Flynn went from cooperating with prosecutors to blaming them—and potentially facing prison. Sidney Powell is a big reason why.
The three-day conference in November 2018 was called “Operation Classified” and promised attendees they would “come away with a comprehensive understanding of the Deep State.” Featured speakers, gathered at a Hilton hotel in a Dallas suburb, included militia leaders, anti-vaxxers, a UFO activist, as well as a former federal prosecutor named Sidney Powell, who delivered a somber, noteless recitation in a folksy Southern accent.
Powell was there as a leading proponent, on cable news and in op-eds, of a conspiratorial narrative advanced by the far right: that special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation was part of a plot by the intelligence community to force President Donald Trump from office. Her talk was titled “Creeps on a Mission to Destroy the President,” a phrase she had coined on “Hannity” and then turned into a pro-Trump, T-shirt-selling website to denounce Mueller and his team of investigators. “This goes so deep and so wide, it is unbelievable,” Powell said with a heavy sigh during her 40-minute speech.
In the audience was Joseph Flynn, brother of Michael Flynn—the retired three-star lieutenant general who had served briefly as Trump’s first national security adviser before agreeing to cooperate with the Mueller probe and pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. The conference, in fact, was part of a fundraiser for Flynn’s legal defense fund, of which Joseph is a trustee, along with his sister Barbara Redgate. For more than a year, Michael Flynn had been defended by Covington & Burling, the powerful white-shoe law firm, but his siblings believed their brother’s guilty plea was “a decision made in haste,” as Joseph put it to me. They wanted to fight, not surrender. Michael Flynn did too, according to Joseph: “He never felt he was guilty. He never felt he committed any crimes. We only pled guilty because he had shitty legal counsel on this.” (Covington & Burling declined to comment.)
At the Dallas conference, Joseph Flynn introduced himself to Powell, who already knew his sister. The two spoke at length over coffee, finding that they saw Michael Flynn’s case the same way, they both told POLITICO Magazine. Powell believed that Flynn, like Trump, was a victim of a purported deep state plot, and that he had pleaded guilty only because he was coerced by overzealous prosecutors. “She was very much in tune with General Mike’s case,” Redgate told me. “Sidney,” Joseph says, “is a fighter”—which he says he emphasized to his brother.
Seven months later—after Powell had publicly exhorted Michael Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea and consider finding another lawyer—Flynn fired his team at Covington & Burling and hired Powell as his lead attorney. It was a striking turnabout: Flynn went from seeming to take the high road, by cooperating with the Mueller investigation, to seeking legal counsel from a Fox News pundit who thought Mueller was the perpetrator and Flynn the victim.
But the MAGA echo chamber, it seems, doesn’t always benefit its residents once they’re outside that bubble. While a strategy of denial and attacking the enemy might have worked for Trump during the Mueller investigation (and might yet work for him in his impeachment trial), Michael Flynn is not the president. If her client ends up in prison, it might be because of the Trumpian strategy Sidney Powell embraced.
“Crackpot conspiracy theories get easy traction on the internet,” says John Schindler, a former NSA analyst who has been critical of Flynn, but also of Hillary Clinton and the FBI. “They’re less likely to do well in federal court.”
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