On the June issue:
The Flynn Affair
To the Editor:
Eli Lake’s “The Railroading of Michael Flynn” was quite dishonest (June). The facts he chose to share are larded with adjectives and adverbs designed to prejudice our reaction: Flynn is merely “unfortunate”; the poor general was “humiliated” by the loss of his job, which is described as “defenestration”; Flynn’s chant to “lock up” the Democratic candidate for president was disturbing because it “startled and upset Susan Rice.” Lake’s conclusion (that Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador “advanced U.S. interests”) seems to have been taken from the legal briefs of Flynn’s lawyers.
The facts Lake chooses not to share are even more revealing. He is impressed that District Court Judge Trenga overturned a unanimous jury verdict convicting Flynn’s business partner for criminal violations of the lobbying laws. But Lake fails to mention that part of the basis for that reversal was that Flynn, not his partner, was the lead person handling the project. Lake similarly neglects to mention that the prosecution was unable to present its full evidence before Judge Trenga because midway through the case, Flynn reneged on his commitment to testify. A more serious exploration would have informed us that Donald Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, quietly raised the possibility of a presidential pardon for Flynn, which surely would’ve stiffened Flynn’s resistance.
Ultimately, Lake’s point seems to be that even if Flynn did violate criminal laws such as FARA and the Logan Act, it is “highly unusual” for anyone to be prosecuted under those laws. But it is far more unusual for the Russian government to intervene so aggressively in a U.S. election on behalf of one candidate. Congress never thought it was necessary to pass a law prohibiting such conduct. When that candidate insists that no such intervention took place, accepting the word of the former KGB leader over the consensus of every U.S. intelligence agency, it is time to dust off the laws to see which ones apply.
To the Editor:
Eli Lake began his article with a conclusion and spent a remarkable amount of effort to interpret events to support it. Yet the fact he chose to ignore most is that Michael Flynn admitted his guilt, affirmed it on multiple occasions and then, once President Trump was not convicted at his impeachment trial, assumed he could be similarly “let off.”
Only in this environment of attempted Trumpian autocracy, in which law is ignored when enforcement might be displeasing to the leader and when Congress has no interest in the nation’s welfare, could Lake’s argument be seriously advanced.
Santa Monica, California
To the Editor:
Michael Flynn and Donald Trump are clever, but that doesn’t make them honest or innocent. This article has some ingenious reasoning, but that doesn’t make it a true account. The Logan Act may be honored more in the breach but raising it as if this was a violation of Flynn’s rights in this case is a red herring. Flynn has not been charged with violating the Logan Act. Also, Flynn took $45,000 from RT, which he had to know was problematic from the point of view of an intelligence insider. It’s fair to conclude that he didn’t want this known publicly. Finally, Flynn’s Turkish farrago is a perfect combination of illegality and unseemly profiteering by attempting to deliver a target into the clutches of an Islamic despot. Not a good look for an intelligence professional let alone the director of national intelligence. Anyone who followed the tale of Kim Philby should appreciate that catching double agents is not always easy.
Saint Paul, Minnesota
To the Editor:
Eli Lake writes of Michael Flynn: “They suspected he was a Russian agent—despite the fact that a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn launched five months earlier by the FBI had found no evidence for such a claim.”
That is not true. In this whole episode, the only thing there’s less evidence of than Flynn’s being a Russian agent is that the counterintelligence investigation was launched in good faith. There was no one anywhere who legitimately suspected that Flynn was a “Russian agent.” In truth, they claimed to suspect that he was a Russian agent.
Falls Church, Virginia
To the Editor:
A note on “The Railroading of Michael Flynn”: Attorney General William Barr said that the charges were being dismissed against Michael Flynn to restore the people’s confidence in equal justice—the same justice no matter what the political party and whether rich or poor. But law-enforcement tactics similar to the ones used against Flynn have been used against many others, including James Brogan, whose conviction for lying to federal agents was upheld in the Supreme Court in an opinion by Justice Scalia. If Barr really believes in equal justice, he should be reviewing all the cases of people caught in a “perjury trap.”
Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania
To the Editor:
I want to commend Eli Lake for his thorough and well-written article that clearly shows what the facts and evidence demonstrate: corruption in the Obama administration and grave injustices perpetrated by the FBI and DOJ. What was done was criminal and in violation of Americans’ civil rights.
Lake’s article is an example of stellar and true journalism. Reports such as his help restore the reputation of the media, which are largely neither believed nor trusted by the public.
I am neither a conservative nor a liberal. I’m a moderate, and I share this personal information only to provide context for my appreciation of your work.
Eli Lake writes:
Peter Altschuler repeats a familiar charge against Michael Flynn. In December 2017, he pleaded guilty to one count of providing false information to FBI agents. It’s also true that at his sentencing in December 2018, he affirmed his guilt to Judge Emmet Sullivan. While it’s not common, our justice system allows defendants to withdraw their plea agreements. This is what Flynn did on January 15. Mr. Altschuler posits that Flynn withdrew his plea because the president was acquitted in the impeachment trial. But Donald Trump’s acquittal was on February 5. A better explanation for Flynn’s actions is that he and his new lawyer had read the inspector general’s report on the surveillance warrants sought against Carter Page. That report detailed significant irregularities and abuses during the FBI’s investigation, a conclusion affirmed in important documentation released by the government in its motion to dismiss his case.
It’s difficult to follow David Apatoff’s argument. He concludes that Congress never anticipated a situation in which Russia would support one candidate over another, so there was no law against that. But this makes no sense. Congress cannot legislate against Russian meddling. Meanwhile there are laws against taking foreign assistance during an election and computer hacking. These crimes were investigated by Robert Mueller’s team, and no Americans were charged with violating such laws. I fail to see how the proper remedy here would be to enforce the Logan Act or threaten a former national-security adviser with an unprecedented prosecution of the foreign-agents law.
It doesn’t seem that Mr. Apatoff read my essay with care. He writes that I failed to mention that Flynn had withdrawn his coopera-tion with the government in their prosecution of his business partner, when in fact I did. He then asserts that Flynn was the main person on the contract with Inovo. I do not know that to be true. In my stating that Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador advanced U.S. interests, Mr. Apatoff claims to see an argument straight from Flynn’s defense lawyers. What I described, however, was taken from the Department of Justice’s motion to drop the prosecution, which I quoted earlier in the essay. Mr. Apatoff asserts that I was troubled by the “lock her up” chant only because it “startled” Susan Rice. I recommend he read the next sentence. “A line had been crossed in that episode: A retired three-star general and the candidate he was advising had chosen to treat their political opponent like a criminal.”
Steve Waage asserts that Michael Flynn did not want people to know that he received $45,000 for appearing at the RT gala. But this was known during the election, and Flynn confirmed it in interviews with the press. More important, the FBI investigated his dealings with RT and did not find any reason to charge him. As for Mr. Waage’s assertion that Flynn sought to kidnap a Turkish cleric and deliver him back to the clutches of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, I don’t think this ever happened. If it were true, one would expect the government to have charged him with attempted kidnapping. But the incident is never mentioned in the government’s case or in Flynn’s plea agreement.
Will Myers claims that the government never suspected Flynn of being a Russian agent. I beg to differ. I base this on the fact that the FBI launched an investigation into whether Flynn was a witting or unwitting Russian agent in August 2016.
Randolph Jonakait makes a good point. It would be nice if the Justice Department reviewed other examples in which suspects were prosecuted for perjury traps. The Flynn case, though, is a bit different. We now know that the FBI agents who interviewed him did not think he lied. This is an example of how a failed perjury trap resulted in an admission of guilt to a crime that the accused’s pursuers did not initially believe he committed. Also, this case is particularly important because it was an unwarranted interference into the presidential transition by the outgoing administration’s FBI and Justice Department.
I thank Matt Currie for his kind words.
Shuttered New York
To the Editor:
Reading “The Empty City,” one wonders whether any of this is, or was ever, necessary (June). It depends on what fraction of the American public has had the virus without symptoms. If the fraction is small, say 2 to 3 percent, then the lockdown may have saved a great many lives as mortality would be 6 to 7 percent of cases. If the fraction is large, say 50 percent, then COVID-19 isn’t all that dangerous, with a mortality rate of about 0.05 percent, and the lockdown has accomplished nothing positive.
The difference is stark and important, and it’s very unfortunate that there’s been no conclusive survey to see what the percentage is. Of course, the information would have little therapeutic utility and wouldn’t necessarily tell doctors anything about any particular patient. The medical profession has, understandably, simply followed procedure.
But government could have used that information to make informed decisions. And the media might have used it to disseminate a better understanding of things. It is entirely possible that those who have made their careers in government and media by following procedures without question are the real basis for the so-called deep state. No conspiracy required.
Loss, Humanity, and Wisdom
To the Editor:
I have to admit that one of my greatest pleasures in reading Commentary is and always has been Terry Teachout’s illuminating column. His writing is always clear, meaningful, and fascinating, but in “My Gallant Gal” (June), he outdid himself by adding a powerful element of humanity and wisdom to his essay of love and appreciation. The description of his love and loss resonates strongly with me and I’m sure many other readers. As Teachout well understands, the passage of time is the only known balm for this most painful of experiences.
To the Editor:
Thank you, Terry Teachout, for writing this beautiful testament to courage and love. To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Show me a hero, and I’ll show you a tragedy.” One of the hardest things humans do is to carry on after losing a beloved.
I believe we never really let go of those we love. When our souls make a connection as strong and true as the one Terry Teachout had with his wife, it is forever.
He is stronger than he thinks and should hold on to that. In time, the pain will soften. I send him light, hope, and love.
San Ramon, California