You would think rule one for a populist president would be to not let the “fake media” bully him into firing (or accepting the resignation of) an able officer who’d been treated “very, very unfairly.” So for the fourth time in the past two days, let’s ask this question again: If Flynn hadn’t done anything seriously wrong, why did Trump let him go?
A friend who works in politics emailed last night to speculate that maybe Trump never much wanted Flynn on his staff in the first place but felt obliged to give him a job. With so many natsec professionals loudly critical of Trump during the campaign, having the enthusiastic support of a distinguished officer like Flynn, a former head of the DIA, must have meant a lot to him. He may have felt he owed it to Flynn to reward him with the position he craved despite doubtless having heard serious objections privately about Flynn’s management style and how distrusted he was by the intelligence bureaucracy. (Interestingly, he didn’t feel he owed Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani the jobs they craved even though their endorsements were also useful to Trump in mainstreaming him.) So Flynn got the NSA job — but possibly with Trump secretly hoping and expecting that if any early trouble with him arose, that would be seized upon as a reason to pull the trapdoor and be rid of him. Within about an hour of reading that email, I saw this at the NYT:
One person close to the president, who asked to remain anonymous to describe private discussions, said Mr. Trump had been “uncomfortable” with Mr. Flynn for weeks. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, had expressed concern about Mr. Flynn’s appointment even before the inauguration, according to another person briefed on the discussions.
Mr. Trump’s views were coming around to the same point. “What he knew was that Flynn was too much about Flynn, versus Mattis,” the person close to the president said. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was seen as deferential to the chain of command. “He loves Mattis because Mattis is respectful and self-confident.”
Another key figure with growing concerns about Mr. Flynn was Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist whom Mr. Flynn perceived as a rival for control over national security. Mr. Trump began asking Mr. Mattis about two weeks ago for suggestions of possible replacements for Mr. Flynn. The defense secretary recommended retired Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward. Mr. Bannon reached out to Mr. Harward last week, two senior officials said.
For all the talk of turf wars between Team Priebus and Team Bannon, the Times claims that both of them went to Trump last week and encouraged him to fire Flynn. Trump held off but was sufficiently alienated from Flynn by that point to reportedly have said “What is he doing here?” when he spotted Flynn at Mar-a-Lago during the summit with Shinzo Abe. There was a lot of heavy breathing yesterday about treacherous intelligence pros conspiring to take down Flynn, most notably from Trump himself, but the degree of unanimity within his own inner circle that they were better off dumping Flynn is striking. And given Kushner’s longstanding doubts, that sentiment may have been swirling around Trump for much longer than we know. Between having to clean up his messes in alienating cabinet members and an alleged rivalry between Flynn and Bannon for control of national security, the knives may have been out for Flynn since before the phone call with the Russian ambassador in December. All Flynn needed to do was give them a pretext by making a mistake. And, true to form, he did.
Speaking of Trump allies being treated unfairly, though, who treated Mike Pence less fairly in this case? The “fake media” — or Trump himself?
Pence finally learned from The Post — two weeks after McGahn — that Flynn had misled him. It would appear that neither McGahn nor Trump had informed him of the false statements.
After Flynn apologized to Pence, the vice president seemed open to allowing Flynn to remain in place, according to a senior administration official. But Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff who had also come to Flynn’s defense in January, “didn’t want to let it go,” the official added.
Mike Pence had to learn from the not-so-fake-this-time media that Flynn had misled him instead of from Trump himself, even though Trump had known about it for more than two weeks? What? Does Trump make Pence mop the floors in the West Wing too? Good lord.
One other note from that WaPo story in closing: Allegedly, James Comey initially didn’t want to let Trump know what Flynn had said to the ambassador because it “could complicate the agency’s investigation” into contacts between Trump staffers and Russian intelligence during the campaign. There’s been no evidence found that the campaign cooperated with Russia against Hillary Clinton, but reportedly the sheer frequency of communications between the two sides — it was “constant,” according to CNN — and the fact that high-level Trump advisors like Paul Manafort were involved have piqued the FBI’s curiosity. People are wondering today why we’re getting yet another round of stories about the feds’ Russia investigation when there seems to be nothing new to report. I think there are two reasons. One: Some Trump personnel, including Kellyanne Conway, have emphatically denied in the past that there was contact between Russian intelligence and the campaign, which now appears to be untrue. And two: Comey and the FBI may be worried that unless they remind the public periodically that this investigation is still happening, Trump and Jeff Sessions might quietly try to shut it down. The surest way the Bureau can keep Trump off its back is to make sure voters are watching for any moves towards obstruction of justice. Because of that, we’re probably destined to see periodic leaks about the investigation until it’s finally done.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 15, 2017