After special counsel Robert S. Mueller III recommended no prison time for former Donald Trump official Michael Flynn on Tuesday, House conservatives chalked up the latest episode in the Russia investigation as a win for the president.
“I think it’s good news for President Trump tonight, that this is what it’s come down to,” Rep. Mark Meadows told Fox News’ Sean Hannity about the heavily redacted sentencing recommendation memorandum the special counsel filed Tuesday night.
“Even though they said he substantially cooperated, I think he substantially cooperated to say that there was no collusion and we can look at it with that in mind,” said Meadows, the chairman of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Prosecutors commended Flynn, a retired three-star general in the U.S. Army, for “accepting responsibility in a timely fashion” for lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during Trump’s transition to the White House and then “substantially assisting the government” after he pleaded guilty last December.
Flynn attended 19 meetings with the special counsel and handed over documents and communications that helped prosecutors track down leads in multiple investigations, they wrote in Tuesday’s memo.
Many legal experts believe those investigations could implicate the president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner, as well as other officials on the Trump transition team after he won the 2016 election but before he took the oath of office.
Trump’s fiercest defenders in the House downplayed — or outright dismissed — the memo’s implications for the president.
GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida said Mueller’s lenient sentencing recommendation reflected a double standard compared to when Trump allegedly urged former FBI Director James B. Comey to “see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go” because “he is a good guy.”
“Robert Mueller has essentially said to the court, ‘Lay off of Mike Flynn, he’s a good guy,’” Gaetz told Hannity. “If Trump said the same thing to [former FBI Director James] Comey, they apparently want to throw him in jail for it and it shows the double standard.”
Meadows said he hopes Tuesday’s memo is “the beginning of the end” for the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including its contacts with Trump campaign and transition officials.
“If this is the best we’ve got coming out of Mueller’s investigation, it is time that he writes the report, closes it out, and let the American people focus on what is important to them,” Meadows said.
Democrats, and most legal analysts, did not draw the same conclusions as Meadows and Gaetz. Flynn’s “substantial” cooperation with the special counsel instead indicates that he pointed them in the direction of other possible crimes committed by the president or members of his inner circle.
“We now have two major players in Trump’s inner circle — his longtime personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, and his National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, providing substantial cooperation to Robert Mueller,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut tweeted Tuesday.
Those facts, Blumenthal added, open up the question of why Flynn took the illegal steps he did.
Watch: Burr on Russia Investigation — ‘We’ve Got to Do It on Facts’