Flynn's Lawyers Will No Longer Share Information With Trump Legal Team
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We start with the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. Several news organizations report that lawyers for former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn have stopped sharing information with President Trump's lawyers. This could mean that Flynn is cooperating with prosecutors.
To explain the significance of this development and where the investigation could go from here, we turn to Susan Hennessey of the blog Lawfare. Hi there.
SUSAN HENNESSEY: Hi.
SHAPIRO: Nobody has explicitly said that Flynn is cooperating with the prosecution, so begin by explaining why people are making this inference.
HENNESSEY: Right. So it's currently impossible to say for sure. All we know is that Flynn has withdrawn from what's sort of known as a joint defense agreement or a joint information sharing agreement. That's a way for criminal defendants to pool information that's coming out in drips and drops from the government so that attorneys can have better situational awareness of the case and strategize accordingly. So they do this in a formalized way to preserve attorney-client privilege. And it's significant whenever somebody withdraws because it might indicate that somebody's cooperating with the government. Now, that's not the only reason that they might withdraw.
SHAPIRO: If we operate under the premise that Flynn may well be cooperating with prosecutors, then I'd like to ask you about where the investigation likely goes next because I think six months ago if you had asked somebody who the likely target was, the first two names that might have come up would be Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, and Michael Flynn, who was national security adviser to the White House. Manafort has now been indicted. And if Flynn is cooperating with prosecutors, then who do you think the likely next targets are?
HENNESSEY: All right, so Flynn's cooperation could be incredibly significant for the future of the investigation. You know, Flynn sort of holds the answers to at least two really, really major questions or possibly holds the answers. The first is this phone call that actually led to his firing between Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak in which they discussed sanctions at a period in time in which President Obama was still the president. And then...
SHAPIRO: This was during the transition?
HENNESSEY: During the transition period. And so this is - sort of misrepresentations to Vice President Pence about the contents of that conversation is actually why Flynn was ultimately fired. Now, the big open question there is, well, what about sanctions did you discuss with the Russian government and why? Was it under the direction of President Trump or one of his close advisers? The second is really about kind of the obstruction charge. So we've - we know that special prosecutor Mueller is investigating the question about whether or not the firing of former FBI Director James Comey amounts to obstruction of justice.
Now, any representations the president or his team made to Flynn, Flynn's understandings about what was being done and why, that might go to the question of mental state. You know, why was the president doing this? That's a really, really critical piece if Mueller's team is really going to pursue that particular one. It's actually hard to imagine how they could make the case absent sort of a high-level cooperator like Flynn.
SHAPIRO: Flynn was one of the very few people in the White House at the highest levels. If he's cooperating with the prosecution, suddenly it seems that Mueller would have access to all kinds of information that could open all kinds of doors to people very close to the president and the president himself.
HENNESSEY: Right. And so certainly we're starting to see early reports of Mueller's team sort of investigating potential contacts between the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and foreign officials, right? So you can certainly sense that the investigation is getting closer and closer. This is also relevant to sort of the president's strategy thus far, which has been he kind of cuts people loose as bad information comes out. So Manafort gets indicted and he says, well, you know, that's too bad for him, but he really wasn't a close part of the campaign. He wasn't really part of the inner circle. You know what? As Mueller's team gets closer and closer really to that core group, the president isn't going to be able to sort of get away with saying, well, I'm not accountable for these people or these people weren't sort of part of my core team. That's certainly true of Flynn, and it's going to be even more so for the president's own family members.
SHAPIRO: Susan Hennessey is the executive director of the blog Lawfare. Thanks for joining us.
HENNESSEY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.