Monday evening’s shocking resignation by National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn was historic. First, it marks the first ouster from the new Trump administration; second, it’s the shortest tenure by an NSA in history. But Flynn’s resignation won’t quiet questions surrounding supposed chaos inside the Trump administration, or questions about the relationship between members of the Trump administration and the Russian government.
Here’s the short story.
Before Trump was inaugurated, Flynn was apparently in contact with the Russian government, particularly Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, with whom he allegedly discussed removing sanctions against Russia. When President Obama levied new sanctions against Russia, Russia didn’t respond, instead waiting for Trump to take office; Trump congratulated Putin on his foresight. Flynn then told Vice President Pence and other administration officials that he hadn’t discussed sanctions with Kislyak; Pence and those other officials told the press that. Then it came out that Flynn had indeed talked about sanctions, as leakers told the press; the Department of Justice also informed the White House that Flynn could be compromised by Russian intelligence.
Here are some thoughts.
1. This Won’t Answer Questions About The Trump Team’s Ties To Russia. This will surely reinvigorate the narrative that Vladimir Putin helped Wikileaks hack Democratic institutions in order to swing the election to Trump, with the knowledge that Trump would be far friendlier to Russia than Hillary. That’s still speculation, of course, but the speculation will ramp up far higher than it did before with Flynn resigning. That’s because Trump could have opted for a number of strategies here: he could have let Flynn apologize, then stuck by him; he could have simply said that he authorized Flynn to talk sanctions with the Russians, and dared Congress to do something about it (few in the public would have cared); he could have fired Flynn. He chose to fire Flynn, which seems to suggest that Trump’s trying to hide something rather than either owning it or defending Flynn.
2. Trump’s Administration Is Going To Have Serious Leak Trouble. This story only broke because nine sources – nine! – told the Washington Post that the Flynn conversation apparently covered sanctions. Trump’s running into some serious opposition in the intelligence community, and they’re undercutting him with leak after leak. That means that Trump had better keep things buttoned down, or he’s likely to find himself on the wrong end of scandal after scandal.
3. At Best, There’s Some Confusion In The Trump Administration. One of two things is true: either Flynn fibbed to Pence and White House press secretary Sean Spicer and Trump himself, or Trump authorized Flynn to speak with the Russians, but didn’t authorize Flynn to tell Pence and Spicer about it. Either is possible. Both suggest that this administration is plagued by lack of internal cohesion. The way that Flynn went out is a good indicator: Kellyanne Conway said on national television that Flynn had Trump’s confidence, then within the hour Spicer said something different, and then tonight Flynn was gone.
4. Democrats, As Always, Aren’t Interested In Truth. Democrats are mostly interested in pillorying Trump. If this same thing had happened under Barack Obama, Democrats would have defended him with alacrity. They didn’t seem to care that UN ambassador Susan Rice lied to the American people, or that someone lied to her; they didn’t seem to care that President Obama was happy to parlay with the Russians leading up to an election, and reached out to the Iranians before he took office in 2008. They’re just interested in targeting Trump.
5. The Media Are Drooling. The media have a scalp now. They’re receiving leaks. They’re reporting. And they’re not letting up. That’s driving Republicans crazy, because the media went nearly AWOL for eight years while President Obama was in office. But that doesn’t change the reality: the media are going to continue pressing their advantage, which means that Trump has to be squeaky clean.
All of this is disquieting. It suggests that despite Stephen Miller’s assurances, it is not a “substantial understatement” to call the Trump team in control. In fact, this situation suggests that Trump had better take control quickly, or he risks his administration falling victim to scandal, leaks, and circular firing squads. And dishonest Democrats and a newly-motivated media won’t let him off the hook.