Why perform background checks and security vetting on advisers who already have high clearance from the government? This story from NBC News about embattled former national security adviser Michael Flynn gives another pretty good answer to Sean Spicer’s question from last month. According to two NBC sources within the government, Flynn never disclosed payments from Russia Today — a state-backed media outlet — while renewing his clearance through the Defense Intelligence Agency, which Flynn had earlier led:
The Defense Intelligence Agency didn’t know former director Mike Flynn had been paid nearly $34,000 by a Russian state media outlet when it renewed his security clearance in April 2016, two U.S. officials told NBC News.
Flynn had disclosed the December 2015 trip to Moscow to the DIA, but he never told them he was paid by RT, the official said. The Defense Department inspector general is now investigating whether Flynn broke the rules. The U.S. Constitution forbids retired generals from accepting foreign payments without permission.
Flynn’s failure to inform the DIA he had been paid has not been reported previously. In the past, lawmakers who reviewed documents said they had seen no evidence he had reported the fees. The revelation casts new light on the White House assertion Monday that the Obama administration should have denied Flynn a security clearance if officials were concerned about him.
Yes it does, but it’s not quite clear what NBC’s point is about it. As Allahpundit noted earlier today, NBC had also reported that the Trump administration needed to get Flynn a separate clearance for his job through the CIA and not just the DoD. That failure falls squarely on Trump’s White House, which should have had that completed before pushing Flynn into position. That check might have uncovered the undisclosed payments from RT and Flynn’s other undeclared lobbying for foreign interests, which came out after his resignation and for which Flynn might face a criminal probe. Had the White House done its due diligence up front, they could have avoided all of these embarrassments.
And needless to say, this isn’t exactly a confidence-builder either. It took more than two weeks for the Trump administration to react after Sally Yates warned White House counsel Don McGahn than Flynn could be targeted for extortion by Russia:
So to recap: Yates warned W.H. on January 26.
Flynn remained NSA for another 18 days after the warning that he was likely compromised.
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 8, 2017
On the other hand, the failure of Flynn to disclose his RT payments during his clearance renewal doesn’t reflect on Team Trump as much as it does the Obama administration’s Defense Department. Bear in mind that Barack Obama and other former officials of the former administration claim they had become increasingly concerned about Russian influence in the election and attempts to penetrate various campaigns. Flynn’s visit to Russia in 2015 was well known, even if the payment was not, and he had joined the campaign relatively early — so why didn’t the DoD dig more into Flynn’s business in Russia? For that matter, why didn’t they dig into Flynn’s consultant business and uncover the nature of his clientele?
Both sides are pointing the finger at each other; it looks like both sides have plenty of room to share the blame.
Speaking of two different sides, both Sally Yates and then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper got asked directly whether they had seen evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence — the issue on which Flynn has been scrutinized, among others. Clapper flatly said he had seen none, while Yates — who was acting Attorney General for less than two weeks — says she can’t answer that question in open session but that “you should not draw from that an assumption that the answer is yes.” Senator Lindsey Graham wonders what Yates would know that a DNI wouldn’t, and it turns out to be … not much:
Q: Do you have evidence of collusion between Trump campaign & Russians?
Yates: I can’t answer that without revealing classified information pic.twitter.com/7NCsaMKquO
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) May 8, 2017
So far, the only solid conclusion one can reach from today’s events is that few know what they’re doing in Washington.