'There is a lot of anxiety’: NBC reporter explains why plan to smear Flynn shows Trump may be doomed
Donald Trump and Mike Flynn (cnn.com)

The Trump legal team reportedly plans to slur former national security adviser Mike Flynn as a liar if the retired general implicates the president or his senior aides in the Russia probe -- but that could potentially backfire.

NBC News reporter Julia Ainsley appeared Thursday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," where she explained how the leaked strategy showed President Donald Trump and his legal team were playing a bad hand.

"We put a lot of reporting into this Flynn investigation to know what a catch he was for Robert Mueller, because of what he knew both from the campaign, the transition and his time in the White House," Ainsley said. "He has a lot of information on Donald Trump. It's clear now, they are going on a defensive strategy that includes undermining what Michael Flynn says, not because they can control what a grand jury decides or what would be decided in a federal court, but they want to control the court of public opinion."

"They want to make it whatever details emerge from Flynn's testimony and whatever Mueller is able to use," she continued, "it will be sort of, you know, not believed by the public or not believed by some of the Republicans who would be deciding, in a hypothetical world, whether or not to start calling for more scrutiny of this president as they head into the next Congress."

Trump and Flynn were very close during the campaign, and the president has strongly defended his former national security adviser since he was forced out -- so Ainsley said throwing him under the bus could prompt other potential witnesses to cut their own deals with special counsel Robert Mueller.

"There's a lot of anxiety, we see it on the surface level from the president in tweets and anxiety from the legal team," Ainsley said. "There's some sort of strategic calculations we have seen over the past few weeks. For example, Vice President Mike Pence in an interview with CBS tried to walk away from whether he knew Flynn lied to the FBI. He knew Flynn lied to him, but we want to know when Flynn lied to him. Did he know that before he sold the lie to the American people?"

"It seems there's a lot of positioning behind the scenes," she added. "There is, to some degree, a level of anxiety, even though the legal team said privately they are not concerned. That could be a bit of an overconfidence bluff."

Flynn agreed to cooperate with Mueller's team as part of his guilty plea, and MSNBC analyst Sam Stein questioned the apparent decision by Trump's lawyers to leak their strategy to undermine his credibility.

"I do wonder if leaking this is going to backfire," Stein said. "I mean, if you're Michael Flynn and you read a piece like this, does it make you say, 'Ooh, I'm not going to work with Mueller?'"