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Why Trump's Michael Flynn pardon was so obviously corrupt

Flynn committed a felony to benefit Trump, and then Trump used his power to shield Flynn from any consequences for his crimes. That's ... not normal.
Gen. Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, leaves Federal Court on in Washington.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images file

One of Donald Trump's favorite tricks is to take indefensible steps late on a Friday, confident that the public will be less likely to hear about it on a Saturday, and by Monday morning, the political world will have moved onto something new. But the president's trick isn't limited to Fridays -- it's also applicable to any day ahead of a holiday weekend.

For example, late on Wednesday afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving, Trump announced a pardon for former foreign agent Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign in disgrace as the president's White House national security adviser in 2017. The fact that Trump would apparently prefer that this story get buried in the holiday shuffle is all the more reason to shine a spotlight on this example of a brazen political abuse.

A Washington Post editorial on this rang true:

So it remains in Mr. Trump's America, at least for a couple more months: Guilty is innocent; lies are truth; traitors are patriots. The question is not whether Mr. Trump has degraded the presidency. The question is how much long-term damage he has done. Will future presidents now feel free to use the pardon power — or the other vast powers of office — with such nakedly crooked motives? How many will calculate that they can make corruption appear to be patriotism as long as enough of the country wants to believe the lies they tell?

There may be a temptation among some to believe Trump's abuses of his pardon power have become so routine that they all effectively blur together into one big scandal. But while the list of abuses is not short, the Flynn matter is qualitatively different from the others.

Remember, among Flynn's many abuses -- which, incidentally, he pleaded guilty to in open court while under oath -- is playing a central role in his benefactor's Russia scandal. Putin's government attacked the U.S. political system to help put Trump in power in 2016, prompting new U.S. sanctions against Moscow. Flynn, in turn, tried to undermine his own country's policy, reassuring our attackers while speaking to a Russian ambassador, which culminated in Flynn lying to the FBI about his efforts on Trump's behalf.

And therein lies the rub: Flynn committed a felony to benefit Trump, and then Trump used his power to shield Flynn from any consequences for his crimes. This is clearly not why the presidential pardon power is supposed to exist. On the contrary, it sets a precedent for presidential lawlessness.

As Garrett Graff noted the other day, even Richard Nixon didn't try to get away with pardoning his own co-conspirators. Trump's corruption is vastly worse and more overt than the Watergate-era wrongdoing.

The only modern rival for this was Trump's commutation for Roger Stone -- announced late on a Friday afternoon in July, of course -- rescuing a convicted felon who lied on his behalf as part of a broader cover-up.

That the outgoing Republican president ever pretended to care about "law and order" and the "rule of law" is a national insult. As Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent put it, "In the end, the Flynn pardon is perhaps best understood as one final act of venal, malevolent, retributive warfare waged by Trump on the country that just rejected him, and even on the rule of law itself, which he could not ultimately subvert to quite the degree he'd hoped."