When President Donald Trump announced, on Wednesday afternoon, November 25, that he was granting former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn a presidential pardon, many of Trump's critics were appalled but not surprised. Trump also pardoned long-time ally and GOP operative Roger Stone, and many Trump critics believe that a pardon for his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort — who is now serving time in federal prison — is almost certain. One of Trump's persistent critics on the right, Never Trump conservative David Frum, analyzes the Flynn pardon in an article for The Atlantic and stresses that Trump's primary motivation was trying to save his own skin.
"Here's the first and most important thing to understand about the crime for which President Trump just pardoned former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn: Flynn did not lie to protect himself," Frum argues. "He lied to protect Donald Trump."
Flynn didn't lie to just anyone — he lied to the FBI — and he lied about his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016, which was President Barack Obama's last full month in office and the month before Trump was sworn in as president.
"In the first set of conversations," Frum recalls, "Flynn urged Kislyak to oppose a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity. The second set occurred a week later, while Flynn was on holiday in the Dominican Republic. There, Flynn sought to convince Kislyak to persuade the Russian government not to retaliate against the United States, over a round of sanctions punishing Russia for intervening in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump."
Frum goes on to say that in December 2016, Flynn "surely did not know what specifically he was protecting Trump against. But here's what Flynn did know: Trump wanted to undo the sanctions President Obama had imposed on Russia. That mission would be made easier if Russia did not escalate in response to the Obama sanctions. Flynn sensed that Trump's preferred Russia policy was based on motives that everybody around Trump recognized as dangerous, even if they could not quite define where the danger lay. So, when asked by the FBI about the conversation, Flynn acted like a man aware of a terrible secret that must be concealed at all costs."
According to Frum, "Trump is now pardoning Flynn to reward him for that concealment, as Trump has already commuted Roger Stone's sentence, to reward him for his lying." And Frum wonders if Trump will pardon Manafort before he leaves office on January 20, 2021.
"A big question mark hovers over the head of Paul Manafort, the man most deeply implicated of all," Frum observes. "Manafort has kept his mouth firmly closed. His silence helped defeat Robert Mueller's investigation, limiting its effort to determine what, precisely, transpired between Trump and Russia. On trial and in prison, Manafort has not talked. Is his reward from Trump coming?"
Frum wraps up his article by wondering if Trump will try to pardon himself.
"Worse may be pending, should Trump follow these self-protecting pardons with an attempt at a self-pardon," the Never Trump conservative argues. "Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule whether a self-pardon is valid. Enough legal scholars argue that it would not be that Trump's attorneys should worry that a self-pardon won't stick. But if Trump can buy silence with his pardons of others, he might not even need to pardon himself. The thing we do know for certain is that an administration that began amid charges of conspiracy is ending with an effort at obstruction."