Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Missing Pieces in the Flynn Story
























Photo

Credit João Fazenda

President Trump may have thought the departure of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, would end the controversy over his administration’s involvement with Russia, but the damning revelations keep coming. The whole fiasco underscores the dysfunction and dishonesty of his White House and how ill prepared it is to protect the nation.

It’s unlikely that Mr. Flynn would have been pushed out absent a revelation on Monday by The Washington Post: that the Justice Department told the White House in January that Mr. Flynn had misled senior officials about a phone call with the Russian ambassador. Justice told the White House that, contrary to his claims, Mr. Flynn had discussed American sanctions against Russia with the ambassador. The discrepancy between what Mr. Flynn had said publicly and what the Russians (and American intelligence officials) knew made Mr. Flynn vulnerable to Russian blackmail. But the White House evidently didn’t feel the need to act on that danger as long as it was concealed from the public.

On Tuesday, the White House admitted that Mr. Trump was told more than two weeks ago about Mr. Flynn’s deception, even though the president told reporters on Friday that he was unaware of a news report to that effect. Mr. Flynn, a hothead and an ideologue, was not fit to be national security adviser in the first place. That Mr. Trump clung to such a compromised person in such a sensitive position is at best an abysmal failure of judgment. As late as Monday, Mr. Flynn was in security briefings and had access to the president.

In his resignation letter, Mr. Flynn said he had given senior officials “incomplete information” about the phone call. F.B.I. agents interviewed Mr. Flynn days after the inauguration on that same subject, The Times reported on Tuesday. That means he could be exposed to a felony charge if he lied to them as well. The Times also reported Tuesday that current and former American officials said other Trump associates and campaign officials had had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.


Mr. Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, had been in touch during the campaign and after President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia on Dec. 29 for hacking the Democrats’ campaign computers, allegedly to benefit Mr. Trump in the election, according to intelligence reports and official sources cited by The Post. Mr. Kislyak’s communications had been monitored by the F.B.I., revealing his contacts with Mr. Flynn.

Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, judged an intercepted call “highly significant” and “potentially illegal” under the Logan Act, which bars private citizens from interfering in diplomatic disputes with other countries. When word of the Flynn-Kislyak call leaked on Jan. 12, a Trump official denied that sanctions were discussed. The White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, gave a similar answer on Jan. 13, as did Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 15. After Mr. Trump’s inauguration, Mr. Spicer said on Jan. 23 that Mr. Flynn again assured him that sanctions had not been discussed. Shortly afterward, Ms. Yates, with agreement from James Comey, the F.B.I. director, informed Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, about what really happened.

There are many unanswered questions. Did anyone in the White House authorize Mr. Flynn’s contacts? Why has Mr. Trump not condemned him for discussing sanctions with the Russians when he was not yet in office?

All of this puts more pressure on Congress to act. Although some top Republican senators have pledged to deepen their investigation of Russian involvement in the election, the party’s response over all has been irresponsible. “I think that situation has taken care of itself,” Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said on Tuesday about Mr. Flynn. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was equally dismissive: “It just seems like there’s a lot of nothing there.” Then there was Senator Rand Paul, who put partisanship ahead of national security by declaring “it makes no sense” for Republicans to investigate Republicans.

Of course, Republicans pilloried Hillary Clinton for nearly two years for using a private email server, a bad decision, but one that didn’t endanger the nation. And they conducted eight futile investigations into Mrs. Clinton’s role as secretary of state during the 2012 Benghazi attack.

Now the same Republicans seem intent on helping Mr. Trump hide the truth by refusing to investigate Russia’s hacking and other attempts to influence the 2016 election, as well as Mr. Trump’s connections to Russia and affinity for President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Trump has no more urgent task now than putting in place an experienced national security adviser who is beyond reproach. With the world in turmoil, his three-week-old administration is consumed by a self-inflicted crisis, marked by a pattern of recurrent lying and incompetence, and perhaps worse.

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