Trump allies push for a new campaign opening act: Michael Flynn

Trump allies push for a new campaign opening act: Michael Flynn

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn. | Carolyn Kaster, File/AP Photo

Four years ago, Michael Flynn, an intelligence officer with a three-decade military career, became a MAGA star introducing Donald Trump at raucous campaign rallies.

Now, after a prolonged battle against what Trump’s biggest supporters see as a rigged judicial system staffed by Obama-era bureaucrats, Flynn’s status as a deep state-fighting warrior has only grown. And with Flynn on the verge of potentially having criminal charges dismissed altogether, Trump allies are pushing the campaign to give Flynn the ultimate comeback: hitting the campaign trail for the president, according to nine people inside or close to the Trump campaign.

“Great surrogate — lots of people would come to see him,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally. “He’s the perfect example of deep state victimization. Pretty powerful.”

Three people affiliated with the campaign said they would welcome Flynn back — perhaps reprising his role as an opening act at Trump rallies or a TV surrogate — between now and Election Day, although a Trump campaign official said the campaign has not approached Flynn about taking a formal position.

The move would bring Flynn back to where it all started in 2016, but this time emboldened by his journey — from little-known campaign surrogate, to White House national security adviser, to indicted Russia probe target, to, potentially, the man who defeated Robert Mueller’s prosecutors.

Trump, struggling in the polls against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and concerned his reelection prospects could be slipping away, has already brought back a handful of loyalists from his successful campaign in 2016. But Flynn has become a right-wing cause célèbre like no other.

“Interesting suggestion,” said Tim Murtaugh, Trump campaign communications director. “Gen. Flynn is a great American.”

Flynn’s legal saga could reach its end point in the coming weeks after a federal appeals court panel in June ordered Judge Emmet Sullivan to dismiss Flynn’s case. But Sullivan is taking the usual step of asking the full bench of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the panel’s decision first.

Flynn initially pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his December 2016 conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He later tried to withdraw his guilty plea, before the Justice Department moved to abandon its prosecution altogether at Attorney General William Barr’s urging.

Trump accuses the FBI of targeting Flynn as he seeks to discredit the broad inquiry into whether his aides colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. The president has even mused about pardoning Flynn, saying he was “targeted in order to try and take down a president.”

“As far as Gen. Flynn, he’s a great hero, he’s a great gentleman,” Trump told Sean Hannity on Fox News on Thursday night. “What they’re doing to that man, they destroyed that man, but he’ll come back. He’s going to come back.”

On Saturday, the president tweeted: “New documents just released reveal General Flynn was telling the truth, and the FBI knew it!”

It was immediately unclear what Trump was referring to.

An administration official said he wasn’t aware of any talk about bringing Flynn back to the White House. A person close to the White House joked that Trump always seems to bring back the same core group of loyalists, even those who had once fallen out of favor.

Some Trump allies warn that hiring Flynn, or even just adding him as a speaker at rallies, would create a needless controversy at a time when Trump is struggling to make up lost ground in national and battleground states.

“I don’t know that his abilities as a surrogate outweigh the controversy he would attract,” said one ally.

And while Flynn would almost immediately add a jolt to the campaign, energizing Trump’s conservative base, he could offend the college-educated suburban voters the president needs to win the election. Over the weekend, Flynn tweeted a video in which he used phrases linked to to the QAnon conspiracy movement, whose followers believe the U.S. government is run by pedophiliac elites and Trump is orchestrating a secret plot to take them down.

“If you’re a fan of Flynn, then you’re already part of the Trumpian base that believes the deep state is out to railroad Trump and his associates,” said Republican strategist Rob Stutzman. “Involving Flynn would just be one more tactic that seems solely focused on energizing Trump’s base instead of expanding it.”

A former White House official questioned why Flynn would want to return to Trump’s orbit after all he’s been through. “If you dodged a bullet, why come back in the firing line?” the former official asked.

Flynn’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, did not respond to a request for comment.

Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, served as a senior adviser to the president’s 2016 campaign focused on foreign policy and national security. As one of Trump’s few military surrogates at the time, he defended the New York businessman’s vow to improve U.S.-Russia relations and led calls for the jailing of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. During a fiery speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention, Flynn led the crowded arena in a “Lock her up!” chant — a staple of Trump’s marquee rallies.

His spirited defenses of Trump and sharp criticism of the Obama administration earned him the campaign job that led to his appointment as national security adviser. But just 22 days into his job, Trump fired Flynn for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversation with the Russian ambassador. Flynn also eventually pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those same conversations.

Pence apparently holds no grudge.

“I think Gen. Michael Flynn is an American patriot; he served this country with great distinction,” Pence said in May in an interview with Axios on HBO. “And for my part, I’d be happy to see Michael Flynn again.”

Two of the Trump campaign officials said Flynn’s fall from grace — he was one of the first senior Trump aides charged in connection to the Russia probe — did not give them pause about inviting him to assist the campaign in some capacity.

One of the officials said he would be an ideal addition to the campaign’s payroll if Biden taps Flynn’s predecessor, Susan Rice, to be his running mate. Rice, President Barack Obama’s final national security adviser, is one a number of women Biden is considering for vice president. Trump and Republican lawmakers accuse Rice — without evidence — of committing a crime by leaking the identities of senior Trump associates picked up as part of U.S. intelligence-led surveillance of foreign officials.

Flynn “would be our No. 1 draft pick to open President Trump’s rallies if Joe Biden actually picks Susan Rice,” the campaign official said, adding that Flynn could “discuss his own experience with the deep state that Biden and Rice would do everything to protect.”

Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

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