By now, the entire world knows that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has resigned his White House post. That makes him a record holder! He is officially the shortest-serving national security advisor in our nation’s history. Congratulations, general! Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy… no, really, you had to be a real piece of work to be out this quickly under THIS administration.
If we were to take the advice of Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, chair of the House Science Committee, we’d get all our news “directly from the president”, and Flynn would still have a job. That’s because Trump wouldn’t tell us anything about Flynn’s contacts with the Russians. Assuming, of course, that Trump knew himself. But the cart is starting to edge past the horse, here. Let’s start the timeline from the beginning.
On Dec. 29 2016, President Obama issued sanctions against Russia for meddling in our elections. He expelled some diplomats and took over a compound used by Russia here in the states. That same day, Flynn texts the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and the two spoke on the phone multiple times.
The next day, Russian President Vladimir Putin announces that he wouldn’t retaliate, instead offering US diplomats in Russia an invitation to the Kremlin for a Christmas party. Trump fires off a tweet in response: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/814919370711461890?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
Senior Obama officials tell reporters that they are aware of Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador.
On Jan. 15, 2017, Vice President-elect Mike Pence says in an interview that he’d spoken with Flynn about the calls, and was assured that they did not discuss the sanctions. It was just a looking-forward-to-working-with-you call. He “did not discuss anything having to do with expelling Russian diplomats.”
On Jan. 23, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the press corps that Flynn didn’t discuss sanctions with the ambassador.
Three days later on Jan. 26, Sally Yates, acting attorney general (remember her?), informs the White House Counsel’s office that the Department of Justice knows that Flynn talked about the sanctions with the ambassador, and his denials could mean he’s susceptible to blackmail by the Russian government. Flynn “misled” Pence, who in turn misled the American public. Trump asks the White House Counsel to look at the legal issues involved.
On Jan. 28, President Trump had his official call with Putin. Flynn is among those in the Oval Office listening to the call.
On Feb. 1, Flynn makes a surprise appearance at the daily press briefing to make a statement about Iran launching a missile in the vicinity of a Saudi ship. Flynn said, “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” demonstrating that he continues in his job as national security advisor.
A week later on Feb. 8, Flynn again denies he spoke about sanctions with the ambassador. But the next day, Flynn’s spokesperson said Flynn “couldn’t be certain the topic didn’t come up.”
On Feb. 9, someone finally got around to telling Pence that Flynn lied to him. Also, the Washington Post broke the story about the DoJ telling the White House about Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador about the sanctions.
Feb. 10, Trump says he doesn’t know anything about the reports about Flynn. Spicer later clarifies that Trump was talking about a specific report in the Washington Post, not about the Flynn scandal in general.
Feb. 13, Flynn is still working, sitting in on calls with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Kelly Ann Conway goes on TV and says the president has “full confidence” in Flynn. Sean Spicer says the president is “evaluating the situation.” Flynn submits his resignation, still insisting he “crossed no lines.” Flynn apologizes to Pence, and says in an interview that the leakers should be prosecuted. Trump, in a blinding case of hypocrisy, echoed that sentiment:
The Nazis take Flynn’s resignation pretty hard, but they know who to blame.
So where does that leave us? Well, with more questions than answers, really.
Why did Trump wait until the story broke publically before he fired Flynn? Had the story not broken, would Flynn still have a job? Was Flynn freelancing or did Trump tell him to contact the Russian ambassador? Flynn is the third Trump advisor to resign due to inappropriate and/or illegal contact with Russian officials. Was he talking with the Russians during the campaign too? Were others? Apparently yes. Several Trump campaign officials were talking with members of Russian intelligence during the campaign. Now, to be fair, there is no evidence at the moment of any sort of collusion or cooperation between the Trump camp and the Russians. But, given the interference in our campaign by Russian intelligence, it would seem that an independent investigation is in order… not that the GOP will let that happen.
President Trump said Flynn was “treated very very unfairly by the media.” Trump wants to investigate from where the leaks came (he suspects the CIA and the FBI), and accused the leakers of trying to “cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.” I’m at a loss as to what kind of bubble the president must be in to believe Hillary made Flynn reach out to the Russians or what evidence he has to make such a specious claim. Were I in a position to ask the president a question, I’d like to know when he decided that leaks were a bad thing. Perhaps it was when it stopped benefiting him…
You may recall that during the campaign Trump was a big fan of leaks, mentioning the Wikileaks information about the internal communications of the DNC (also illegal, btw) about 150 times during the last month of the campaign. He praised Wikileaks. He praised (and repeated) erroneous FBI leaks about an imminent indictment of Hillary Clinton. But now, he’s worried about the criminality of it, how un-American it suddenly becomes. Like CNN Anchor Jake Tapper said, “It’s not a moral position if you only hold it when it applies to you.”
The FBI says they will not prosecute Flynn over this because no one gets prosecuted for the Logan Act. The House Oversight Committee will not investigate. The House Intelligence Committee will not investigate Flynn, but will investigate the leaks. Sen. John McCain wants to investigate Flynn, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said such an investigation in the Senate is “highly likely.” Of course, given the source, one might not be unreasonable to expect a whitewash.
It will be interesting to see what Flynn has to say should he be called to testify before some senate investigation. The DoJ has transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls because they routinely intercept calls to the Russian ambassador. One would think Flynn would know that, and couch his language. Perhaps he did. But you’d also think he’d know to avoid the subject of sanctions in the call itself, rather than just in the public statements and private conversations with the vice president.
Flynn is out, and that’s a good thing. And, while we won’t get an independent investigation of the events leading to his resignation, the entire affair has a frayed edge to it. It feels like the first pulls on a thread that unravels the whole sweater. We’ll see in time.