Fall of Flynn: hope or peril?
There are still questions about the resignation of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn following revelations in the Washington Post that he had mislead other members of the administration (and, by extension, the public) about the content of his phone conversations with the Russian ambassador back in December. It is still unclear whether Flynn stepped down of his own volition or was basically fired. (The latter version now seems to be favored by the administration.) But, predictably, Trump is expressing greater outrage over the leaks that resulted in Flynn's fall than the misbehavior they revealed, tweeting: “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?” Flynn himself echoed that point. Asked by Fox News whether the leaks were "targeted, coordinated and possibly a violation of the law," Flynn responded: "Yes, yes and yes.”
Of course, Flynn's own actions may have violated the Logan Act. And given all Trump's campaign-trail bluster about "locking up" Hillary over her supposedly insecure e-mails, you'd think the administration and its Republican allies would be taking this seriously. And you would hope in vain. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) says he won't open an investigation into Flynn, citing executive privilege (despite the fact that the conversations in question took place before he was appointed to his White House post). But the committee will investigate who leaked the story that led to Flynn's resignation, and why Flynn was being recorded. "I expect for the FBI to tell me what is going on, and they better have a good answer," said Nunes. (The Hill, WP)
Has it really not occurred to these guys that the FBI wasn't tapping Flynn's line but the Russian ambassador's? Could Flynn (the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency!) have really been so innocent as to think the FBI wasn't eavesdropping on the Russian goddam ambassador? Is this arrogance or naiveté? We don't even know.
TYT provides a good overview of what we do know so far. On Dec. 29, the very day Obama slapped sanctions on Russia over the elections meddling, Flynn called Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak a whopping total of five times. Contrary to his earlier denials, the sanctions were discussed. Flynn seems to have skirted an actual explicit pledge to lift the sanctions, merely saying that relations with Russia would improve under Trump, and leaving it to Kislyak to read between the lines. TYT notes Flynn's long coziness with Russia, recalling that he was paid by the Kremlin to speak at the notorious RT confab in December 2015 (he admitted this in an interview with the Washington Post on Aug. 15 of last year), where he shared a table with Putin at the dinner after his talk.
Former NSA spook John Schindler has a piece in Observer (owned by Trump top advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner) portraying a generalized revolt by the intelligence community against the administration. An (unnamed) Pentagon intelligence official is quoted saying that "since January 20, we've assumed that the Kremlin has ears inside the SITROOM." That's the White House Situation Room, the conference room in the West Wing where the president and his top staffers get intelligence briefings. "There's not much the Russians don't know at this point," the official added in what Schindler calls "wry frustration."
Meanwhile, Flynn has been replaced with another ex-military man, retired Lt. Gen. Joseph K. Kellogg Jr, the NY Times reports. And Flynn's son Michael G. Flynn, after having suspended his Twitter account for excessive indiscretion under probable White House pressure (maybe a first sign that his dad was in trouble), now seems to be back at it, now under the name Michael Flynn Jr.
As for Flynn's veiled promises to Kislyak... the first Russia sanctions have already been lifted. We'll now see if the White House will continue in this trajectory, or if the Flynn affair will prompt an about-face. This could be the beginning of the collapse of the entire administration, with any luck. A more pessimistic reading is it's just the beginning of the inevitable Trump-Putin breach, which holds dangers of its own....