On Tuesday, presiding judge Emmet Sullivan hit a variety of topics when Michael Flynn appeared before him for sentencing on one count of lying to the FBI. The hearing ended with Sullivan holding the matter until Flynn finished cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
But by then Sullivan had ping-ponged from questioning whether Flynn needed additional time to reconsider his guilty plea, to asking the government if the former Army lieutenant general could be charged with treason. One soliloquy in particular struck me. In discussing the charges brought against Flynn, Sullivan stressed that “This is a very serious offense. A high-ranking senior official of the government making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation while on the physical premises of the White House.”
For one short moment, Sullivan’s stark pronouncement cut through the partisan noise surrounding Flynn’s prosecution. Yet it is not that simple. For many, the criminal case against Flynn was never about Flynn; it was about our country abandoning the precept of equal justice under the law.
This governing platitude took a hit when the FBI spun its investigation into Hillary Clinton as a mere “matter;” when agents questioned the former secretary of State in the presence of two witnesses, assuring their stories would match; when an agent involved in the Clinton investigation called her responses “questionable,” but not “provable” lies, and nothing became of it; when the FBI took no action against other witnesses whom they believed clearly lied during their investigation of Clinton; and when the public learned that the agents knew all along nothing would be done about Clinton’s criminal recklessness in her handling of classified materials.
In contrast to the kid-glove handling of Hillary Clinton and those close to her, the FBI reached out to Flynn with an iron fist ensconced in a velvet glove. An interview that ended with agents concluding that Flynn had not lied resulted instead in federal charges once Special Counsel Mueller’s office became involved.
Leaks about Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador go unanswered, while FBI Director James Comey launched a probe into leaks surrounding the Clinton investigation. Comey ignored President Obama’s public pronouncement of Hillary’s innocence during the heat of the investigation, while President Trump’s private comments to Comey about Flynn serve as the subject of a secret memorandum Comey would later use to suggest the commander-in-chief has obstructed justice.
Flynn’s guilty plea under these circumstances chafes. Plea or not, we may never know if Flynn lied when he sat down with Peter Strzok and the other unidentified FBI agent. But if Flynn didn’t lie then, he lied to Sullivan on Tuesday when the long-time judge quizzed Flynn on his guilt.
“I cannot recall any incident in which the court has ever accepted a plea of guilty from someone who maintained that he was not guilty, and I don’t intend to start today,” Sullivan stressed.
Yet Flynn remained firm. He was guilty and was ready to face his punishment (after a slight delay to allow Flynn to complete his work with Mueller, while also giving Sullivan the chance to cool off before deciding Flynn’s sentence).
So be it. Flynn’s fate is but that of one man, and while to his family and friends the difference between probation and a five-year sentence holds the utmost significance, to the average American, it matters not.
But what matters greatly—or should—is the lesson the Flynn prosecution teaches about justice in America: whether one is a friend or a foe of the political ruling class and their career concubines dictates the justice meted out. And an unequal justice under the law is no justice at all.