The prosecution of Michael Flynn has been dropped, but the use of his case as a political weapon looks sure to intensify.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeorge Conway pens op-ed predicting Trump will lose Supreme Court case over tax disclosures Top intel official leaving post Eleven Secret Service agents test positive for COVID-19: report MORE kept his rhetoric on the case red-hot in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s decision from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop the case against the retired Army general, who had pleaded guilty on two occasions to lying to the FBI.
The president blasted the people behind Flynn’s prosecution as “human scum” to reporters — terminology that has grown familiar from Trump’s mouth but would once have been a shocking thing for a commander in chief to say in apparent reference to members of the FBI.
There are now reports that people close to Trump are eager to see Flynn have some prominent role in the president’s reelection campaign.
In Flynn’s previous endeavors in that capacity, he joined the crowd at the 2016 Republican National Convention in chants of “lock her up” aimed at Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Six in 10 voters approve of Hillary Clinton’s endorsement of Joe Biden House panel releases long-awaited transcripts from Russia probe The good, the bad and the ugly of in-person presidential campaigns MORE.
The use of the Flynn case — and perhaps Flynn himself — for political purposes could have clear utility for the Trump campaign for a simple reason. His status as a cause célèbre for the president’s base could drive enthusiasm and turnout, however strongly the pro-Flynn view of events is rejected by Democrats or sails over the head of less engaged voters.
Flynn could be one arrow in a quiver of issues that appeals to the Trump base. Those issues are going to be all the more vital to a Trump campaign that has recently lost what was going to be its strongest card — the once-strong economy that has plunged off a cliff amid the coronavirus crisis.
Trump allies are now seeking to keep the issue of Flynn’s case alive and use it to cast aspersions on Democratic figures, including presumptive presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenJudge denies bond to father and son arrested in Ahmaud Arbery shooting The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden’s Tampa rally hits digital snags Voter suppression could cost Democrats the election — here’s what they should do MORE.
Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE, Trump’s reelection campaign manager, released a statement shortly after the DOJ’s decision contending that there had been a “weaponizing [of] the FBI” that had occurred “on Vice President Joe Biden’s watch” — that is, during former President Obama’s administration.
The Flynn case also reinvigorates the debate over former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN’s Toobin warns McCabe is in ‘perilous condition’ with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill’s 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s investigation. Flynn’s initial guilty plea was an early big success for Mueller — whose efforts were derided by Trump and his allies.
Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanScalise targets China, WHO response from coronavirus oversight perch Justice moves to drop case against Flynn McCarthy unveils new GOP-led China task force MORE (R-Ohio), one of the president’s most stalwart defenders in Congress and a frequent critic of the FBI’s actions, tweeted a clip of himself on Fox News on Friday, in which he claimed that “everything we learned this week confirms what we already knew.”
The Flynn matter also plays right into the overarching narrative of Trump’s populism, which holds that various elites are out to undermine him by nefarious means.
Parscale’s statement on the case included the allegation that “the corrupt media will do its best to cover up this scandal.”
There are serious problems for the Trump side, however.
One is the two guilty pleas by Flynn. It is tough to assert a person’s innocence when they have twice pleaded guilty.
And the case that Trump is being victimized by elites is hard to make while the attorney general of the United States, William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDemocrats ask for investigation of DOJ decision to drop Flynn case Klobuchar asks Barr for answers on coronavirus outbreaks in prisons The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Pelosi touts mammoth fifth COVID bill; jobs numbers a gut punch MORE, intervenes in cases to the benefit of Trump’s friends and allies.
In February, the Justice Department under Barr sparked another huge controversy when it undercut the recommendations of its own prosecutors and recommended a more lenient sentence for longtime Trump associate Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneDemocrats ask for investigation of DOJ decision to drop Flynn case Democrats renew calls for Barr to resign after DOJ drops Flynn case House panel releases long-awaited transcripts from Russia probe MORE, who had been convicted of lying to investigators and obstructing a congressional investigation.
The decision by the Department of Justice to drop the case against Flynn is without any close precedent, however — and has engendered an irate response from Democrats.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTop Democrat demands ‘immediate explanation’ from Barr after Flynn case dropped Yang sues over New York canceling Democratic presidential primary Nadler presses Barr over Trump using emergency powers during pandemic MORE (D-N.Y.) blasted the move as “thoroughly corrupt.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOvernight Health Care: Pence press secretary tests positive for coronavirus | Watchdog recommends ousted vaccine expert be temporarily reinstated | Health care industry loses 1.4 million jobs Grenell announces creation of intelligence community ‘cyber executive’ Key House committee chairmen ask leadership to include coronavirus commission in next relief bill MORE (D-Calif.) said Barr’s actions showed that “if you’re a friend of the president, then justice doesn’t apply to you.”
Figures from the legal world expressed similar horror.
Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. attorney appointed by Obama, tweeted on Friday, “Yesterday was a bad day for the rule of law & for our country. There are two kinds of justice in America now: the kind that is available for the president’s friends & the kind that’s available to the rest of us.”
Matthew Miller, who served as a Department of Justice spokesman during Obama’s first term, drew a line connecting the Flynn and Stone cases, calling both together “an absolute travesty from an out-of-control Justice Department.”
And former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien Comey‘Do as I say, not as I do’: Virus exposes two standards of justice Trump says he learned a lot from Nixon: ‘Don’t fire people’ Comey, McCabe slams Justice for dropping Flynn case: ‘Pure politics designed to please’ Trump MORE was clearly alluding to the decision to drop the case when he tweeted on Thursday that the Justice Department “has lost its way.”
But in a nation where voters have increasingly chosen to don hyperpartisan uniforms, we can expect to hear plenty more about Flynn from the president and his allies in the months to come.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.