Thanks to Mike Flynn’s guilty plea, Friday should have been a very bad day for President Donald Trump, and in many ways it obviously was. However, because of ABC News and Brian Ross making a very critical error, Trump will likely, at least for now, be able to salvage some victory out of the jaws of this apparent defeat.
To be clear, the fact that Flynn, the former national security advisor and very key person in the Trump campaign, has pled guilty to lying to the FBI over his contacts with Russia is a very big deal. Yes, it is only one, fairly minor, count and it doesn’t have anything directly to do with collusion with Russia during the campaign. But getting someone like Flynn to plead to any serious crime this quickly indicates that Special Counsel Robert Mueller must have a lot more dirt on him, and there is an obvious implication that for Flynn to get what looks like a “sweetheart” deal, that he must have given Mueller a heck of a lot in return.
This educated speculation immediately gained enormous credibility and went into instant hyper-drive when Brian Ross dramatically reported that Flynn would testify that Trump ordered Flynn to contact the Russians DURING the campaign. If true, this was a real bombshell that instantly destroys the entire current White House narrative on Russia, one which would almost certainly set the stage for Trump’s eventual impeachment and possible removal from office.
The potential impact of this report was hardly lost within the ABC network as The View made the seemingly unprecedented move of having a producer interrupt their own show to bring host Joy Behar the Ross report so that she could read it live on the air. The reaction of her and most of her audience was more enthusiastic than if they had all received news that they had been invited to Prince Harry’s royal wedding.
However, last night ABC News had to issue an embarrassing “clarification,” indicating that Trump’s directive to Flynn came AFTER his election, not before. This is roughly akin to finding out that your spouse’s romantic relationship with another person started BEFORE you began dating them, as opposed to after.
That’s obviously a huge freaking difference. It is also inexplicable that Ross could make such a massive mistake, and yet another damning indictment of how incredibly broken modern journalism has become.
Since expectations dictate nearly everything in life, this debacle was a pure gift to Trump. The events of yesterday, while still potentially incredibly important and ominous for the president, now seem rather diminished and maybe not that significant at all.
On top of that, since Trump has been constantly calling this story “Fake News!” (an absurd concept which even some of those on his favorite cable TV network rightly pushed back on yesterday), ABC’s botched report plays right into the president’s attempt to sell that canard to his cult. The conservative media has been, understandably, jumping all over ABC’s mistake, and you can be sure that the chances of Trump’s base ever accepting his potential guilt in this matter, which were already very low, have now just reached “the Cleveland Browns make the NFL playoffs” proportions.
From a purely legal perspective, ABC’s correction obviously doesn’t mean that Trump is out of the woods, but it does raise real doubt about what Mueller really has. At this point, almost all of the belief that the case against Trump is strong, or even exists at all, is based almost completely in having faith in Mueller himself (as well as belief in Trump’s own corruption).
If you have confidence that Mueller is a smart guy who is meticulously building a wall (a metaphorical entrapment, but one that is more real than Trump’s southern border fantasy) around Trump and his inner circle, then you are likely totally convinced that the president is doing down. After all, the thinking goes, there is just no way that he would let someone as important as Flynn, who has a long list of legal vulnerabilities, get away virtually unscathed unless the former national security advisor was willing and able to deliver the goods on the president.
That logic has merit and the scenario it implies is indeed plausible. However, given ABC’s corrected narrative, it is also theoretically possible that what we really have here is a vastly different set of circumstances.
I have always wavered between Mueller the poker player holding a prodigious “full house,” and a puny pair of threes. While Flynn’s plea deal is consistent with the former, it is also, given that there is no current evidence Flynn will testify about Trump directing him to make any sort of deal with Russia during the campaign, quite possibly the latter.
We simply don’t know yet. And until we do, ABC and the rest of the busted Media Industrial Complex needs to refrain from pretending like we do.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is a documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.