It's difficult to overstate he significance of former national security advisor Michael Flynn's guilty plea in the Russia investigation last Friday. As the dominoes start to fall, and their pattern begins to reveal itself, it may go down as the most infamous and significant moment in American political history. It has the potential to, in the end, lead to the first removal from office of a president in the American experiment. A lot has to happen between now and then, and there are no guarantees of what will be found or the nature of Flynn's cooperation with the investigation, but it's big enough to keep Flynn in the panic power rankings driver's seat for a second week in a row...
1. Michael Flynn
Holding on to the top spot this week is the general and former national security advisor (or, if you’re the White House, ‘former Obama advisor’), who knows where a large number of everyone’s skeletons are buried and just pled guilty to a suspiciously generous set of false statement charges courtesy of Robert Mueller. Remember Trump told Flynn to “stay strong” in April and unsuccessfully tried to get then-FBI directory James Comey to let Flynn off the hook. Flynn’s son, also caught up in the scandal, has notably not been indicted or charged. The smart bet here is that Flynn, whose lawyer said way back in March that he had “a story to tell,” has told it to Mueller, and that an avalanche of indictments, interviews (leading to more perjury), and charges, are soon to follow.
2. Robert Mueller
According to Politico, everyone in the White House thinks they’re being recorded, and, for those players who took heart knowing that their indictment might be softened by a cushy house arrest, the special investigator just dropped the hammer on Paul Manafort, who Mueller alleges violated his bail agreement by—you can’t make this up—ghostwriting an op-ed on his own dealings with the Ukraine with a—wait for it—Russian intelligence operative.
3. Donald Trump
Tweeted (or did his lawyer, and which is worse?) an admission of his own obstruction of justice.
4. John Dowd
After taking the blame/credit for Trump’s obstruction tweet, which may, in itself, be illegal, Dowd, part of Trump’s crack legal team, paraphrased bastion of political morality Richard Nixon, claiming to Axios that “the president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer.” Other lawyers are unimpressed by this argument.
5. Mike Pence
Welcome to the Russia party, Vice President Pence. Vodka and caviar are on the corner table. Kind of a good news/bad news situation here. The good: you may be moving out of the Naval Observatory soon. The bad: U-Haul may not be transporting your things to the White House. There are only two “bigger fish” than Flynn that could compel Mueller to offer Flynn the sweetheart deal he got. One is Trump, the other is Pence. Up until now, it was assumed Pence was out of the loop on Russia, but given that the only offenses Mueller tipped his hand on regarding Flynn happened during the transition, which Pence was…in charge of, it seems reasonable to believe Ol’ No Ladies Over For Dinner Mike may be in the crosshairs as well.
6. Jared Kushner
The man with his finger in all the pies was the “very senior transition official” who told Flynn to reach out to the Russian ambassador regarding sanctions and a U.N. vote on condemning Israeli settlements, according to the Associated Press. Not unrelated: it was also revealed over the weekend that he failed to disclose his directorship of a foundation that helped fund illegal Israeli settlements. There’s very little, if anything, this man isn’t capable of failing to disclose.
7. KT McFarland
McFarland spoke on the phone with Flynn In an email regarding easing Russia’s mind about sanctions following the election (which is the illegal thing the administration alleges Michael Flynn did on his own). In an email about the sanctions, McFarland wrote the following words: “If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A. election to him.” We can only hope the one-time deputy national security advisor (under Flynn) and transition team member was being sarcastic, because even the wording reads like a Russian trying to speak English.
8. Reince Priebus
Another transition official with some dirt under his fingernails, no job, and no reason to protect anyone.
9. Rex Tillerson
The news broken by the New York Times of the secretary of state's impending ouster leaking may actually have saved his job, but probably not. And if not, that’s one more disgruntled ex-employee for the administration to worry about—one with a low opinion of the president.
10. General John Kelly
The “adult in the room” shine Kelly enjoyed in the early part of his tenure as chief of staff has largely worn off, but this Wall Street Journal report can’t make his relationship with the boss any better.