What will the disgraced General Flynn say about Trump?
People are sardonically joking that Trump's former National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn, has a new job opportunity – as a whistleblower who will tell Congress and the American public depraved stories about Donald Trump’s supposed connection to Russian spy agencies.
Flynn’s latest problem is that when he served as a lobbyist for the Turkish government, he violated the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act, according to which he had to register within 10 days at the U.S. Department of Justice’s foreign agent registration desk.
For violating the registration terms, the general may face a $10,000 fine and/or a five-year prison sentence. Considering the extremely complex relations between Flynn and the American establishment, there’s a real possibility he’ll go to jail.
To escape this fate, Flynn decided to cooperate with the investigation. His lawyer, Robert Kelner, asked Congress for immunity that would cover all possible wrongdoings, adding that, "the general has something to tell the investigative committee."
Obviously, this is not about his cooperation with Erdogan. The senators are more interested in the Trump team's contacts with Putin, which could form the basis to accuse the U.S. president of betraying national interests and impeach him.
What’s there to tell?
Most experts are convinced that Flynn didn’t commit any crime. "The main accusations against Flynn will focus on his insincerity concerning contacts with Russian organizations. There’s nothing wrong here, however, because they dealt with work and services. It’s unlikely these contacts will be enough to impeach Trump. The Russiagate scandal has been going on for four months and still nothing has been discovered that could confirm accusations of treason or espionage," said Andrey Sushentsov, director of the Foreign Policy Advisory Group and Program Director of the Valdai Club.
The accusations concern Flynn's speeches at events organized by Russian companies, for which the general received payments, such as from the TV station, RT.
"We’re astonished and angered that this was leaked to the media. These are details from confidential correspondences, conferences and contracts that must be protected by law. Now the media has possession of them, but you can see that in this war any weapon can be used," said (in Russian) RT's editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan.
In any case, these are Flynn's contacts and they do not concern Trump. "To the best of our knowledge, there was no prior relationship between Mr. Trump and Russia before his election. People associated with him may have had contacts with Russians to pursue their own business interests. General Flynn's contacts, which the FBI and military intelligence were aware of, were for speaking arrangements - perfectly legitimate," said Michael Maloo, a former Pentagon employee and expert at the Valdai Club.
It’s possible, however, that Flynn will read from a script that anti-Trump senators might write for him. The general's choice could be to either give up Trump, or go to jail. In particular, the would-be whistleblower might fabricate stories about how Russian hackers supported Trump. Some American, and even Russian, experts already give credence to these theories.
"Cambridge Analytica, which works for the Trump staff, used voter information procured by Russian hackers from state electoral committee lists for targeting electorates in the undecided states through social networks. And don't forget, Trump's fate was decided by only 70,000 people," said Sergei Kostyaev, an associate professor at the Financial University. "If it’s proven that Trump promised something in exchange for help, he'll be accused of treason."
Again, Moscow is to blame
Essentially, the "Russian factor" has once again become a critical component of the American power struggle.
"The current anti-Russia hysteria in Washington primarily bears a domestic character. Russia itself is basically not even present in this scandal - only as a vague, unspecified foreign threat. If it weren't for the Russian scandal, the Democrats would have found another way to paralyze the Trump administration," said Sushentsov.
"The entire alleged U.S. -Russian collusion mantra is nothing more than a conspiracy theory perpetrated by the Democrats, mainstream media and elements within the intelligence community to delegitimize the Trump administration with the idea of trying to push for creating conditions to press for the impeachment of Mr. Trump," said Maloof.
The American president himself calls the situation "a witch hunt of historic proportions," while Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitri Peskov calls (in Russian) the talks of Russia's involvement in America's elections "slander."
Perception of reality is a part of reality, however, and Flynn's possible confessions about Trump's work for the FSB/GRU/Kremlin will only complicate what are already complex relations between Russia and the U.S.
Maloof noted that, "this has dampened efforts for the U.S. and Russia to work together on many issues of common interest, especially fighting global terrorism."
"In the current conditions, serious discussions on the potential of Russian-American relations are impossible," added Sushentsov.
The Trump administration must establish itself as a capable partner, and to do so it must parry the Democrats' accusations. Without this, there are no guarantees that agreements with Trump's weakened administration will outlive his term in office and Russia is interested precisely in constructing something long-term with the US.
Some experts, however, speculate that thanks to Flynn's testimony, which might ruin Trump's career, Russia may gain an opportunity to build something even better and long-term with the US.
President Pence as a reliable partner?
"If there is such a testimony, in the short term everything will intensify, but in the mid term there could be pragmatic agreements with President Pence, a stable Republican with traditional values and priorities; for example, in the fight against terrorism in Syria or on the conditions of Moscow surrendering Bashar Assad," Kostyaev hypothesized.
For now, Congress still hasn’t made a final decision concerning Flynn’s possible immunity in exchange for his testimony.
"First, we must understand everything. Besides intelligence we have about 20 witnesses who have agreed to collaborate in this case," said Senator John Cornyn. "But at some point in time, it’s possible we will like to speak to General Flynn."
Most likely, they want Flynn to languish a bit, in order to convince him of the necessity of saying what he’s told.
Gevorg Mirzayan is an Associate professor at the Financial University under the Government of Russian Federation. His opinion does not reflect the position of RBTH or its staff.