General Michael Flynn, under pressure
for having made calls to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition, has resigned as Donald Trump's National Security Advisor. He resigned last night, after the day started with members of the administration assuring that Trump had full faith in Flynn. Whoooooops.
There are several potential reasons why Trump didn't fire Flynn. In the Washington Post,
Greg Miller and Philip Rucker report
that an anonymous senior White House official says "Trump does not relish firing people." So it could be as simple as weak character: A president who is unable to do the right thing even when it needs to be done.
Another possibility, of course, is that Trump wants to be able to retain the right to say that the media forced Flynn out with a witchhunt, so his supporters, who are standing by and vociferously defending Flynn, don't turn on him.
I also suspect that part of Trump's unwillingness to fire Flynn is because Trump doesn't actually believe Flynn did anything wrong. Trump gets very belligerent when he is accused of doing something unethical, or even illegal, that he doesn't think should
be off-limits, and, given his own affinity for Russia, and his off-script national security approaches, it's easy to imagine he thinks Flynn's conversations with the Russians were fine and dandy, and thus Flynn doesn't deserve
to be fired.
Particularly if Flynn were acting on orders from Trump.
During an interview with Matt Lauer on Today
this morning, White House Counsel Kellyanne Conway essentially confirmed that theory, reiterating over and over again that the issue was not the content of the call itself, but misleading Vice President Mike Pence about it, despite the fact that the White House has known about that since last month
. And she had no good answer when Lauer noted raised the specter that Flynn wasn't "freelancing" on that call, but making it on the president's orders.
[Starting at 0:46] CONWAY: I think misleading the vice-president really was the key here. And I spoke with the president this morning; he asked me to speak on his behalf and to reiterate that Mike Flynn had resigned—he decided that he, that the situation had become unsustainable for him here, and of course the president accepted that resignation.
LAUER: But wait a second— You're saying that's the straw that broke the camel's back, but the White House knew about that last month, when the Justice Department warned the White House that Mr. Flynn, or General Flynn, had not been completely honest in characterizing that conversation with the Russian ambassador—and they even went further to say that, as a result of that dishonesty, he was at risk for blackmailing by the Russians.
CONWAY: Well, that's one characterization. But the fact is that General Flynn continued in that position, and was in the presidential daily briefings, was part of the leader calls as recently as yesterday, was there for the Prime Minister's visit from Canada yesterday, and, as time wore on, obviously the situation had become unsustainable—
CONWAY: —and General Flynn—
LAUER: Kelly, that makes no sense. Last month the Justice Department warned the White House that General Flynn had misled them, and, as a result, he was vulnerable to blackmail, and, at that moment, he still had the complete trust of the president?!
CONWAY: Matt, I'm telling you what the president has said, which is that he's accepted General Flynn's resignation, and he wishes him well, and that we're moving on— There are at least three candidates, very strong candidates, that will be considered for a permanent position here; obviously General Keith Kellogg is the acting National Security Advisor starting today, and the president is moving forward.
LAUER: I want to go back to that phone call with the Russian ambassador back in December. You're starting to make me think that perhaps General Kelly was not freelancing during that call when he talked about or hinted—I'm sorry, General Flynn, that he wasn't freelancing during that call, that in fact he may have been making that call on behalf of the administration, or the incoming administration. Would that be accurate?
CONWAY: No, that's—it would be a mistake to conclude that. Remember, in the end, it was misleading the vice-president that made the situation unsustainable.
LAUER: Which the White House knew about last month. And yet yesterday, you went on the air and said that General Flynn had the complete and full confidence of the president.
And round and round they went.
The takeaway here is that Trump simply doesn't believe it was a fireable offense. Probably the only person in the administration who does is Pence, and only then because Flynn made him look bad for misleading him, causing him to lie on national television (or so the story goes
All of which is to underline that Flynn's resignation should not be treated as the end of this story, but the beginning of further probing into the Trump administration—especially since Trump has clearly long known about Russian interference
and not cared about it, except insofar as he has exploited it for his own gain.
The next question that must
be answered is this: Did Donald Trump authorize Michael Flynn to make the call over which he's now resigning?
* * *
Here is some further recommended reading:
Andrew Roth at the Washington Post: Russian Lawmakers Rush to the Defense of Trump's Ex-National Security Adviser
. "The heads of the foreign affairs committees in both Russia's upper and lower houses of parliament chalked up Michael Flynn's resignation to a dark campaign of Russophobia in Washington, and said it would undermine relations between the White House and the Kremlin."
Amanda Terkel at The Huffington Post: House Oversight Committee Chair Won't Investigate Michael Flynn
. "House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Tuesday he will not pursue an investigation into what contacts Michael Flynn had with the Russian government before Donald Trump took office, and whether Flynn then lied about his communications." Instead, Chaffetz says: "It's taking care of itself."
James Hohmann and Breanne Deppisch at the Washington Post: 10 Unanswered Questions After Michael Flynn's Resignation
. "1. What, if anything, did Trump authorize Flynn to tell the Russians before his inauguration?"
Paul Waldman at The Week: The Most Dysfunctional White House in Memory
. "And since it was a core part not just of Trump's campaign but his genuine feeling that the people who have been running the government in recent decades are incompetent and stupid, it's no surprise that he has stocked his administration with people who have never worked in government before—and therefore don't really know how it works. This is particularly true of his inner circle. Their bungles infuriate him, which leads to distrust, which makes them ready to undermine him. The White House at the moment, reports Mike Allen, is characterized by 'insecurity, ass-covering, and endless leaking.'"