- - Wednesday, December 19, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If only unraveling the maddening complexity of the Russian collusion investigation were no more complicated than solving Rubik’s Cube with all of its innumerable permutations. Tuesday’s sentencing of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was supposed to set a piece of the 2016 presidential election puzzle in place but instead, it led to new twists and turns that included an unexpected sentencing postponement. While witnessing the political spectacle the probe has engendered, it’s helpful for Americans to remember one thing: There has yet to be found any collusion on the part of Team Trump.

Rather than move forward and impose the Flynn sentence, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan returned to Square One, asking the retired general whether he stood by the guilty plea he made a year ago of lying to the FBI regarding contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about easing economic sanctions on Moscow. Apparently ready to conclude his run-in with a legal system more powerful than the armed forces he once commanded, Flynn answered in the affirmative.

It was not a frivolous exchange. Prompted by a defense attorney memo suggesting FBI shenanigans, Judge Sullivan had made an extraordinary foray last week into background records that special counsel Robert Mueller used as the basis for charging Flynn with lying to FBI agents. Court documents revealed the bureau drafted three different versions of its assessment of Flynn’s answers to questions about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador before Mr. Mueller apparently got what he was after: Grounds for charging the general with lying.

Satisfied that he was not about to sentence an innocent man for a crime he didn’t commit, Judge Sullivan probed for the extent of criminality in an element of the Flynn case that has until recently, remained out of the public eye: The prosecution of the general’s former associates, Turkish citizens Bijan Kian and Ekim Alptekin, for conspiring to unlawfully influence U.S. policy toward Turkey. When Judge Sullivan jarred the courtroom by asking whether the general’s dealings with foreign interests rose to the level of treason, prosecutors balked. Hearing the judge charge, “You sold out your country,” Flynn accepted an offer to delay sentencing for 90 days, presumably to give him more time to dish on his former Turkish colleagues, and to put more distance between himself and the T-word.

Thus, the jury may still be out on the perplexing case of Michael Flynn, but other revelations about the Russian collusion fandango offer little reassurance that Lady Justice hasn’t been stripped of her blindfold. James Comey, who was FBI director at the time when Flynn was targeted for questioning, told a friendly New York audience recently that he dodged standard protocols when he sicced his agents on the unsuspecting general. Under similar circumstances during the Bush or Obama administrations, he admitted, “I probably wouldn’t have gotten away with it.” “A higher loyalty,” the title the fired G-man chose for his memoir, may appropriately apply to his towering height, but not to his ethics as an officer of the law.

Other than the prosecution of Flynn and a few assorted former Trump associates for misdeeds unrelated to Russian collusion, Mr. Mueller’s snipe hunt has turned up precious little subterfuge leading back to the Trump presidential campaign. That’s unsurprising — even the shocking report that initially triggered the investigative fiasco appears to have been a work of fiction.

Investigative journalist Michael Isikoff, who broke the Yahoo News story about the unverified dossier written by British agent Christopher Steele that accused Trump associates of Russian collusion, has concluded the salacious charges were bogus. “When you actually get into the details of the Steele dossier, the specific allegations, we have not seen the evidence to support them, and, in fact, there’s good grounds to think that some of the more sensational allegations will never be proven and are likely false,” Mr. Isikoff told interviewer John Ziegler during a Free Speech Broadcasting podcast.

As Americans drum their fingers while waiting days, months or years longer for the pieces of the Mueller probe puzzle to fall into place, there is time to speculate about whether other Washington power brokers with foreign ties more glaring than the targeted Trump team will come under similar scrutiny. Hillary Clinton comes to mind— her Clinton Foundation collected hundreds of millions of dollars from foreign governments while serving as secretary of state. Call it Rubik’s Cube squared.


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