What happens when a battle-tested undercover operative comes back from Afghanistan? Sure, he can go home again. But in Down Range, a new novel by Taylor Moore, a retired U.S. intelligence officer, there is no escape from the real world of corruption, violence, and death.
A Washington-based sociologist returns to Romania, 80 years to the day after the murder of 13,000 Jews in one of the first Nazi-inspired mass killings of World War II.
Eighty years ago this week, the childhood of a 10-year-old Romanian boy faded in horror. A murderous mob shoved Little Michael, his mother, baby brother and one of their grandmothers face first against a church wall.
“Ready!” called out the gang leader, and Michael could see nothing, he heard only the raspy voice and the sound of weapons being primed. “Aim,” the disembodied voice called out. And after a pause, the final well-known word only waited to be formed on the tongue and uttered in the brutal morning air. Beyond fear as Michael awaited darkness, he heard a commotion. A different voice this time, an unknown savior.
“Let them go!” He would never know why and assumed the man could have been a Romanian army officer. Was it mercy or a concern about staining the church with Jewish blood? Gratefulness and mercy were complicated—he could be thankful despite it all that this man had interceded and before the gang leader could cry out: “Fire!”
The 10-year-old boy is now Michael Cernea, 90 years old, hale and embarking on the next step of his life journey. A celebrated sociologist, Cernea has dedicated his life to the underserved and immigrant poor. He essentially founded the sociology department at the World Bank, where upon his retirement two decades ago he was praised as the trailblazer he was. And behind it all, the horrors of a childhood that could never be erased.
Tuesday, June 29, 2021, a commemorative event was organized to follow the steps of a forced march that has haunted Michael Cernea these years since. In late June returned to his home city of Iasi [pronounced Yash], Romania, where the unimaginable became real. He was a witness and survivor of a largely unknown event, the murder of 13,000 Romanian Jews over four days at the start of World War II.
The European Union changed travel rules under COVID restrictions at the last moment for the vaccinated and he was able to travel from Washington, D.C. to join the commemorative march. There were roadblocks along the way, but finally the Romanian government invited him to come. He will be declared an honorary citizen of Iasi, almost 50 years after he defected from then Communist Romania to the United States. He lives in suburban Washington, D.C., though his thoughts are never far from those days in Iasi.
Cernea lived in an apartment off a courtyard on Colonel Langa Street. Early on Sunday morning, June 29, 1941, he peered out from his house through the spaces in a fence toward the street. People were marching under armed guard, hands in the air, men, women, children, infants carried in the arms of their mothers and fathers. The shadows of memory persist.
“We were in the house and we saw that there are columns of people moving on the street. We didn’t know where they were going, but we recognized there were Jewish people in those columns, so we understood that something bad had happened.”
Before long, soldiers and men in civilian clothes barged into the house. “Out, out, all Jews out, all Jews out.”
Michael, his father, mother, his brother, and grandmother all were driven to the street.
“We had all to go with hands up. My brother was two years old, so he could not move fast, so my father put him on his shoulders. But my father was supposed to keep his hands up, and that is the image I see before me, my little brother, with his little hands up, my father’s hands up, the little legs clinging to his shoulders.”
Who were the other survivors who had come to Iasi for the 80th anniversary of the pogrom? Surely, in their silence, all would recall the corpses and the mortally wounded who lay where they had fallen, people jeering from the side of the road who were throwing rocks and insulting them, rifles jabbed at those in the march who did not move quickly enough. Screams, the sound of babies crying, people wailing as they marched along.
Here, where Romanian fascists and Nazi overlords herded him and his family to the police station. Here, somehow, he survived that day. So many others did not. He would bear witness for them. Every day in the years since, he would close his eyes and see what he saw on that march. He escaped and went into hiding, but in less than a week, 13,000 Jews were butchered, tortured, left nameless and almost lost to humanity. Cernea says it is his responsibility and of all those who survived to speak out and to speak of the savagery they experienced. Their numbers dwindling every day, the urge to tell the story grows.
Cowering and subsisting for more than three years, Cernea and his family eventually fled to Bucharest, the Romanian capital, after D-Day, but the ordeal was decades from being over. In 1944, he and his family cheered as Allied bombs fell all around and nearly killed them. The Soviet Red Army advanced into the country and installed a Communist regime that downplayed the Romanian Holocaust. The fascist dictator Andrescu and his henchmen did face war crime trials at the end of the war, he and others were executed in 1946. But while the stories of the Warsaw uprising and the concentration camps of the Third Reich were often told, the massacre at Iasi and the plight of Romania Jews was mostly hidden behind the Iron Curtain for decades.
Michael Cernea left Romania for the United States in 1974 and was able to extricate his family with official help. He became an internationally recognized sociologist who pioneered the impact of social science on the World Bank. He created a team of dozens of sociologists and anthropologists who studied the impact of development in the Third World. His goal was always to improve the lives of the world’s underprivileged poor. All the while, he was remembering a childhood that almost ended facing a wall with orders that he be murdered. Grateful all the while that he had survived, of course, but also mourning those who died. He feels a responsibility to serve their memory through his contributions to the world.
June 29, 1941 was a mild morning and the killings had already begun. The march toward death had its roots in long-lasting antisemitism in Romania, the rise of Romanian fascism, and the growing affinity between the dictators Marshall Ion Andrescu and Adolph Hitler. Andrescu had joined the Axis with Germany, Italy, Japan, and other smaller countries in 1940 and was committed to the cause. For Hitler, an assault on the Soviet Union was the immediate goal. When Hitler, aided by Romanian troops, invaded Russia on June 22, 1941 – a week before the forced death march – Iasi, Romania’s second largest city, played an important logistical role. It was less than 60 miles from Russia’s southern border, but eleven miles from the border with the Romanian territory of Bessarabia, which had been occupied by Russia. Iasi had become the war front, subject immediately to counterattacks by Stalin’s Red Army.
There was no escape, not Russia to the north, nor Hungary to the west or Poland further north, both occupied by Nazi Germany. Word of war with Russia had come directly from Marshall Antonescu, Romania’s leader. “There was an announcement…very dramatic announcement of Marshall…everybody heard it, and the war started,” said Cernea. “The town was already full of military, Romanian and German, it was obvious to everybody, imminent that something will start sooner or later. Everybody was frightened to death.”
Two days after the declaration of war, the Soviet air force attacked Iasi, causing little damage or injuries, but prompting war hysteria. On June 26, the Soviets attacked again with deadly force, killing at least 100 civilians, perhaps hundreds more among them at least thirty-eight Jews. Nevertheless, the Jews were blamed.
Unfounded rumors circulated that Iasi Jews were spying for the Russians and had been sending signals to the enemy. The city’s 40,000 Jews had already been designated as “enemy aliens, Bolshevik agents and parasites.” They had been systematically stripped of the ability to work and lost all privileges of citizenship. Now, with the invasion, the local branch of the ultra-rightwing National Christian Party joined forces with Andrescu’s Secret Intelligence Service to create a systematic blueprint for rounding up Jews, deporting them, putting them to work, or just killing them.
The plan was mercilessly efficient, so successful that the Romanians were overwhelming themselves with captured Jews, who were forced to march to police headquarters from throughout the city. So many people had been drawn in that something had to be done; there was potential danger in so many Jews in one place with not enough guards to control them.
“So, when we were brought in, our turn came, they used triage, a selection. They kept all the men and the taller boys and sent women back with their children like me. They pulled my father in, and they waved the rest of us all back. I tried to reach out to him, but he pushed me away as the gate closed.”
Now the rest of the family ran home, screaming and crying all around them, carrying the fear that Michael’s father might be killed, but all the while running a gauntlet of insults and rocks and shovels beating at them.
“We almost made it to our courtyard, where we would hide, we were almost there. By that time there were more corpses, I remember seeing more corpses laying on the streets, blood everywhere.” But as they approached their home, a gang of men stopped them at gunpoint – some of the civilian paramilitaries from the Christian Front, he guessed, if they were not just murderers taking advantage of the blood and chaos of the streets.
“Ho there,” said one, while they shoved and poked them with rifles. “Where are you going?” The police have called you.”
“No, no, no,” pleaded Michael’s mother. The women around her began to pray. “They have sent us home.”
“No, no, no,” shouted the leader of the group, which by now had gathered up some of their neighbors, the Zilbermans and the Barads who also had been released, but only the women and younger children. “Up against the wall.”
They shoved them face first against the wall right across from their courtyard, ironically the outer wall of the local Catholic Church. Time was fleeting, childhood had fallen away, he felt his mother’s warmth and love as she held his little brother who was weeping, his grandmother who was praying, and the others, even Zolly, his playmate, and the little girls who were often in the yard with him. Childhood had gone. He could sense the end of his days. The world had narrowed to contemplating the contours and grains of rock built into a church wall. There was nothing else.
It took weeks before the full scale of killings was known. Hundreds were killed that first day on the march and at police headquarters, but thousands more were rounded up and forced onto cattle cars at the Iasi train station. The assumption was that these would be used as slave labor for the German Reich and occupied territories, but the reality was worse. The Romanians sealed the ventilation holes on the train cars, jammed people into the freight cars without room to move and drove them in circles around the city for three days, occasionally halting so those still alive could dump out the dead. Jewish work teams then were forced to dig mass graves for the fallen. More than a third of the Jews of Iasi had been killed in less than a week.
Radu Ioanid, formerly a researcher at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and now Romanian ambassador to Israel, described the train car killings: “some captives tried to get a drink by tying many strips from their shirts into a kind of rope, which they then tossed from the railcars toward nearby puddles to sop up water.” Ioanid gathered photographs and testimony at the museum. The fact that he now represents Romania as a diplomat is a sign of change and reconciliation. Ioanid is a historian, author of The Holocaust in Romania and The Ransom of the Jews (Ivan Dee, 2005), and one of his country’s prominent chroniclers of the Holocaust.
One of the survivors of the cattle cars, Nathan Goldstein, described the scene in an oral history collected by Beate Klarsfeld. He said that the panic and thirst was overwhelming. “They would jump out through the small opening of the car to go drink the water. Most were murdered by the soldiers…an eleven-year-old child jumped out the window to get a drink of water, but [an official] felled him with a shot aimed at his legs. The child screamed, ‘Water, water!’ Then the adjutant took him by his feet, shouting, ‘You want water? Well, drink all you want!’ lowering him headfirst into the water of the Bahlui River until the child drowned, and then threw him in.”
These were the first days of the war in Romania. Between 1940 and 1944, at least one quarter of a million Jews in Romanian territory (some estimates approach 400,000) were killed by German, Romanian and other Axis forces. After the Iasi Pogrom, rampages and other pogroms occurred in the state of Moldovia, where Iasi was located, and also in the neighboring states of Bassarabia and Bukarina.
Michael Cernea recognized the significance of the moment. “It is a difficult story. I think it is important that the story be known. It is the story of one person’s life which intervenes with history at a crucial juncture of history. I hope that it may become more relevant for broader purposes of identity and of faith, of history, of social and political change. I hope that my children’s children’s children and so on will sometime learn this story and they will know the history behind it.”
In December 2018, the U.S. Patent Office approved one of the strangest applications in its 231-year history, from a Navy engineer who was confident he could design nothing less than a physics-denying craft that could fly at massive speeds, not just across the sky but into outer space and even under the ocean.
Sound familiar? Indeed, if the dreams of Salvatore Cezar Pais, an engineer at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division at Patuxent River, Md., had borne fruit, the Defense Department itself might have given birth to one of those objects that have struck shock and awe into pilots around the world in recent years—and which provoked U.S. intelligence into studying the phenomenon.
In its long awaited report on Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did little if anything to provide answers to the strange midair encounters with what it calls Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAPs, which everyone else calls UFOs. It lists 143 sightings of unknown provenance. But it does not attribute any of the unexplained incidents to extraterrestrials or to secret U.S. technology.
“Most of the UAP reported probably do represent physical objects,” the ODNI report said, “given that a majority of UAP were registered across multiple sensors, to include radar, infrared, electro-optical, weapon seekers, and visual observation.” They just don’t know what they are. They’re going to study it some more.
But Pais, the Navy engineer, thought he could build a better UAP. His was a triangular-shaped craft of undetermined size whose centerpiece was to be an Inertial Mass Reduction Device, a contraption that would use fusion nuclear power and microwaves to create a vacuum that would alter its mass and allow it to accelerate at high speed.
Let us take a moment to consider the case of Michael Richard Pence, the former vice president of the United States, who dropped from view after the inauguration of President Joe Biden. As the new president began to repair the desolate landscape left behind, as Congress considered impeaching the former president’s incitement to riot on January 6, Pence was not to be seen. Some humanists even thought that Pence, somewhat rehabilitated by simply performing his ceremonial duty on January 6 after the murderous mob receded, would stand up and criticize The Big Lie.
But we heard nothing – Pence did not decry the actions of the man whose supporters would have hanged him outside Congress. Pence did not volunteer a word in support of democracy. It was said that he was couch hopping around Indiana, not ready to take permanent residence anywhere.
It was announced meanwhile that Pence would become a “distinguished visiting fellow” at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative Washington think-tank that never severed ties with the impeached insurrectionist president. Pence, said Heritage President Kay C. James, was “a man of faith, principle, and character [and] Vice President Pence is a heroic protector and defender of the Constitution and the values that unite us as a nation.”
Pence was largely silent, yes, until he fired up his Twitter account on Wednesday, February 17 to eulogize Rush Limbaugh, the rightwing radio talk show host who Pence idolized and considered his mentor.
“He was the anchor of Conservatism, giving voice to a movement and fighting for the ideals,” Pence tweeted.
“Rush Limbaugh’s legacy will live on for generations in the hearts of the millions of Americans he inspired. His matchless voice will never be forgotten. May God comfort his family and all those who loved him. God Bless Rush Limbaugh.”
The same Rush Limbaugh who mocked the disabled, espoused his racist view as party favors, mocked the victims of AIDS, disparaged the gay community, the list goes on. Even in the aftermath of the former president’s Big Lie, Limbaugh largely condoned the attack on Congress.
“We’re supposed to be horrified by the protesters,” Limbaugh said on his program a day after the insurrection. “There’s a lot of people out there calling for the end of violence … lot of conservatives, social media, who say that any violence or aggression at all is unacceptable regardless of the circumstances.”
But Limbaugh went further, equating the insurrection with the revolutionaries of 1776: “I am glad Sam Adams … Thomas Paine … the actual tea party guys … the men at Lexington and Concord, didn’t feel that way.”
Pence the silent, however, who could have testified before Congress about an insurrection that might have killed him, endorsed Limbaugh one final time – his mentor and the man he said was instrumental in helping him enter politics at all.
Said Pence: “Rush Limbaugh gave voice to the ideals and values that made this country great, he inspired a generation of American conservatives, and he will be deeply missed. Rush Limbaugh made Conservatives proud and he made Conservatism fun.”
Sing along with him, once more: Limbaugh “made Conservatism fun.”
Thanks, Mike Pence the bold, for filling us in on your version of fun.
Mike Pence’s last-minute decision on January 6, 2021 to tell trump the truth – he had no power to overturn the election – is not at all praiseworthy. He did the bare minimum to meet the role that he had been given – a figurehead destined to read the words of others – in this case the tally of electors from 50 state legislatures that declared officially that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won the election.
In the days between November 3, 2020 and January 6, 2021, Pence was as guilty as the rest of the trumpites, gutlessly allowing fraud and lies to fester. He was protecting no one but himself – he sees himself as part of a divine plan to be the president of a glorious godly state on a hill. His mantra, “I am a Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order.” Rightly so – he neglects to mention what must come first, that he is an American.
He might deserve praise if he had called a news conference at any moment and looked into the camera, into the eyes of Americans, and apologized – he had been an accessory to a monster for four years.
Yes, he read the words himself on January 6, Biden had won, trump had lost, after Pence had ducked for cover with his family and others in the Congress while members of a pre-planned insurrection shouting that they would hang him. This was not enough impetus for Michael Richard Pence to acknowledge that donald trump is a psychopath representing a clear and present danger to the United States. Instead he wrote to Nancy Pelosi that “invoking the 25th Amendment…would set a terrible precedent.”
An analogy for those who would agree with those who say Pence saved democracy in the form of a chronology:
2016 and earlier– Trump all along: I’m going to kill the baby
Pence: Disgusting words, but I could be president
2016 The campaign Others: He’s capable of killing the baby
Pence: God wants me to be president
2017 inaugurationtrump: Here I go, I’m going to kill the baby
Pence—He is a powerful man, but he’s not really killing the baby. And I could be president.
[Interval, 3 years 11 months of evidence the baby is being poisoned. Pence knows it, can see it.]
2020 November 3.
trump: I win. My job is almost done.
Pence: He’ll be out before he can really kill the baby. I can still be president.
2021 January 6
trump: You know what, Mike, I want YOU to kill the baby with me.
Pence: I’m sorry, mr. president, I cannot. If I did, I could not be president.
A Vice President worthy of the title: You have not only conspired to murder the baby, you are a murderer. I have the power to remove you now.
This is Mike Pence. Four years of blind fealty and hypocrisy, hiding behind a haircut, a pseudo-pleasant, bland expression, and false humility. All the while, mouthing the extreme garbage about Nancy Pelosi as a socialist, and radical Democrats. He was holding the line to maintain good graces with trump (actually trumpite voters) until finally on the morning of January six he had to finally say that he had no power to change the vote. He behaved, and still behaves as the hypocrite he is.
Michael D’Antonio and I wrote about his aspirations and his weakness, amoral governance and extremism in The Shadow President. Pence and his ilk should be consigned to ignominy, and he deserves no more than a job working for Jimmy McGill, squeezing blobs of dough at a nameless Cinnabon in a mall I will never visit. Jimmy and his alter ego, Saul Goodman, had more of a sense of right and wrong than Michael Richard Pence has ever shown.
Dr. Jerrold M. Post was a highly respected trailblazer as the CIA’s first political profiler, the founder of the discipline of political psychology. Post, a psychiatrist who served for two decades at the CIA, died on November 22 of covid-19. He was 86 years old.
In January, just before the start of the pandemic, Post participated in one of his final interviews with Jonathan Winer and me for our podcast, Unconventional Threat.
By that time, his concerns about President Donald Trump had led him to break with the strictures other colleagues felt to produce and publish a profile equivalent to others he had done for the CIA. Post had created the Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior at the CIA. Over time, he had profiled Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat for President Jimmy Carter prior to the Camp David Accords. He also produced profiles of Kim Jong-Il, Osama bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein, among others.
He now decided to apply the same techniques he had used on world leaders and others to analyze the President of the United States. In so doing, he was breaking a longstanding guideline established by the American Psychiatric Association, known as the Goldwater rule, in which professionals do not diagnose public figures who they have not personally examined and assessed. However, in a long-ranging interview, Post said that Donald Trump represented a clear and present danger to the United States. He said that Trump’s actions in plain sight and his well-known biography made it possible to describe the dangers in psychiatric terms. And he felt compelled to discuss his findings.
One of Post’s fellow psychiatrists, Dr. Bandy Lee of Yale University, also spoke to us for the podcast. Specializing in violence prevention and prison reform, Lee edited a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, essays by 37 psychiatrists and mental health specialists about Trump. Lee said that Post offered his prominence to highlight analysis of the Trump presidency and Trump’s mental state, despite the strictures placed on psychiatrists by the Goldwater rule. Post contributed an essay to that volume, before writing his own book, Dangerous Charisma: The Political Psychology of Donald Trump and His Followers.
Lee praised Post’s decision to go public and said that his support and prominence in the field helped guide her role.
“He, too, was very disturbed about the president’s dangerous psychology,” she said. Post’s “generous concern moved me since, in this country, while the CIA may have done profiles regularly for decades, the same is not permitted for the public (the American Psychiatric Association also made clear with the Trump administration that our own leaders are off-limits, no matter the dangers they pose).”
In our interview, Post said he applied the profiling categories he had pioneered over time not only to describe Donald Trump as a dangerous personality. Among other things he said he had fears for the 2020 elections: If Trump won by a small margin, he would once again declare a landslide. But if he lost, he would never accept the outcome.
Message from friend after elections: So now, are you finally breathing easier?
Look, the dude won’t go away on his own. He is thinking of holding a rival event on January 20 during the inauguration. His calculation: the media will keep covering him. Television and social media will continue to provide the oxygen.
How do we account for 73 million people who voted for the dude?
They need answers, we need a strategy, they need economic support, they need more than your disdain.
A tweet this morning from a prominent oncologist in Cincinnati:
Just got an email from work that our hospital is full and all elective surgical cases have been cancelled. No transfers allowed to hospital. Driving home, passed a restaurant that was full. Shaking my head. Frustrated is an understatement.
“hard-hit communities still don’t believe COVID is real. Misinformation is rampant.” Burns told of patients who, according to nurses, “don’t believe they have COVID until they’re in critical condition.”
And her comment:
Trump’s vision is destroying faith in our electoral system and spreading death. It is destabilizing our democracy, an outcome that helps those who are eager to see America’s influence in the world decline.
When the Supreme Court is tilted toward unreality, we are screwed.
The Supremes voted 5-4 to allow religious organization to propagate the virus with trumped up reasoning. Dissenting opinion from : justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan:
The majority is “second-guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.”
Mitch McConnell will perpetuate indecency in the Senate if he is able to after January 5.
What will happen in the Georgia runoffs?
By the way, why are people on TV wasting even a minute in discussing giving cabinet posts to Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren? How does either of them get confirmed by, a Republican senate? And, in Warren’s case, how do you let a Republican governor replace her in the senate?
Some suggest that, as with Nixon and Bush, Biden should let bygones be bygones with Trump’s misdeeds.
The most captivating show on television for the last month has been The Queen’s Gambit, well, at least for those who have tried to wean themselves off a four-year political diet. It is the fictional story of a young woman who won the world championship by playing three-dimensional chess better than anyone else.
Interest in chess is on the rise – people stuck at home, trying to break the Trump TV habit, have been buying chess boards at a brisk pace.
Now, however, the lame-duck president is offering a new gambit for the holidays. His opening move was to pardon his short-time former National Security Advisor, Michael Thomas Flynn, a move that could also be called “pawn to king’s pawn – 4ever.” How good an opening will that prove to be?
The pardoning of Flynn on November 25 was no surprise and has everything to do with Trump’s attempt to protect himself. It is likely that other pardon moves will follow. Yet, there are ways to counteract the Trumpian gambit.
Presidential pardon power is mighty and broad — we read, for example, that among the hopefuls of presidential benevolence is media star Joe Exotic, lobbying to weasel out of a 20-year murder-for-hire conviction.
Presidential power may not extend to Trump’s ability to pardon himself, though do not put it past him to try. If Trump was worried enough about that move, he could always resign a few hours before January 20, 2021 and get a pardon deal from the temporary new president, Michael Richard Pence. Careful Mike, are you in the game?
Anyone who obtains a pardon faces unusual liability under the law. Pardons do not protect recidivists for their future crimes. Take the case of Flynn. It is true that Flynn was being paid $500K as a lobbyist for the government of Turkey, and this was a conflict of interest, with questions of legality.
Thanks to Trump, all previous crimes, including failing to register as a foreign agent, and lying to the FBI about Russia (both federal crimes) are wiped out. The Russia appears to be more important than the Turkey story, although Flynn might have information about a plot to seize a Turkish opposition leader in Pennsylvania–and could be forced to talk. Others could be implicated in a criminal enterprise involving the alleged kidnapping plot.
More broadly, Flynn still could be called in to testify on any subject before a Grand Jury about his interactions with the soon-to-be former president and soon-to-be former vice president. That is where Pence might be as concerned as Trump.
With new game pieces in a restored Justice Department, U.S. attorneys maybe very well be making moves of their own. One key player, Andrew Weissman, former senior prosecutor under Special Counsel Robert Mueller, argues that Trump and cronies must be pursued.
“Mr. Trump can’t point to what the special counsel investigation did not find (e.g., “collusion”) when he obstructed that very investigation…”
“In short, being president should mean you are more accountable, not less, to the rule of law.”
Were Flynn’s contacts during the 2016 Christmas holidays with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak of his own device? Who knew he was doing this? Did the president know? Did the vice president know?
Journalistic boilerplate tells us that after Flynn lied about his talks with Kislyak when interviewed by FBI agents, he repeated in turn the same fib to Mike Pence. Pence, the story goes, then spoke untruthfully about Flynn’s contacts — because Flynn deceived him.
Pence has always said that he knew nothing about Flynn’s talks with Kislyak until Flynn told him about it in 2017. When the story broke, Pence said he had spoken to Flynn about the Russian contact, and that the subject was benign.
“He had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash that took place,” Pence said on CBS Face the Nation. “It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
At the time, Pence was overseeing the Trump transition to the White House. Conveniently, as often has been the case, Pence was not on station when controversy was unfolding.
Despite what should have been the pressure of the transition, Pence was out of Washington back home celebrating Christmas in Indiana. Concurrently, Flynn was talking with figures in the Trump transition about Obama’s sanctions against Russia in December 2016.
There were email communications with other transition members, but there was no sign that Pence was cc’d or in the loop. We are left to believe that Pence did not know about the Flynn communications with the Pence’s transition team. If that is all true, Pence should rest easy and settle for an easy game of parcheesi as he slips into private life after January 20.
However, after Flynn’s pardon, and after admitting his own lies, Flynn could be forced to testify if called before a federal Grand Jury. He no longer has 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination on the crimes he was prosecuted and pardoned for. If he refuses to testify, he could be charged with contempt. What if prosecutors delve into Flynn’s conversations with transition figures before he spoke to Russian ambassador Kislyak? What if prosecutors ask: did Donald Trump and/or Mike Pence know about your contact with the Russian?
If Flynn were to lie, a new perjury charge could be filed. Dealing with pardons, the past can be prologue, especially if there are more lies left to be told.
So, if there is a careful review in 2021 of the Trump presidency and all his men, there are a number of possible moves on the board – the would-be King’s gambit to save himself from checkmate would be very much in doubt.