Well, it’s *a* story. It’s a big story too, especially with rumors swirling of intelligence officials withholding sensitive info from the White House. As Ben Shapiro says, though, if leaks were the “real story,” why did Trump accept Flynn’s resignation? If he thought Flynn had done nothing seriously wrong, he could have refused it, stood by him, and pounded the table about “deep state” treachery within his own administration aimed at taking Flynn down.
Trump’s setting a narrative here for supporters (starting with Fox News) on how to process the Flynn news. Never mind that Flynn apparently misled officials all the way up to Mike Pence (and maybe Trump himself?) about what he said to Russia’s ambassador. Never mind either that people within the administration have known since late January about Flynn’s deception via the DOJ (“we’ve been working on this for weeks,” said one senior administration official to WaPo) and yet Flynn seems to have suffered no penalty until WaPo spilled the beans a few days ago. He was with Trump last weekend at the summit with Shinzo Abe in Florida, remember. How long was Trump prepared to keep Flynn on as national security advisor, despite the DOJ’s fears that Russia could blackmail him at any time by revealing that he’d lied to Pence, if the leaks hadn’t forced Flynn to quit? Maybe that’s the “real story.”
Another possibility for the “real story”: Who else within the administration knew early on that Flynn had misled Pence and the public in claiming that he didn’t talk sanctions with the ambassador? Did Trump know? Joe Scarborough took to wondering about that himself on the air this morning:
Scarborough continued Tuesday morning haranguing the leaky White House for allowing the drama to escalate to this level just weeks after the inauguration. “Who knew? Was Mike Pence the only person in the White House kept in the dark? Because you have to imagine the White House counsel had to know. You gotta believe the President of the United States had to know. Certainly the Justice Department knew.”
“There has to be a very long list of people in the White House who kept the Vice President of the United States in the dark, allowed him to lie on national television, and then not correct it afterwards,” Scarborough continued.
Was Flynn a fall guy here for a broader White House policy of withholding information from important officials, like Pence? In the NYT’s story today about his resignation, it’s noted that this isn’t the first time Flynn misled Pence. Flynn assured him last year that his son hadn’t received a security clearance even though he had, a lie Pence unwittingly repeated on TV when questioned about Flynn Jr. Surely other White House advisors knew about the security clearance, but somehow Pence didn’t. Hmmm.
Or is there even more to Flynn’s firing than we know right now? Here’s another curious detail in the NYT write-up today:
In addition, the Army has been investigating whether Mr. Flynn received money from the Russian government during a trip he took to Moscow in 2015, according to two defense officials. Such a payment might violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits former military officers from receiving money from a foreign government without consent from Congress. The defense officials said there was no record that Mr. Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, filed the required paperwork for the trip.
Flynn long ago admitted being paid for a speech he gave at an RT event in Moscow in 2015. Is that the payment the Times has in mind or is there another payment? If so, that would also be a “real story” and might explain why Trump was willing to accept Flynn’s resignation despite his anger at the leaking targeting him.
The oddest part of this story, which ended with the resignation of the U.S. national security advisor after just three weeks in office, is that no one’s managed to show yet just what Flynn said to the ambassador that was so troubling. On the contrary, some reports claim that what Flynn said was ambiguous at best. According to the WSJ, Flynn never made any promises about lifting sanctions; all he said to Kislyak, the ambassador, per the Times was that if Russia retaliated for Obama’s new sanctions, it would make cooperation with the Trump administration harder. A White House source told Eli Lake that it wasn’t Flynn who broached the subject of sanctions at all. It was Kislyak who mentioned it, and Flynn gave a noncommittal answer about reviewing Russia policy. Lake thinks this was less a natsec scandal than a “political assassination” by an intelligence bureaucracy that hates Flynn for various reasons, some understandable — his management style, his approach to Russia — and some illicit, namely, the fact that Flynn wanted to reform the bureaucracy that keeps them well fed and in control of the direction of American foreign policy. “First it’s Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus,” said Devin Nunes to Lake. Said another Trump advisor, as paraphrased by the Weekly Standard, “Flynn’s ouster is the first step in turning the Trump administration toward more conventional national-security and intelligence policy.”
But that brings us back to Shapiro’s question. If this is a political hit on Flynn, making a mountain out of a molehill in his call with the ambassador, why did Trump accept his resignation? It could be, I guess, that Flynn misleading Pence really did bother Trump, especially when Pence made the extent of his displeasure clear. It could also be that the accumulated anxiety caused by Flynn within the administration over the past few months, some of which I described here, made the call with the ambassador the proverbial last straw. Or maybe there was good ol’ turf-war politics operating here: Flynn’s power had already been checked at least twice when Tom Bossert was hired to advise Trump on counterterrorism and Steve Bannon was given a seat on the National Security Council’s Principals Committee. Maybe Team Trump has been nudging Flynn towards the exit for awhile now and was prepared to pounce once he gave them a reason to get rid of him — even if it meant capitulating to the intelligence pros who were out to take Flynn down via leaks. Whatever the answer, it’s awfully strange for Trump to affect indignation about the political leaking against him now after having just ushered him out the door.