Here’s the first and most important thing to understand about the crime for which President Trump just pardoned former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn: Flynn did not lie to protect himself. He lied to protect Donald Trump.
At the end of December 2016, Flynn had a series of conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. A month later, on January 24, 2017, Flynn was asked about those conversations by the FBI agent Peter Strzok.
In the first set of conversations, Flynn urged Kislyak to oppose a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity. The second set occurred a week later, while Flynn was on holiday in the Dominican Republic. There, Flynn sought to convince Kislyak to persuade the Russian government not to retaliate against the United States, over a round of sanctions punishing Russia for intervening in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump.
From Flynn’s own narrow personal point of view, there was no reason to lie about any of these conversations. Yes, he was pushing the limits a little bit, doing diplomacy before the new administration took office. A more elegant diplomat would have found a way to honor the rule that there’s only one administration at a time, while also communicating what he wanted the Russians to know about the differing intentions of the incoming administration. But such limit-pushing has surely happened often before in the history of American foreign policy. All Flynn had to say to avoid legal jeopardy was, “Yes, I spoke to Ambassador Kislyak. Possibly I was premature. My bad.”