On Friday morning, Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI. ABC News correspondent Brian Ross reported that Flynn was prepared to testify that candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems resurface Flynn’s ‘lock her up’ comments after Mueller charges Congress must stop private prisons from receiving tax breaks Evangelicals were with Trump in 2016, and will be in 2020 MORE instructed “him to contact Russian officials during the campaign.” The media went into a frenzy, social media exploded and the stock market dropped 350 points as it appeared everything the president had said about his campaign not colluding with the Russians could be untrue. Those of us who had been involved in the campaign were shocked.
Fortunately for the country, it was the ABC report that was untrue. Several hours later, ABC issued a “clarification” and later a “correction” stating that it was actually “president-elect Trump” who directed Flynn to make contact “during the transition” as a “way to work together to fight ISIS.” For having promoted this quintessential example of fake news, ABC suspended Ross for four weeks without pay.
The distinction between what occurred during the campaign versus what occurred during the transition is obviously critical. The primary allegation has always been that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government, not that president-elect Trump had contacts with the Russians or any other foreign government following the election. Despite the media uproar, to date, there is simply no evidence of any such collusion, at least not by the Trump campaign.
In May, Rod Rosenstein, at the time acting attorney general, issued an order appointing Robert Mueller as special counsel “to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” It authorizes Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and any matters that may arise directly from the investigation.
In October, Mueller indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate, Richard Gates, for allegedly funneling money from a pro-Russia party in Ukraine to offshore bank accounts and shell companies but failing to declare the money to the IRS. Manafort’s lobbying activities for this group ended in 2014, predating his connections to Trump. The 2016 charges related to Manafort allegedly making false statement to the Justice Department. None of this conduct involved the 2016 election campaign.
Mueller also released a guilty plea by George Papadopoulos, a low-level campaign adviser, for lying to the FBI in early this year about his interaction with a professor who had Russian connections, including a woman with ties to the government. While the plea suggests the possibility that Russians were attempting to supply the Trump campaign with opposition research on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAppeals court rules against releasing draft Whitewater indictments against Clinton Dems resurface Flynn’s ‘lock her up’ comments after Mueller charges Kaine: Flynn will get ‘fair legal process’ he tried to deny Clinton MORE, it offers no evidence that they ever did.
On Friday, Mueller released Flynn’s guilty plea. President Trump had fired Flynn as national security adviser after 24 days in the role for misleading Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceKaine: Flynn will get ‘fair legal process’ he tried to deny Clinton Angus King on GOP tax push: ‘To call this a circus would be an insult to circuses’ Trump: Dems trying to block GOP tax bill because it’s ‘too good’ MORE about certain post-election contacts he had with the Russian ambassador beginning in December 2016. Flynn is now admitting that he lied about the same contacts to the FBI.
After discussions with a “senior official” on President Trump’s transition team, Flynn telephoned the Russian ambassador and discussed Russia moderating its response to U.S. sanctions for interfering in the presidential election. In separate discussions, Flynn also contacted the Russian ambassador to persuade Russia to vote against a United Nations Security Council resolution on the issue of Israeli settlements.
In January, Obama State Department spokesman Mark Toner stated that the department had “no problem” with Trump’s transition team contacting Russian or any other foreign officials. None of these discussions occurred before the election or involved information on candidate Clinton. Not one. As President Trump has maintained all along, after months of allegations and investigations by both the FBI and the special counsel, there is still no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the election.
On the other hand, the law firm representing the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign retained and paid a firm called Fusion GPS, which prepared opposition research on candidate Trump. Fusion GPS had a hired former British spy, Christopher Steele, with ties to Russia to conduct the research. The result was a controversial and now discredited dossier containing salacious allegations about Trump and his purported connections to Russia.
Steele’s dossier makes clear that his sources were almost exclusively Russian. He identified his sources as “a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure,” a “senior Russian financial official,” a former “top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” a “senior Kremlin official” and a “senior Russian government official.”
This effort by the Democrats, Fusion GPS and the Russians to defeat candidate Trump certainly paints a more damaging picture of election interference than President-elect Trump’s transition team attempting to contact foreign officials after the election.
Imagine the uproar if evidence had arisen indicating that the Trump campaign or the Republican National Committee had paid Fusion GPS prior to the election to produce a dossier on candidate Clinton based on Steele’s Russian sources. While those on the left are obviously excited about Flynn’s guilty plea, it might be worth keeping in mind that they are throwing stones from a very delicate glass house.
Andy Puzder is a policy adviser to America First Policies. He was chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants for more than 16 years, following a career as an attorney. He was nominated by President Trump to serve as U.S. Labor secretary. Follow him on Twitter @AndyPuzder.
This post originally appeared on The Hill