty to telling FBI agents regarding his communications with Russian officials. Sullivan took care as he began to ask attorneys and staff to signal him if in his remarks he began straying into sensitive areas.
Saying he would not hide his disgust that Flynn as a transition member and senior Trump White House official repeatedly lied to the Justice Department, Sullivan dressed down the retired lieutenant general:
“This is a very serious offense,” Sullivan told Flynn, even after Mueller’s prosecutors told the judge they agreed that Flynn should face little to no incarceration because he cooperated with their investigation.After his angry lecture concluded, Sullivan told Flynn, “I can’t promise you a sentence that involves no jail time.” Sullivan asked if (after 19 interviews) Flynn had concluded his assistance to the government, and strongly recommended Flynn ask for a sentencing delay. He might use it to find still more ways to aid the special counsel's investigation in the meantime.
The judge pointed to the American flag behind his bench and told the decorated combat veteran that he had undermined it: “Arguably, you sold your country out.”
This underscores two important truths. First, in undermining the Mueller investigation, Trump’s and Russia’s interests reinforced one another.Broader than investigating the 2016 interference and Trump's participation in it, Mueller's task is forward-looking and aimed at stopping future attacks. Vladimir Putin has strategic reasons for keeping Trump in office. Already pundits suggest Trump's likely strategy for winning reelection is not to expand his base and sell more snake oil. It is to use relentless attacks that render any opponent equally toxic. That aligns nicely with the strategy Putin is already using against other nation states. If he cannot raise himself up, he can knock them down. And if he succeeds in undermining law enforcement as well, Putin preserves for 2020 and beyond the money laundering and other financial tricks that help facilitate that goal. In Trump, Putin has a willing ally. They want the same things.
In this sense, Democratic campaign operatives who battled Russian disinformation in the 2018 cycle say that these post-election attacks on Mueller drew on a similar tactic to that used during the campaign. “The Russian influence campaigns often pour gasoline on a fire that is already burning,” said Simon Rosenberg, who worked to counter disinformation for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “It is far more efficient and effective to amplify and extend divisive narratives already in circulation.” Russian attacks on the Mueller probe appear to have echoed ones Trump was already making.
Second, in attacking Mueller, Trump’s and Russia’s interests actually overlapped. But even more crucially, those overlapping interests were served by the concerted undermining of U.S. institutions, something that both of them undertook to do.