Michael Flynn, former national security advisor to President Trump, would almost certainly not be in the position in which he finds himself today, were it not for one FBI special agent. That individual is Peter Strzok, and if his name sounds familiar, it should. Strzok became famous, or infamous, for the hundreds of text messages he exchanged in 2016 with FBI attorney Lisa Page – many of them dripping with contempt for then-candidate Trump and his smelly, Walmart-shopping supporters. The case against Flynn was always on shaky ground, to say the least, and, according to recently-released FBI memos, would have been abandoned by the Bureau had not Strzok intervened.
As the incoming national security advisor, Flynn did something that was not considered unusual: he spoke with the Russian ambassador. That was all the FBI felt it needed, though, to connect a couple more of the random series of dots it had gathered in the relentless pursuit of a conspiracy that never existed – collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian officials.
The Logan Act Hail Mary
The former U.S. Army lieutenant general was to become the victim of several transgressions and abuses of power, even though nothing that had passed between him and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was apparently improper. There was, quite simply, no crime to investigate, and it appears the Bureau knew it. Still, a cabal of FBI officials – including Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and the omnipresent Strzok – had endowed themselves with the solemn task of ensuring that Trump would never make it to the White House, and if he did, would not long remain there.
An FBI memo from Jan 2017 carried the recommendation that the Bureau end its investigation of Flynn, because “no derogatory information” had been uncovered. Enter Peter Strzok with the idea that they could go after the general for a violation of the Logan Act, a 1799 law under which nobody had ever been convicted. The Logan Act forbids American citizens from conducting unauthorized negotiations with foreign powers, lest they undermine the official foreign policy of the U.S. government. The very idea that a man already named as national security advisor for the incoming administration could be violating the act by speaking with a foreign ambassador seems preposterous.
With scant regard for rationality or decency, though, Comey jumped on the idea and sent agents to the White House to interview Flynn. No procedures were followed, no requests to the White House counsel made, as is the standard protocol: the agents simply showed up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as if they were a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses looking to land their most famous convert. Later, the former FBI director openly bragged about his total disregard for the way these things are handled:
“Something I probably wouldn’t have done or even gotten away with, in a more organized investigation – a more organized administration… And so we placed a call to Flynn and said ‘Hey, we’re sending a couple guys over, hope you’ll talk to them.’ He said ‘sure.'”
The FBI did not tell Flynn in advance why they wanted to speak with him, and they did not advise him to summon an attorney. Flynn’s legal counsel later claimed Andrew McCabe pushed the general into not having an attorney present, though Comey disputed this, saying: “I believe the deputy director volunteered to [Flynn] that you are welcome to have somebody present from the White House Counsel’s Office.”
Was Flynn a Target or an Obstacle?
Regardless, the FBI was already going rogue on this, as Comey himself – while not using that specific word – subsequently admitted. “We just decided, you know, screw it,” the former director is reported to have said during a later interview. Before the agents went to speak with Flynn, a memo was shared that included a handwritten note from then-head of counterintelligence, Bill Priestap: “What is our goal?” the note read. “Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”
One can argue that this is, indeed, what investigators do. They attempt to either extract a confession or catch the suspect in a lie. The problem here, though, is that Flynn was not a suspect; to that point in time, the Bureau had nothing on the general, and their hastily-arranged interview with him was little more than a fishing expedition. Moreover, investigators do not set out to get anyone fired. That is never the goal of any law enforcement official who might be following leads or searching for evidence.
The very fact, then, that the cabal was willing to settle for getting Flynn fired from his White House position betrays an ulterior motive. Either they were attempting to get Flynn out of the way because they perhaps viewed him as a man who might thwart their plans to undermine the new administration, or they simply wanted to punish him for being a part of that administration.
Flynn’s sentencing hearing is postponed indefinitely at this point. Comey and McCabe, whether they choose to accept it or not, were drummed out of the FBI in disgrace. Strzok was, too, but not before being fired from Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation team. Four men, each with his ultimate fate still unknown – but only one of them can look in the mirror and see a man who did not besmirch his office.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.