A Flynn in the Ointment
"I know all the good people.
-- Donald Trump (R-Trump Towers)
"I'm going to drain the swamp."
-- Donald Trump (R-Trump Towers)
“Gen. Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president"
-- Kellyanne Conway, hours before Michael Flynn resigned
And so, three weeks after taking office, the first member of the Trump team has resigned in scandal. But for all the headline about that, it's important to keep in mind two things.
First, this isn't just that a Trump insider resigned. It's that the man who resigned was his NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR. The man who should be most-trusted of all the Trump appointees, with the highest clearance and best, most-secure judgement.
And second, the reason he -- the NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR -- resigned is because of illegal and incredibly improper dealings he had as a private citizen negotiating foreign policy with Russia before Trump even took office. Just what you want from a NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR. And this took place amid all the charges -- and now, security investigations -- that Russia had hacked systems and worked to influence the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. No, this news with Flynn doesn't prove that. But it's what most legal scholars refer to as "damning evidence" and doesn't help the belligerent insistence that it didn't occur.
And just for fun there's a bonus issue to keep in mind: weeks ago, the Department of Justice actually warned the White House that Flynn was compromised, yet the administration took no action. And making this bonus all the more notable -- which is pretty notable all on its own -- is that the person who first made the recommendation was none other than Sally Yates. You remember her, right? Sally Yates was the Acting Attorney General who Trump fired when she said his Muslim ban Executive Order wouldn't hold up under law and wouldn't argue for it in court -- where it hasn't held up. You'd think this Sally Yates might have been a good person to keep around, rather than fire her. Unless, of course, you were corrupt and having someone like her around made you feel all squirrely.
There are two phrases that are now likely on many people's tongues. So, we can say them all together. The first one is what I referred to only the other day as what has become the main mantra for the Trump administration --
"Just imagine if this was Barack Obama."
If this had occurred at any point during the Obama Administration, let alone after just three weeks, the sound of pigs squealing comes to mind. Angst, horror, apoplexy. All headlines, all the time on "Fox News", screams of impeachment, screaming of a national security crisis. Shouts by the House of Representatives to hold investiative hearings. Multiple hearings with Republican committee chairmen falling over themselves to each lead their own investigation. Cries for there to be a Special Prosecutor. Outrage. Shouts of traitor. Calls for impeachment. On and on. More and more. And more. And more and more and more.
And the other phrase harkens back 40 years to another time. Words that are so familiar to another generation that they almost became a repetitive cliché. Say it all together on three --
"What did the president know, and when did he know it?"
No, this is not an inappropriate question to ask, and no, it is not too early to ask. I have no idea if Trump knew about this before the story broke big, or even if he knew of it at the very time the contacts initially occurred. I do know two things, though. First, as noted above, that the Justice Department warned the White House about this weeks ago. And second, that if the House of Representatives held eight committee hearings on Hillary Clinton's email server because "She put us at risk" (tm), then it's not off-base to simply ask this question. And then try to find out, given that actual, illegal contact was made in secret negotiations between the NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR and Russia.
It's certainly fair to assume that Trump had no knowledge of the contact. On the other hand, it's also just as fair to think the opposite, that Michael Flynn would not make contact with Russia and discuss sanctions without approval from the person at the top. And we might as well throw in vice president Mike Pence, too, since after all he's the adult at the top of the administration and was the one who interviewed Flynn. And who gave his own full-confidence approval.
Personally, I find it stretching credibility that Trump wouldn't have been told anything about contacts with Russia that included sanction deals by his NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR. The only saving grace for Trump is that he's so clueless about the job of president that he might not have minded being left out of the loop of such minutiae as important details. After all, we're told that he doesn't read the Presidential Daily Briefing, and only wants to be verbally briefed on it. So, it's not a leap to think he only wants to do the big public moments.
Oh, by the by, the person who adapts the detailed, objective PDB and gives his own subjective verbal version to the president is...Michael Flynn.
Oh, that sucking sound down into the bowels of hell, it's so deafening.
And to repeat, this scandal and resignation has come only three weeks into the administration. That's some great vetting of the freaking NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR. This isn't "Draining the Swamp," this is diving in and looking for sludge. This isn't "Knowing all the best people," this is making sure you drive the best as far away as possible from having their reputations ruined by being tainted with incompetence, hatred and racism.
Related to all this on a personal level, last week I commented to a friend, "Get used to saying 'President Ryan.'" He chided me for being ludicrous. And I agree it was a ludicrous thing to say. But it wasn't close to unthinkable, because this whole situation is ludicrous. I don't think it will get to that. But then I don't know what Mike Pence knew either and when he knew it. About this, or any other potential Trump scandals. The only thing I know is that Paul Ryan's decision to be Speaker of the House is still highly risky, since the entire Republican Party may end up be painted by Trump scandal, but it certainly has a far-higher upside than one might have thought.)
And the thing is...none of this even takes into consideration the other national security scandal that hit the front pages the same day. That of Donald Trump having a national security meeting with the Prime Minister of Japan out in the open at a party at Mar-a-Lago, as the public snapped away taking photos. And as staff members circled the table holding up their cell phones -- you know, those things with cameras. All of this taking place as a result of a North Korean nuclear threat.
Yeah, and Hillary Clinton is the one who "put us at risk" (tm) with her secure email server that didn't get hacked. Donald Trump didn't have to get hacked -- he just let people stand around taking pictures.
And even all of that doesn't consider any of the other disasters of the first weeks, starting with the administration's Executive Order being shut down by federal judges over his unconstitutional religious ban, and then with its controversial, unqualified cabinet picks (one of whom, his Labor Secretary nominee, is reported on the verge of being blocked), and losing credibility over wildly-unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud, and losing credibility even from Republicans over his attacks on the "so-called" judiciary, ridicule of his policy advisor claiming "alternative facts," ridicule of his belligerent press secretary and there being protest rallies of millions more than attendance at this inaugural, along with unprecedented low approval ratings -- some as low as 36% -- during his honeymoon period!
All in his first three weeks. None of which even compare to this story. His NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR resigning for illegal contact and negotiations over lifting sanctions with Russia.
Given how awful Michael Flynn was in the first place, it couldn't have come quick enough. Though three weeks is still pretty darn quick.
But that's what you get when you fish in the swamp.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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