I guess Team O got tired of Trump using them as cover for his decision to hire Flynn:
General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama Administration – but the Fake News seldom likes talking about that.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
Don’t blame us for your Flynn problem, the Obama-ites retort. You were warned — personally, and from the very top:
According to all three former officials, Obama warned Trump against hiring Flynn. The Obama administration fired Flynn in 2014 from his position as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, largely because of mismanagement and temperament issues.
Obama’s warning pre-dated the concerns inside the government about Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador, one of the officials said. Obama passed along a general caution that he believed Flynn was not suitable for such a high level post, the official added.
A Trump official told NBC that Obama’s comment “seemed like it was made in jest,” adding that it makes sense that Obama would oppose Flynn’s hiring given that Flynn had been tearing into him publicly for the better part of two years. Trump makes a fair point in his tweet, too. It’s well known that Obama fired Flynn as head of DIA but less noted that the Obama administration let Flynn retain his security clearance. Why would they have done that if Flynn was such a loose cannon? NBC’s Obama sources don’t have an answer, but they do say it’s no excuse for Trump to have elevated Flynn to NSA:
It’s true that Flynn got his top level security clearance renewed in January 2016, but what Trump didn’t mention is that Flynn should have received a far more thorough vetting in advance of his becoming national security adviser, a job that allows access to the nation’s most closely-held secrets. What was the nature of that vetting, and did it raise any flags about Flynn’s lobbying work for Turkish interests during the campaign, or his paid appearance on behalf of Russian state media, both now under scrutiny by law enforcement agencies? The White House hasn’t said.
It may be that “mismanagement and temperament issues” weren’t enough to justify stripping Flynn of his clearance; as noted above, Obama’s warning to Trump came before the administration had developed suspicions about Flynn’s contacts with Russia and Turkey. It may also be that the Obama White House didn’t want to be seen as retaliating against a military officer by removing his clearance after he’d already begun criticizing them politically. Either way, the claim that Flynn should have been vetted more thoroughly by Team Trump jibes with a report from NBC late last month alleging that Trump’s team investigated Flynn only “very casually” but still well enough to have discovered his lobbying relationship with Turkey. That might explain why Trump is so eager to invoke Obama’s security clearance for Flynn. The more he reminds people that the Obama White House also trusted Flynn, at least enough to keep his security clearance intact, the less bizarre it looks that the Trump White House would have trusted him enough to, er, make him national security advisor.
A lingering question. How soon after Trump’s victory did the incoming administration start to worry about Flynn? This AP report from over the weekend makes it sound like it was pretty soon:
In late November, a member of Donald Trump’s transition team approached national security officials in the Obama White House with a curious request: Could the incoming team get a copy of the classified CIA profile on Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States?
Marshall Billingslea, a former Pentagon and NATO official, wanted the information for his boss, Michael Flynn, who had been tapped by Trump to serve as White House national security adviser. Billingslea knew Flynn would be speaking to Kislyak, according to two former Obama administration officials, and seemed concerned Flynn did not fully understand he was dealing with a man rumored to have ties to Russian intelligence agencies.
To the Obama White House, Billingslea’s concerns were startling: a member of Trump’s own team suggesting the incoming Trump administration might be in over its head in dealing with an adversary.
Hard to believe a former head of DIA wouldn’t have realized the Russian ambassador is talking to spies, but the communication with Billingslea was supposedly the start of weeks of mounting suspicions within the Obama White House about Flynn’s ties to Russia, “including evidence of multiple calls, texts and at least one in-person meeting between Flynn and Kislyak.” The AP story and today’s NBC story about Obama warning Trump sure seem like they’re part of a coordinated messaging effort by alumni of the previous administration aimed at bolstering Sally Yates’s testimony, making clear that Team Trump had ample notice that Flynn wasn’t to be trusted before they went and gave him one of the most sensitive jobs in the U.S. government. In fact, for good measure, a pro-Obama source tells the AP that the Obama White House learned that “highly sensitive documents from a secure room at the [Trump] transition’s Washington headquarters were being copied and removed from the facility.” Not only was Trump negligent in hiring Flynn, his team was supposedly negligent in mishandling classified info just like Hillary Clinton was.
The irony of Trump trying to pass the buck (partially) to Obama for Flynn’s role in his administration is that Team Trump ended up agreeing with O that Flynn didn’t belong in the NSA job. I’ve written before about the apparently unusual unanimity of opinion in the White House’s upper ranks, from Priebus to Bannon to Kushner to apparently Trump himself, that Flynn should be pushed out as quickly as possible. This Axios piece fills in some of the blanks as to why. It wasn’t any issue with Russia or Turkey, it was the fact that, er, he had mismanagement and temperament issues, allegedly presenting incomplete natsec info to Trump to bolster his own agenda and running a dysfunctional NSC. (“The White House and the national security process is infinitely more synchronized and functional without him.”) Trump may not have taken Obama’s advice not to hire him but he seems to have come to a similar conclusion in firing him.