As It Happens

What the Michael Flynn plea deal means for the Russian investigation

With Flynn co-operating with the Russia investigation, it's only a matter of time before Robert Mueller targets those closest to the president, says a former federal prosecutor.
Michael Flynn, former national security advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump, leaves following his plea hearing at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse on Friday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Story transcript

Now that former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn has agreed to co-operate with the Russia investigation, it's only a matter of time before Special Counsel Robert Mueller goes after those closest to the president, says a former federal prosecutor.

Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to making false statements to the FBI about his conversations with a Russian ambassador and said a senior member of President Donald Trump's transition team knew about the conversations.

In a statement, the retired army lieutenant general said he accepted responsibility for his actions and added: "My guilty plea and agreement to co-operate with the special counsel's office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country."

As It Happens host Carol off spoke with former federal prosecutor Mark Osler about what this all means for the Russian investigation going forward. Here is part of that conversation.

How important do you think Mr. Flynn is to Mr. Mueller's investigation?

I think he's extremely important and I'm sure that the Trump lawyers and the people within the White House are very concerned at this development.

He's important because he had a position within the transition, within the campaign, and within the early days of the administration. So he saw three different phases at which the relationship with the Russians were really crucial and important and at the centre of Mueller's investigation.

He's going to be able to — and probably already has — told the investigators who was where and when.

A former federal prosecutor says the Mueller investigation may soon target those closest to Trump. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

There's been, of course, other indictments. ... This is the first time that someone inside the administration has faced charges.

And that's really significant. I mean the George Papadopoulos plea was significant, but  Papadopoulos was much lower level and he didn't cover as much time as Flynn did.

Mr. Mueller is ... building a narrative, as they say. This is now key information to be added to that narrative. But to what end? What's the climax of the story of this narrative?

Right now what's happening is he's mapping out the full story of what happened, and that includes a number of other actors.

And what's going to happen next is that we will see people who are going to be charged who did not flip, who are not co-operating with the special counsel, and they are going to be facing much more serious consequences.

Robert Mueller is the special counsel in charge of the investigation into whether Trump and his associates co-ordinated with Russian officials to sway the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Now who those people will be is something that, of course, Mr. Mueller has kept pretty close to the vest. I think the crucial people in terms of significant changes will be when members of Mr. Trump's family are charged.

Any reasonable person looking at this from the outside would say that, given what we already know, that some of the members of the family had contact with Russians.

I believe we're talking about Mr. [Donald] Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner. Is that right?

Yeah, and the thing is there's nothing illegal about talking to Russians. We know right now that there were conversations. What Mr. Flynn and others can provide is information about potentially the nature of those conversations and the background to them.

We know that Mr. Trump Jr. has already said that he had conversations with people who had ties to the Kremlin about getting information that could embarrass and expose Hillary Clinton. ... Are we moving toward that?

Very possibly. And that is something that is going to change the political dynamic, I believe, because we'll see a president who is going to be deeply concerned when those closest to him are charged or facing the prospect of being charged.

Donald Trump Jr., right, has admitted to meeting with Russian officials to find dirt on Hillary Clinton. (Rick Wilking/Getty Images)

The key question for the Mueller investigation is whether Mr. Trump and his associates co-ordinated with Russian officials to sway the presidential election. Isn't that the end game?

Absolutely. And that's why Mr. Flynn is more important that anyone else that we've known that's been brought in.

There's a lot that we can't know. It's like watching a trawler go over the sea. Most of the action is under the line of sight, but at the same time, we can see the size of the trawler — and it's pretty big at this point.

— With files from Associated Press


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