It was a year ago this week that former FBI Director James Comey testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee and shed light on his behind-the-scenes interactions with Donald Trump. One of the more striking revelations had to do with former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, whom the president fired a few weeks into his term after Flynn lied to the FBI about his communications with Russia.
According to Comey’s version of events, the day after Flynn left the White House, Trump told Comey in a one-on-one Oval Office chat, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” The president reportedly said of his former aide, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot… I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Comey seemed to describe a situation in which a sitting president encouraged the then-FBI director to go easy on someone under a federal investigation.
Complicating matters, Murray Waas reported in the New York Review of Books last week that Trump had been specifically told by top White House aides that Flynn was under criminal investigation at the time. On “This Week” yesterday, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s legal defense team, about this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you suggesting it wouldn’t be a problem if the president pressured James Comey to let the Flynn investigation go after knowing that Michael Flynn was under criminal investigation?
SEKULOW: Well, I want you to understand something. I mean, I know this sounds remarkable to a lot of people but there were investigations going on on Martin Luther King Jr. – and do you think if President Kennedy would have gone to J. Edgar Hoover and said stop that, that that would have been an obstruction of justice claim? Of course not.
Remember, Trump World has had a full year to come up with a good argument to defend the president’s alleged efforts to help shield Flynn. Evidently, the president’s team has come up with … this.
In case this isn’t already painfully obvious, consider a handful of reasons Sekulow’s comparison is ridiculous:
* Flynn was a high-ranking official in the Trump White House; King never worked in any capacity for JFK.
* Flynn was under investigation after lying to the FBI; King never lied to the FBI.
* FBI scrutiny of Flynn made sense; FBI scrutiny of King did not.
* Trump allegedly pressured the FBI director to advance the president’s own interests; if Kennedy had pressured Hoover on King surveillance, it would have been to advance the nation’s interests.
* Michael Flynn is a disgraced former official; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an iconic American hero.
At a certain level, I can appreciate the fact that Sekulow is in a difficult position. Given the publicly available information, when Trump lobbied the then-FBI director on Flynn, the president may have obstructed justice. If I were a member of Trump’s legal defense team, I’m not sure what I’d tell a national television audience, either.
But I wouldn’t draw some kind of parallel between Flynn and King.