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In like Flynn
Michael Flynn got caught in a lie. And that appears to be a big problem for Donald Trump.
This morning, the U.S. president’s campaign confidant and short-lived national security advisor appeared in a Washington D.C. court to plead guilty to “willingly and knowingly making materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI.
More specifically, lying about two Dec. 2016 meetings with Russia’s Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
Flynn initially told investigators that the meetings were friendly, get-to-know-you gatherings. But it turns out that he was actually asking the Russian government to play down its response to new sanctions imposed by the outgoing Obama administration.
A request — according to some reports — that came directly from Donald Trump.
If this proves true, the information might go a long way to helping Special Counsel Robert Mueller prove that there was some sort of quid pro quo deal between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign over Russian interference in the 2016 election.
For months there has been speculation that Flynn might end up as a “cooperating witness” in the Mueller probe — testifying in exchange for a lighter sentence for himself, and potentially his son Michael, who is reportedly also under investigation. And last week, it was revealed that Flynn’s lawyers had stopped sharing information with Trump’s counsel.
Mueller already has one such helper, Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Two other men, former campaign director Paul Manafort and his associate, Robert Gates, have been charged in connection with the probe.
Making false statements to the government is a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in jail. And the charge is frequently used as a legal crowbar in high-profile cases.
It’s what Martha Stewart was ultimately convicted of back in 2004, receiving the minimum five months in jail, and five more months of house arrest.
And it’s been a part of cases against people like Enron’s Jeff Skilling, Bernie Madoff, and former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.
Proof that even a small lie can have major consequences.
Giving up Japan’s throne
Japan’s Emperor Akihito will renounce the Chrysanthemum Throne in the spring of 2019, becoming the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in more than 200 years.
The low-key announcement came from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo today.
It wasn’t unexpected. The 83-year-old had been telegraphing his desire to step down for the past year. At a press conference last December, he admitted he was “beginning to feel my age, and there were times when I made some mistakes at events.”
And then last August, he gave an historic TV speech to the nation — only the second time his words had ever been broadcast — emphasizing his worries about the future and how difficult it was becoming for him to carry out his duties.
Akihito, born in 1933 and the son of wartime Emperor Hirohito, had heart bypass surgery in 2012 and received treatment for prostate cancer in 2003. But he was still keeping up a busy schedule of ceremonial duties and meetings, logging some 270 events in 2015.
It has been exactly 200 years since the last Japanese monarch voluntarily abandoned the throne, in 1817. Emperor Kokaku hadn’t been groomed to rule the country, ascending unexpectedly to job at the age of eight when his sonless predecessor, Go-Momozono, adopted him on his deathbed. (Kokaku ended up marrying his new stepsister, Princess Yoshiko.)
Prior to that, abdications — willfully or forced — were actually fairly common in Japan. But as the tradition of emperors ruling until their death took hold, the modern state just kind of forgot that there was an alternative.
In fact, the biggest complication for Akihito resigning has been that Japan had no legal mechanism for it. In June, parliament passed a bill to address the matter.
This is not the first time Akihito has broken tradition. In 1959 he became the first Crown Prince in more than 1,500 years to wed a commoner, Michiko Shoda, now the Empress.
Their son, Prince Naruhito, will become Japan’s 126th emperor on May 1, 2019, continuing the world’s oldest unbroken royal dynasty, stretching back to 660 B.C.
The world’s worst airline?
Montreal-based Air Transat was slapped with a $295,000 fine yesterday for the way it treated two planeloads of passengers who were stranded on the tarmac at the Ottawa airport last summer.
Kept on board for more than four hours with no food or water — and in the case of one of the planes, no air conditioning — several people dialed 9-1-1 for help.
The ordeal struck a chord with almost everyone who has ever flown. And has helped propel Bill-C49, Ottawa’s proposed ‘Passenger Bill of Rights,‘ through Parliament. (It is currently at second reading in the Senate, a couple of steps away from becoming law.)
But for all that ill-will and bad publicity, Air Transat ranks nowhere near the world’s worst airlines.
Firstly, there’s no comprehensive global tracker of airline performance, safety and customer satisfaction. For example, Air Transat gets seven out of seven stars for safety from airlineratings.com, and a six out of 10 customer satisfaction rating from airlinequality.com. (Westjet, which also has seven stars for safety, gets five out of 10 from the same site for customer satisfaction, as does Air Canada.)
And the discount airline doesn’t offer enough regular flights to be ranked for on-time arrivals by flightstats.com. (Air Canada, which had almost 25 per cent of its flights delayed in October, ranked 36th out of 44 global carriers, and 12th — last place — among major North American airlines. WestJet was ranked 7th on this continent.)
The ranking websites fail to capture the true bad boys in the industry.
The European Union, for example, maintains a no-fly blacklist that had 181 airlines on it in July. The offenders tend to be from the developing world. Some, like Iraqi Airways and Afghan Jet International, are excluded from Europe because of passenger screening concerns. Others like Busy Bee or Canadian Airways Congo — founded by a Lebanese-born Montrealer — look relatively professional, but don’t check all the international safety regulators’ boxes.
As a rule of thumb, airlines from Indonesia and Nepal seem to have more than their share of one-star safety ratings — indicative of recent fatalities.
But there’s always another side to the story. Buddha Air, which offers sightseeing flights to Mount Everest, has a prominent section of its website devoted to safety and sounds downright touchy about its low international ranking.
“Because of circumstances outside its control, Buddha could not undergo a formal IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) and become registered,” it explains. “Through no fault of its own.”
All passenger complaints should be directed to head office in Kathmandu.
Quote of the moment
“This type of behaviour completely contradicts our standards and our core values. We must all be held to the same standard – regardless of our position, our contributions or our status.”
– Rogers Media president Rick Brace, informing staff of the firing of baseball analyst and former Toronto Blue Jay Gregg Zaun, after multiple female employees complained of “inappropriate behaviour.”
What The National is reading
- Trudeau government sets new record for vacant federal appointments. (CBC)
- Argentina ends missing sub rescue mission. (BBC)
- MSNBC host claims Trump allies say president has ‘early stages of dementia.’ (The Hill)
- CSI Northern Ontario: Conservation officers develop web map to solve dead moose cold cases. (CBC)
- Airline passenger names his Wifi network “bomb on board.” Plane makes emergency landing. (Reuters)
- New York City has genetically distinct ‘Uptown’ and ‘Downtown’ rats. (The Atlantic)
Today in history
Dec. 1, 1978: Front Page Challenge probes Jonestown massacre.
Gordon Sinclair can’t remember South America, but guesses the story in 30-seconds flat.