Long ago, when my three wonderful daughters were in grade school, they regularly conversed over the telephone with a rather unique life coach. They called him “Uncle Al.” He was, in fact, a member of the Mafia and one of my informants from my days in the Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section. Even after I left the Strike Force, he would, on a quite regular basis, call my home to speak with me.
In those days, when the phone rang, one of my little girls would always get to it first. On those occasions when Uncle Al was calling, I would lift the extension and hear him in his gruff voice giving my innocent child such useful advice as “study hard in school” and “do what yer mom and dad tell ya’ to do.” Such advice would invariably elicit the sweet, squeaky voiced reply, “Okay, Uncle Al.”
These exchanges always left me with more than a touch of cognitive dissonance. You see, Uncle Al was calling from prison, and I had helped put him there. He had been convicted of a mob murder. But, after his conviction, he flipped and began feeding me valuable information about La Cosa Nostra and governmental corruption.
When he first decided to cooperate, he was being held in a county jail awaiting transfer to Attica prison in upstate New York. I promptly yanked him out of the state system and arranged for him to serve his fifteen year to life sentence under a new identity in federal prison. This led to his taking an all-expenses-paid tour of federal prisons throughout the country as, in one facility after another, the inmates would figure out his real name and informant status. These moves were necessary to keep him alive.
But, wherever he landed, he somehow always managed to get to a telephone and call me. A lot. And that’s how, over the years, Uncle Al befriended my daughters and me.
Uncle Al not only provided intelligence about ongoing criminal activity, he also taught me many things about life inside the mob. One fascinating subject had to do with the mob’s best practices when it decided to kill one of its own. On this topic, he held the underworld equivalent of a Ph.D. and lectured me many times.
I quote him from memory: “When it’s your time to go, they’ll send your best friend to do the job. He’ll come to you as a pal, get you all relaxed. Maybe drink with you, joke around, and then, while you’re laughing and having a good time and all — BAM! — lights out! You’ll never see it coming.”
He knew what he was talking about. In fact, that was the script for any number of mob murders that I investigated. The victim’s killer always came to him as a friend.
I’ve been reflecting on this scenario ever since General Michael Flynn was charged with making a false statement to the FBI. Let me explain why.
Flynn, a decorated thirty year Army man, has pled guilty to the charge and is about to be sentenced by the court. But, despite Flynn’s guilty plea, a great deal of mystery surrounds his case. For, in the context of his decades of devotion to duty and honorable service to the country, the charges against him make no sense. Why did he do it? How could it happen that this decent and courageous man would take this wrong turn so late in his otherwise exemplary life? How was it that he became a criminal just as he was assuming his new role as President Trump’s National Security Adviser?
The sentencing memorandum filed by his lawyers provides some of the answers to these questions, and they aren’t pretty. Don’t get me wrong. The information in the memorandum doesn’t reflect badly on the general. No, the recited facts present a stomach-churning account of James Comey’s FBI intentionally targeting and effectively destroying this decent man for base and nakedly partisan political purposes.
Recall that, as the president’s incoming National Security Adviser, Flynn had communicated on different occasions with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Even though these conversations were entirely legal and appropriate, they had — like every other electronic communication in this country — been intercepted, catalogued, and stored by our omniscient surveillance state.
We know now that these intercepts gave Comey’s FBI a predicate for the fatal interview that was the means by which Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s band of Hillary Clinton acolytes were able to ruin Flynn. At the direction of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, virulently anti-Trump Special Agent Peter Strzok (who later joined Team Mueller), and another agent were dispatched to the West Wing of the White House to question Flynn about these recorded calls.
As set forth in the defense sentencing memorandum, the FBI knew the “exact words” spoken by Flynn to the ambassador. In short, Comey and McCabe had no real investigative purpose in having Flynn questioned about his entirely legal, legitimate, and proper conversations with the ambassador. But law enforcement and national security formed no part of their agenda. They were on a mission to undermine Trump’s new administration by any means necessary, and the intercepts gave them a way to set a trap for the president’s National Security Adviser.
The following is taken verbatim from the defense sentencing memorandum which quotes from documents produced by the special counsel’s office pursuant to court order:
At 12:35 p.m. on January 24, 2017, the first Tuesday after the presidential inauguration, General Flynn received a phone call from then-Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, on a secure phone in his office in the West Wing. General Flynn had for many years been accustomed to working in cooperation with the FBI on matters of national security. He and Mr. McCabe briefly discussed a security training session the FBI had recently conducted at the White House before Mr. McCabe, by his own account, stated that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with General Flynn to talk about his communications with Russian representatives.
Mr. McCabe’s account states: “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [General Flynn] and the agents only. I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House Counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [General Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”
Less than two hours later, at 2:15 p.m., FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and a second FBI agent arrived at the White House to interview General Flynn. By the agents’ account, General Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered to give the agents “a little tour” of the area around his West Wing office. The agents did not provide General Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 before, during, or after the interview. Prior to the FBI’s interview of General Flynn, Mr. McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport,” one of the agents reported. Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that, if “Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used… to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said… they would not confront him or talk him through it.” One of the agents reported that General Flynn was “unguarded” during the interview and “clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.” [Emphasis added.]
Got that? Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and the FBI wanted to keep him that way. McCabe sent Strzok to set a trap which, once sprung, would destroy Flynn’s life. But they didn’t want to warn Flynn that he was facing danger, that he had better choose his words carefully and think long and hard before he answered their questions. It was contrived to be just a friendly, low-key, unguarded, and relaxed chat among “allies.”
Uncle Al and La Cosa Nostra couldn’t have set it up better. This was right out of their playbook. The FBI went to Flynn as friends and then — BAM! — they figuratively blew his brains out.
Now it’s one thing for mob hitmen to use this kind of soulless, underhanded treachery, but is it too much to ask that our FBI adhere to a slightly higher standard of conduct? You know, something ethical and old-fashioned like letting Flynn know that his life and liberty were on the line if he happened not to answer Strzok’s questions to McCabe or Comey’s satisfaction? Maybe even letting him know that they already knew the exact contents of the conversation about which he was being questioned?
But none of that happened. Instead, concealing the real reason for the interview and posing as colleagues and allies, the McCabe and Strzok lulled Flynn into a false sense of security and led him down the primrose path to his destruction.
In its sentencing memorandum, the special counsel’s office has recommended non-incarceration based on Flynn’s cooperation. But, even without cooperating, under the federal sentencing guidelines he was never in danger of going to prison.
But for Flynn, like anyone targeted by the government, the process is the punishment. As a result of being arrested and charged, he has been bankrupted and forced to sell his home and possessions to pay legal fees as he tries to defend himself and his family. Under these circumstances, whether or not Flynn goes to prison, he and his family have been devastated.
Measured by the suffering and financial ruination of Flynn and his loved ones, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, and Team Mueller have amply achieved their purpose. By wantonly destroying this good and decent man, they have sent a warning to others who might wish to serve or support our duly elected president and have succeeded in intimidating anyone who would dare to act contrary to the wishes of the politicized, permanent, and immutable deep state cadre that controls the levers of governmental power.
So, where does this leave those of us who want our government staffed by honest and capable individuals? With Flynn’s ambush as precedent, how are we to encourage serious people to make the sacrifice of entering government service? Now that it is no longer safe for public servants to even talk to one another without first engaging legal counsel and conducting all communications through their lawyers, how are they to efficiently conduct the affairs of government? In short, why would any sane person ever consider stepping into such a snake pit?
Unfortunately for our fragile Republic, the sad, discouraging, appalling and self-evident answers to these and similar questions will be the enduring legacy of the coldly calculated and unwarranted destruction of General Michael Flynn by those who saw fit to use the almost limitless power of the federal government to further their political agenda.
George Parry is a former federal and state prosecutor who practices law in Philadelphia. He blogs at knowledgeisgood.net and may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.