If you lie to a US Federal agent, they can bust you, and my understanding is that judges like to sentence those convicted of this by juries to jail for long periods of time. But, if you are charged with this crime and plea guilty, so there is no jury trial, then there is room to negotiate.
Note that FBI agents know how to make sure prosecution will get a conviction. They write everything down carefully, have witnesses, etc. So, if they ask you a question and you lie, you are now in the process. It is just a matter of time until you are signing a plea agreement.
Michael Flynn, perhaps owing to hubris, perhaps owing to fear, perhaps owing to sub-average intelligence, perhaps to a combination, managed to lie, apparently multiple times, to FBI agents.
Unlike most of the other characters in the Trump-Russia scandal, Flynn has been more involved in Turkish shenanigans than Russian, but the charges going down today do relate to Russia.
He is charged with lying about his interactions with the Russian ambassador to the US about sanctions, and about a pending UN Security Council resolution related to Russia.
Below is a nice video from Move On Dot Org, as well as a link to a petition of theirs.
I would like to take this opportunity to caution everyone who is trying to figure out what is going on in the White House to avoid being misled by confusion, ignorance, or intentional misdirection. I have five points.
1) Be prepared to hold multiple competing hypothesis in mind at once. I promise you this: Whatever you think now, or come to realize over the coming months, is not a good historical description of what happened (or is happening). We can look back to Watergate to understand this. For Watergate, many, perhaps most, of the relevant conversations among the co conspirators were actually recorded and we can listen to them today. Many years after the event, a detailed description of actions, motivations, effects, etc. could be put down by historians. At the time the scandal was breaking, and the government was crumbling under the weight of the Nixon administration’s nefarious activities, no two people had the same theory of what was happening, and no one individual was as correct in their thinking as someone today who carefully studies the issue could be.
2) Eschew Occam’s razor, or at least, understand it and do not misuse it. It is almost never the case that in the affairs of humans the simplest explanation is the most likely to be correct. Given two incorrect explanations, the one that is simpler will have the smallest number of things wrong with it, but that is of little consolation if they are both wrong. (The real use of occam’s razor is to develop a testable hypothesis, not to find truth. So, you don’t have to give up the precious Occam’s razor. You just have to not use it to find truth, because that is not what it does.)
3) Recognize the fact that multiple different explanations may be based on very different premises that might not be compatible. For example, consider these two alternatives:
a) Flynn was on the phone with the Russians in order to convey information from Trump to Putin about sanctions.
b) Flynn was on the phone with the Russians in order to get orders from Putin, to convey those orders to Trump.
Both are extreme examples of Treason. Either could be true. Both may be wrong. But they are not likely both true, and in fact represent extemely different models of what is happening. So, pairs of explanations or descriptions of what is going on in the White House may not be compatible with each other if they each fall into a different presumptive model.
4) Ignore this meme, which is spreading: “The coverup is worse than the crime.”
Prosecutors will follow the Al Capone model every time. They will try to get the bad guy using any method that works (in the case of the murdering crime boss Capone, it was tax evasion), and they will avoid using methods that have even a modest chance of failure. This is one of the most under-appreciated yet critically and centrally important aspects of our criminal justice system. Think about it for a moment. You will understand so much more of what happens if you grok this, and to grok this you must ignore the mainstream media because they do not grok it even though they see it every day.
The press is fond of saying “the cover up is greater than the crime.” Sometimes that is true, but we really are more concerned with cases where the crime is more important than the normal human reaction to pretend you didn’t do it.
For example, if Flynn really was conspiring with the Russians, on behalf of Trump, to determine executive action that would benefit a foreign power because the foreign power is paying for that benefit, or has blackmail material to force it, than the worst possible form of treason occurred short of a treasonous event that kills Americans. A prosecutor may never be able to prove that in court sufficiently to get a conviction, or even make an indictment along these lines. But a prosecutor might very well be able to prove that evidence was tampered with or a federal investigator, or Congress, was lied to.
Let me underscore a key point too easily lost: Even if a prosecutor feels there is an 80% chance of getting a conviction on a higher level crime, they won’t go to court over it. They’ll settle for less or focus on the nearly 100% winnable lesser crime. So, even if all reasonable observers can walk away concluding, fairly, that the higher level crime happened, it may not ever be charged because of this self regulation by prosectors.
In the Watergate scandal, the cover up was extensive, bizarre, illegal, and winnable in court and ultimately led to jail time and fines. The Attorney General served 19 months for perjury, obstruction, and conspiracy. The President’s Chief of Staff served 19 months for conspiracy and obstruction of justice. A Chief political council pleaded nolo contendre to obstruction.
So, they lied and stood in the way of the investigation. That was the cover up, that’s what they got nailed for. But, is that what they did?
No, of course not. It is what they did after they did what they did. The big cheeses were never convicted for what they did.
What they did was to hack the election in order to win the presidency. Just like what happened this year, but instead of computer hacking and propaganda, they did it with a break-in and wire taps. And, apparently, the Russians were not involved with Watergate.
Putting this another way, the Watergate conspirators attempted, and perhaps succeed, in circumventing the Democratic process and putting their own guy in power. Then they tried to cover that up. Prosecutors were in the main only able to indict and convict over the cover up. That does not mean that these men’s attempt to overthrow the government was not worse than was the crime of pretending they didn’t.
5) Perhaps a pedantic point, but when you hear the phrase “What did he know and when did he know it” don’t assume this was a brilliant rhetorical device designed to take down Richard Nixon. It was exactly the opposite. It was a little like they were going for Occam’s Razor and ended up with a two-edged sword!
For those who don’t recognize the phrase I use in the title of this post, and that is used in the video below: Republican Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee said it first. He asked the question of Nixon’s knowledge of the Watergate break in during the Congressional investigation.
Ironically, Baker had assumed (based in a private conversation with Nixon, most likely) that Nixon either didn’t know about the break in and cover up, or could credibly claim he didn’t know. Baker was trying to protect the president. This is what he was thinking:
Baker: What did President Nixon know, and when did he know it?
Everybody else and the evidence: He knew nothing, and when he knew something, it was way later, after, like, now, or even never.
Baker: Well, OK, then, Nixon is innocent, let’s toss these other guys under the bus and move on with our Republican War to Gain Total Power, OK?
What really happened:
Baker: What did President Nixon know, and when did he know it?
Everybody else and the evidence: He knew all along and helped develop plans for the cover up itself. He was as deep in this as shit in an outhouse.