Critics are noting that Trump was warned by Barack Obama himself during their post-election meeting in the White House not to hire Flynn as National Security Advisor. Right, but Trump’s point is about Flynn being investigated. Did O warn him about that or did he express more general “concerns” about the general? Remember, Obama fired Flynn from the DIA for mismanagement in 2014. Trump might reasonably have assumed that O’s disdain for Flynn had to do with that, not with anything having to do with a federal probe.
It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge. It would have been impossible for me to know this but, if that was the case, and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2019
Reports at the time (via Mediaite) are mixed about what exactly Obama said to Trump. A source told NBC that Obama’s comment about Flynn seemingly was made in jest but another official claimed to CNN that O had Flynn’s contacts with Russia on his mind. Even if that’s true, though, remember the timeline here:
November 10, 2016: Obama and Trump meet and Flynn is mentioned.
November 17: Trump names Flynn NSA.
November 30: The DOJ notifies Flynn by letter that it’s investigating his unregistered lobbying work for Turkey.
December 29: Despite being warned that the feds were monitoring the Russian ambassador’s phone calls, Flynn chats with him anyway about sanctions on Russia. Flynn later allegedly lies to the FBI about what he said to the ambassador during the phone call.
January 26, 2017: Sally Yates, the acting AG, tells White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn has been caught lying about his chats with the ambassador and is now vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
February 13: After reports of Flynn’s lies are leaked to the media, Trump finally fires him.
It’s unclear to me from that timeline whether Obama knew Flynn was being investigated by the time he met with Trump. Was the probe of Flynn’s lobbying for Turkey launched before or after November 10th? Even if it was before, did O know about it? *Could* Obama have told Trump about the investigation if he knew about it? Flynn was one of Trump’s top advisors; tipping off Trump might have led to Trump tipping off Flynn that he was being watched, spoiling the investigation.
Here’s a better question: Why does anyone care what Obama told Trump about Flynn when we know that Flynn himself warned the White House that he was under investigation? That’s another date in the timeline — January 4, 2017, a week after Flynn’s phone chat with the ambassador.
Michael T. Flynn told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case…
Mr. Flynn’s disclosure, on Jan. 4, was first made to the transition team’s chief lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, who is now the White House counsel. That conversation, and another one two days later between Mr. Flynn’s lawyer and transition lawyers, shows that the Trump team knew about the investigation of Mr. Flynn far earlier than has been previously reported.
Flynn had already been named incoming NSA by that point (on November 17 of the previous year, per the timeline) but the NSA job doesn’t require Senate confirmation. Trump could have rescinded the appointment and named John Bolton or whoever to the position instead. That’s basically what happened with Jason Miller, who was briefly named White House communications director during the transition and then stepped away due to a sex scandal. Unless we want to pretend that McGahn never mentioned to his boss that the new NSA was being investigated by the DOJ, which seems highly unlikely, Trump was warned about Flynn — by Flynn himself essentially, albeit in a matter involving Turkey, not Russia. Trump probably chose to do nothing when he found out because he believed that, once he was inaugurated, the DOJ would be under his thumb and Jeff Sessions would “protect” Flynn by making the Turkey investigation go away. Or that Comey would “let this go” the same way Trump wanted him to let Flynn’s lies about the Russian ambassador go.
I don’t think Trump would have “made a change” with Flynn regardless of how early he found about the investigation so long as it remained non-public. It’s not like him to do so: His approach is to ride scandals out, believing (usually correctly) that popular outrage will subside quickly enough. Look how long it took him to finally fire Flynn after Yates informed McGahn that Flynn had been caught lying and was at blackmail risk. Trump seems to have ignored that until the papers got wind of it; then, after he fired Flynn, he reportedly complained to aides for months that he shouldn’t have been so hasty, even allegedly wondering if there might be a way to bring Flynn back to the White House eventually. I’d bet good money that if the Flynn scandal had happened a year later than it did, after Trump had gotten comfortable in the job and was well into his “witch hunt!” stage, he would have kept Flynn on as long as possible — maybe right up to the point that he was formally charged. Maybe after?
Contra his tweet, then, “warning” him about the investigation would have achieved nothing. But you can see from his tone how annoyed Trump is to have learned that Flynn cooperated extensively with Mueller, up to and including sharing voicemails that might have generated obstruction charges. He’s mad at Flynn not because Flynn concealed the fact that he was under investigation in 2017 — on the contrary — but because Flynn was disloyal in participating in the “witch hunt.”