Michael Flynn Lied to the FBI About Russia, But the Ex-Trump National Security Adviser Should Have Known Better

President Donald Trump and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Reuters

Maybe we should have seen it coming.

In his 2012 book, The Operators, Michael Hastings writes about a conversation that Michael Flynn had with General Stanley McCrystal and a few others in the back room of a Mexican restaurant in Berlin. This was back when Barack Obama was president and well before Flynn entered Trump's orbit. The group was drinking pitchers of beer, and while McCrystal was nursing his glass, Flynn was less restrained.

"I worship the God of beer," Flynn joked, and pretended to "prostrate himself across the table when the waitress brought another pitcher," Hastings writes.

"How the hell did you ever get a security clearance," someone at the table asked.

Flynn's answer: "I lied."

Everyone at the table laughed.

Related: Trump is losing the intelligence battle to Putin

As Hastings suggests, the general may have just been making a point about the security clearance process in Washington. But today, I can't help but view the episode with a bit more concern.

On Friday, Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Donald Trump admitted to lying to FBI investigators about his contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The incident occurred on December 29, 2016, not long before Trump was sworn into office. At the time, allegations were already swirling about the Trump team's connections to Russia—and Moscow's interference in the 2016 election. Flynn, then a Trump campaign advisor, for instance, had been paid to attend a Russia Today gala in Moscow in December 2015, where he sat next to President Vladimir Putin. To the surprise of many, Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, also began advocating working with Russia against the Islamic State group.

After Friday's news, it's clear that his sins weren't ones of accidental omission. The documents Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team filed in charging Flynn specifically state that he made "materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements." There is no ambiguity there. In a statement, Flynn conceded that his actions were "wrong" and that he made "false statements." And he did so in conjunction with the FBI's Russia probe—at a time when the press was reporting how the U.S. intelligence was likely recording conversations of Russian officials in the states.

Flynn's mendacity is shocking. He was a career intelligence officer who once ran the DIA. The special agents interviewing him were conducting a counterintelligence probe. Part of their job is to sniff out such lies, to try and see if foreign intelligence agents are recruiting Americans.

I know this first hand. During my three years working as a double agent for the bureau, my FBI handlers debriefed me immediately after every meeting I had with Russian operatives. Every detail, no matter how small or seemingly irrelevant, was important. It was not uncommon for the agents to come back days or weeks later with follow-ups expecting the same candor. It was only when I agreed to secretly record my meetings with the Russians that the agents said they "now have higher confidence in my debriefings because they could compare my narrative to the actual conversation." It left me with a clear mantra: Omitting to the FBI was problematic, but lying to the bureau was deadly.

I mention my own history not to suggest that Flynn was Russian spy, but because he had to have known what it meant not to disclose a foreign contact—and to lie to the bureau. He had to have known the repercussions. Did he do it to protect himself? His son? The president? Or was he so arrogant, so full of hubris that he thought he could get away with it. Maybe he felt the truth was so damning that lying was his only way out.

Either way, five years after his night out in Berlin, Flynn was forced to prostrate himself once again. Only this time it wasn't to the God of beer, it was to the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Naveed Jamali is the author of How to Catch a Russian Spy, a memoir about working undercover as a double agent for the FBI. He continues to serve as an intelligence officer in the United States Navy Reserve and is a senior fellow in the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. His views are his own.