It’s a Watergate-era cliche that the cover-up is always worse than the crime. In the Mike Flynn affair, we have the first recorded instance of a cover-up in the absence of a crime.
Being covered up were the Dec. 29 phone calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to Washington, D.C. The presumed violation was Flynn negotiating with a foreign adversary while the Obama administration was still in office and, even worse, discussing with Sergey Kislyak the sanctions then being imposed upon Russia (for meddling in the 2016 elections).
What’s wrong with that? It is risible to invoke the Logan Act, passed during the John Adams administration, under which not a single American has been prosecuted in the intervening 218 years. It prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign powers.
Flynn was hardly a private citizen. As Donald Trump’s publicly designated incoming national security adviser, it was perfectly reasonable for him to be talking to foreign actors in preparation for assuming office within the month.
Worst case: He was telling Kislyak that the Trump administration might lift sanctions and therefore, comrade, no need for a spiral of retaliations. How different is this from Barack Obama telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, on an inadvertently open mic, during his 2012 re-election campaign, “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
Flynn would have been giving the Russians useful information that might well have contributed to Russia’s decision not to retaliate. I’m no Russophile. But again: What’s wrong with that?
Turns out, the Trump administration has not lifted those sanctions. It’s all a tempest in an empty teapot.
The harm was not the calls but Flynn’s lying about them. And most especially lying to the vice president who then went out and told the world Flynn had never discussed sanctions.
You can’t leave your vice president undercut and exposed. Flynn had to go.
Up to this point, the story makes sense. Except for one thing: Why the cover-up if there is no crime? Why lie about talking about sanctions? It’s inexplicable.
Did Flynn want to head off lines of inquiry about other contacts with Russians that might not have been so innocent? Massive new leaks suggest numerous contacts during the campaign between Trump associates and Russian officials, some of whom were intelligence agents. Up till now, however, reports The New York Times, there is “no evidence” of any Trump campaign collusion or cooperation with Russian hacking and other interference in the U.S. election.
Thus far. Which is why there will be investigations.
The puzzle remains. Why did Flynn lie? Until we answer that, the case of the cover-up in search of a crime remains unsolved.
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.