He’s known for weeks that Flynn could be blackmailed by Russia if it threatened to reveal that he’d misled Pence, and he let him stay on as national security advisor anyway? Huh.
President Trump was informed weeks ago that his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, had not told the truth about his interactions with Russia’s ambassador and asked for Mr. Flynn’s resignation after concluding he could not be trusted, the White House said on Tuesday.
At his daily briefing, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said the president’s team has been “reviewing and evaluating this issue on a daily basis trying to ascertain the truth,” and ultimately concluded that while there was no violation of law, Mr. Flynn could no longer serve in his position.
One of the questions still in orbit around Flynn’s resignation is whether Flynn took it upon himself to address sanctions in his call with the Russian ambassador or whether Trump gave him the green light to discuss it. It may be that Trump is innocent: According to at least one account of the phone call, it was the Russian who brought up sanctions, not Flynn. If, on the other hand, Trump approved it in advance, that might explain why he left Flynn in place over the last few weeks. Maybe he hoped the scandal would blow over without leaking, knowing that if it blew up and he had to fire Flynn, Flynn might blab that Trump knew all along. When WaPo finally revealed the DOJ investigation, suddenly things got too hot and Flynn had to go. I’ll be curious to see if Flynn remains in some sort of informal advisory role with the administration going forward, a la Corey Lewandowski after he was fired as Trump’s campaign manager last summer. Trump would have reason to stay on Flynn’s good side if Flynn has something on him.
All of this reminds me yet again of how strange it is that that the administration hasn’t pushed back harder on the underlying claim in all of this, that it was improper for the incoming NSA, Flynn, to reassure the ambassador that sanctions policy under Trump might be different even though both sides surely already understood that. It’s bad form for Flynn to have undermined Obama that way, sure, but there were just three weeks left in Obama’s presidency when it happened. If Trump had fought harder on that point, insisting that there was nothing shocking about Flynn telling Russia that it might have better relations with the Trump White House, Flynn might still be NSA now. But then, it may be that Flynn himself made that impossible for Trump when he misled Pence about what he had said to the ambassador. If Flynn thought what he’d said to the Russian was dicey enough that it should be kept from Pence, how can Trump and the administration do the “what’s the big deal?” routine now? Which reminds me: Now that we know that Trump has known for weeks that Flynn misled Pence, when exactly did he get around to telling Pence? Did Pence find out weeks ago too or only recently?
Via the Week, it’s noteworthy that several Senate Republicans are now hinting or even outright saying that Trump’s role in Flynn’s relationship with Russia should be part of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s campaign shenanigans. Watch below as Lindsey Graham wonders aloud whether Flynn would really would have talked sanctions with the ambassador without Trump’s approval. Roy Blunt sounded almost enthusiastic in calling for an investigation this morning:
Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Tuesday called for an exhaustive investigation into connections between President Donald Trump and Russia and said the Intelligence Committee should immediately speak with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn…
“I think everybody needs that investigation to happen,” Blunt said on KTRS radio. “And the Senate Intelligence Committee, again that I serve on, has been given the principle responsibility to look into this, and I think that we should look into it exhaustively so that at the end of this process, nobody wonders whether there was a stone left unturned, and shouldn’t reach conclusions before you have the information that you need to have to make those conclusions.”
“But the Senate Intelligence Committee is looking at this,” he continued. “I would think that we should talk to Gen. Flynn very soon and that should answer a lot of questions. What did he know? What did he do? And is there any reason to believe that anybody knew that and didn’t take the kind of action they should have taken?”
McCain also released a statement this morning noting that Flynn’s resignation “raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions towards Vladimir Putin’s Russia.” The House Intelligence Committee might be useless in all this (since Republicans in that chamber have to face voters in less than two years), but the Senate may end up putting Trump on the spot. And if it turns out that Trump had given Flynn the green light to talk sanctions with Russia, why doesn’t Trump just say that now? Is it because he’s guilty of having misled Pence too?
There’s one other question in orbit here, via David Graham. Why was it Steve Bannon, allegedly, who nudged Flynn towards the exit?
Much analysis of the White House has adopted the lens of two competing teams—an establishment squad, centered around Priebus, and an insurgent platoon, led by Bannon. Flynn was close to Bannon, but Politico and the Times report that Bannon wanted to fire Flynn as early as Friday, and eventually asked for his resignation. (Bannon’s old outlet, Breitbart, however, blames “establishment forces” for Flynn’s ouster.) The president, meanwhile, was happy to wait and see if Flynn could survive, reports Phil Rucker of The Washington Post. One interesting takeaway is that it was the Bannon team that pushed out one of its own when he became a liability.
That’s one possibility, that Team Bannon is quick to protect its credibility by torpedoing screw-ups. Another possibility is that Bannon wants a higher natsec profile for himself and that Flynn somehow became an impediment to that. That seems unlikely given that whoever replaces Flynn as NSA is unlikely to be as chummy with, and indulgent of, Bannon as Flynn was — surely Flynn’s successor will be even more of an impediment — but the “turf war” theory is always in play in the Trump White House.
Russia, by the way, seems quite broken up today that one of its favorite American officials has been cashiered. Stay tuned.
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) February 14, 2017