When last we left the Michael Flynn case, presiding Judge Emmet Sullivan had been advised by a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to follow Attorney General Bill Barr’s orders and let it go. Give it up. Shake it off. And then maybe take a loooooong vacation. (Personally, I’d suggest a permanent one.)
But the stalemate continues, though it’s almost overshadowed by another revelation, made possible through the DOJ’s partial declassification of a note in Peter Strzok’s chicken-scratch handwriting, that Obama and Biden participated actively in a January 5, 2017, Oval Office meeting about the incoming national security adviser. The notes even suggest Biden specifically brought up the Logan Act.
RELATED READING: Crazy: Judge Sullivan can't let Flynn case go
On Thursday, numerous pundits weighed in on the significance of this, and I was particularly intrigued by one comment from a source we’ve quoted with confidence, Undercover Huber, who tweeted: “Don’t laugh, but at this point, my working theory about Gen. Flynn and the Logan Act is that the people in the Obama administration got the idea from the freaking WEST WING cable TV show. An episode at the end of the series (“Transition”) shows the outgoing lame-duck admin in a foreign policy dispute between China and Russia. They carry out electronic surveillance of all calls with Russia and wiretap the incoming team and confront them about...the Logan Act!”
Dan Bongino brought this up in his Thursday podcast. Could it be?? We’ve seen real-life intersect with fiction before in this scandal; Christopher Steele apparently borrowed from the creative mind of wannabe screenwriter Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS. What if Biden got the idea to go after an incoming national security adviser for violating the Logan Act after seeing something similar on THE WEST WING?
We know he’s not above plagiarizing others’ words and ideas; in fact, he even dropped out of a presidential race after it was discovered he had plagiarized.
It’s likely he also stole a different idea from THE WEST WING, as Bongino illustrated by juxtaposing two clips: 1) Biden at a podium, likening the race to cure cancer to JFK’s call to put a man on the moon in 10 years, and 2) Martin Sheen playing the President in his office, giving essentially the same spiel, with similar delivery.
Hilariously, Obama borrowed the same idea, for his January 2016 State of the Union Address.
My guess is that then-Sen. Biden was a fan of that show, which depicts those in the corridors of government power the way they must love to be portrayed, with constant snappy reparte –- do they EVER tire of hearing themselves talk? –- and nonstop hectic lives, all in the interest of “governing.” Martin Sheen played a President Democrats could only dream of, and goodness knows they needed someone they could idolize in the early 2000s with George W. Bush in office. I’ve imagined this show as therapy for them.
I’d seen clips from THE WEST WING but never an entire episode. So I thought the best way to come to any conclusion would be to watch the episode in question: Season 7 (the final season), Episode 19, “Transition,” which originally ran April 24, 2006, and has been in reruns since. Obviously, this episode is set during the transition period, with President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) transitioning out and President-elect Santos (Jimmy Smits) transitioning in. Concerns are established early in the script about the new administration overstepping the old on foreign policy issues before Inauguration Day.
To set the stage, the episode opens with President-elect Santos returning congratulatory calls from foreign leaders, specifically from the G8 countries. He’s told by an aide that the rest can be dealt with by his chief foreign policy adviser. “Well, then we’d better hire one,” Santos quips.
When he gets to the call from the Russian president, he hesitates. The aide nods him forward, telling him Russia is “one of the G8's.” Santos replies, “He’s also leader of a nation we may find ourselves exchanging hostile fire with any moment.” They exchange uncomfortable looks, and Santos finally says, “Call him.”
A scene in the President Bartlet’s office establishes that the incoming President is going to be briefed in-depth on the “intervention” in Kazakhstan. Santos is taken to a secure deep-basement briefing room --- I’m guessing kind of like the one Adam Schiff’s committee used for their secret impeachment confabs --- where he’s told we’re “reaching full deployment” of ground and support personnel positioned between Chinese and Russian forces. (Say what??) When he asks what happens next, he’s has a big problem with their cavalier answer and the “entire adventure, as I’ve already expressed to the President.” He abruptly leaves the room.
Here’s where it gets interesting. As soon as he’s gone, there’s this exchange:
Official #1 --- The NSA picked up the President-elect’s congratulatory phone call with the Russian president.
Bartlet’s chief of staff (I think) --- They’re tapping his phone?
Official #2 --- In the current crisis, the NSA’s monitoring all contact with the Russian and Chinese governments as a matter of course.
Chief of Staff --- And?
Official #1 --- The Santos call contained nothing improper.
Hm, so why was this even brought up? Later in his office, Santos complains of the Kazakhstan “mess” that “they’re depositing on our doorstep.” He tells his aide to get the president of China on the phone. “China’s not one of the G8 countries,” the aide warns. The message to Santos is definitely "don't go there." But the call is placed as the scene cuts away.
Now, it gets even more interesting. We go to President Bartlet’s office.
Chief of Staff –- Sir, we have a problem.
Official #1 –- NSA monitors picked up a phone conversation between President-elect Santos and Chinese President Lian.
Chief of Staff: Sir, you’re not going to like what he said...
Then, everything hits the fan. There’s a twist later that reveals the incoming and outgoing Presidents --- who, significantly, are from the same political party --- had secretly coordinated this call to China, using it to play “a little geopolitical good-cop, bad-cop.” VERY different from the adversarial Obama-Trump transition. Still, the episode contains several clear messages.
1. That the incoming administration is supposed to wait till Inauguration Day to insert itself into foreign policy.
2. That the NSA wiretaps calls between incoming officials and foreign leaders. (Apparently when this episode came out in 2006, that practice was kept closer to the vest. Today, both President-elect Trump and incoming national security adviser Flynn would have been aware.)
3. That current security officials will listen to the calls and “tell” on the interlopers, even on the incoming President or his national security adviser.
So, could Biden have gotten the idea of using Flynn’s recorded calls with a foreign leader to prosecute him after watching this show? The words “Logan Act” are never spoken, but if Biden watched the show, it might have come up later in conversation among colleagues exploring possible ways of taking Flynn out. And everyone seemed to be exploring those.
Doesn’t sound too farfetched to me. These days, hardly anything does.