Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who served as national security adviser to President Donald Trump during his campaign and in his White House, pleaded guilty this morning to one count of lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. It appears that special counsel Robert Mueller agreed to a plea deal with Flynn to secure his agreement to help Mueller's investigation into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 presidential election, which could lead to charges against other White House figures, perhaps even the president.
Mueller reportedly had enough evidence to bring charges against Flynn as well as his son and former chief of staff Michael Flynn, Jr. But Flynn’s long tenure as a top Trump ally could give him insight into several key interactions between Trump associates and Russia that would make him an invaluable witness against Trump or other members of his inner circle, which explains why Mueller would reduce the charges in exchange for his cooperation. Last month, Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty on similar charges and is also cooperating with Mueller. On the same day Papadopoulos’ plea was announced, Mueller indicted former top Trump campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, who both pleaded not guilty.
This is very bad news for Trump, and for the coterie of Fox News figures who spend their days defending him. But Trump’s top media ally, Sean Hannity, has already signaled how that crew can respond to the news: by reemphasizing their attacks against Mueller’s investigation and alternately portraying Flynn as a victim and a figure whose possible testimony is not credible.
As is often the case, Sean Hannity, the president’s foremost cable news propagandist, will likely be leading the charge. Hannity has spent months laying the groundwork for his audience to disbelieve any results of Mueller’s investigation, which he calls “deeply corrupt” and a “witch hunt.” He has demanded Mueller resign or be fired dozens of times based on concocted conflicts of interest and crimes that he claims the special counsel has committed.
On Monday, ABC News reported Flynn’s lawyer had met with members of Mueller’s team, potentially to discuss a plea deal. That night, Hannity encouraged the Fox audience to disbelieve anything Flynn might say following such an agreement, and instead direct their fire at Mueller’s team.
According to Hannity, the investigation was turning the United States into “a banana republic,” and he warned that Mueller’s goal is to get Trump at any cost. Fox judicial analyst Gregg Jarrett, a Hannity regular, described Mueller’s team as a “cartel, the equivalent of the Mob,” an “illegal syndicate that’s acting under the guise of the law,” and a “renegade rogue deep state that operates under their own rules.”
Hannity warned that any Flynn testimony could not be believed because he would say anything to prevent Mueller from indicting Flynn’s son, while Jarrett suggested that the special counsel would likely try to “suborn perjury” from the former national security adviser.
These arguments are aimed at the conservative base, which Hannity and Trump both want to remain engaged and angry at the media, the left, and the “deep state.”
But they are also aimed at Trump, who reportedly watches Hannity’s show and calls him for advice.
The more Trump hears that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate and a conspiracy against him, the more likely he is to take action against it, either with a flurry of pardons or by ordering Mueller’s firing.