Following the news related to the Trump-Russia investigations can be difficult. There are multiple investigations into Russia’s meddling with the last presidential election on behalf of the president. There is a big cast of players. It can be hard to discern whether the latest piece of news is a big deal or a small piece of string that might end up going nowhere.
But the news Friday that Trump’s former confidant and national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russian ambassador is an extremely big deal. This development directly puts Trump in legal jeopardy. It could also upend the midterm election and influence redistricting battles that will reshape Congress and statehouses nationwide.
During the course of the past year, Flynn has been embroiled in various other controversies. According to recent reports, he was even suspected in a plot to kidnap a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania to return him to Turkey. Flynn’s son also reportedly has been a source of investigators’ focus.
But the plea deal Flynn reached with prosecutors seems to let more serious charges against him slide — and there is no mention of charges against his son. In exchange, Flynn is agreeing to fully cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
Generally speaking, the only way a plea deal for any prosecutor is attractive is if the person charged has damaging material against someone higher up the food chain. In this case, the only person higher in the food chain is Trump. (Court documents filed in the plea agreement also mention Flynn’s contacts with a “senior official” and a “very senior member” of the transition team.)
This is the fourth indictment of a Trump associate but the first involving someone who worked in the White House, however briefly.
That said, Trump’s lawyer Ty Cobb said after Flynn’s plea deal, “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.”
The probes by congressional committees and Mueller’s office have been slow but methodical. They have also been a political headache for Trump. It’s understandable why he would want these investigations to wrap up soon, but now that is even more unlikely.
All this compounds the problems Republicans face in the midterm elections. Trump was already the most unpopular president in modern times this early in a presidency. As a result, Republicans in swing districts were already facing political headwinds.
Now Republican senators and representatives from fairly safe districts will be forced to create some distance from Trump, while at the same time mollifying the Trump base back at home.
The plea deal from Flynn could spur more political retirements from Congress. It could also mean Democrats will have a leg up winning governor’s races in key states like Colorado, Maine, Florida, Ohio, and Nevada, where the next governors will oversee redistricting plans after the 2020 Census.
That would mean Flynn’s plea deal could have an effect well beyond the Trump presidency, however it ends.James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp.