|Donald Trump and Mike Flynn|
Donald Trump was engaged in a tweet storm yesterday panning the testimony of Sally Yates and James Clapper before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also sought to blame Barack Obama for his own stupid allegiance with Michael Flynn. It was all typical Trump: lies, bluster and disavowal of any personal responsibility. Behind it all, however, may be real fear that Flynn could take Trump down if he had involved Trump in his foreign dealings and payments - something that a column in Talking Points Memo suggests is a real possibility. The column also speculates that throughout Trump's campaign, Flynn WAS the foreign policy director and attached to Trump at the hip. Let's hope the author is correct and that the Flynn affair ultimately implicates Trump and helps take him down. Here are column highlights:
[T]here’s a backstory that is either implicit or unstated in both stories which I think is critical to understanding the full story.
The aim of the people providing these accounts is clearly to point a finger at Flynn and also note that Trump officials themselves were concerned about it. But what is clear from both stories is that the officials in question were not people from the campaign. They were more experienced Republican foreign policy and national security hands who got involved immediately after Trump was elected. Perhaps some of them had some connection to the campaign. But broadly speaking you’re talking about an entirely different cadre of people who had little or nothing to do with the campaign.
The key thing is that for most of the campaign, certainly the most critical months from early Spring through November, when it came to national security Michael Flynn was the campaign. He was basically it. Not only was he Trump’s sole major foreign policy and national security advisor. Unlike others who have had such a role in the past, Flynn traveled frequently with Trump on the campaign trail and actually featured as a speaker in numerous rallies. In the late Spring and early Summer he even was seriously discussed as a potential running mate. His influence and contact were deep and pervasive.
Why did Flynn continue his on-going contacts with Kislyak after people on the transition warned him off the idea and pressed him on the fact that calls with Kislyak were almost certainly being monitored? The only plausible answer is that Flynn simply didn’t care. And in a sense, why should he have? From his perspective – and not altogether implausibly – in mere weeks everyone who might be monitoring him or be in a position to stand in his way would be working for him.
But here’s the really important thing. We don’t know yet quite what Flynn’s game was – reckless, stupid, crooked or operating with some darker agenda? Trump meanwhile was almost totally ignorant of the most rudimentary knowledge of security and foreign policy. He is also notorious for believing and saying whatever he heard from the last person he talked to.
Let’s assume for the moment the Mr Magoo version of the Trump campaign and presidency (not at all implausible): ignorant, gullible, angry, reckless.
These were months when Flynn was carrying on conversations with the Russian Ambassador; he was acting as a paid foreign agent working on behalf of the Republic of Turkey; he was discussing plans to abduct a US permanent resident and deliver him back to Turkey; he was being paid by a Turkish-American businessman who also had ties back to Russia. On the most generous view, the mix of Flynn’s recklessness and corruption and Trump’s impulsiveness and gullibility leave a high, high probability that Flynn involved Trump in his nonsense.
What we see described in these articles is establishment professionals coming into the campaign just after the election and finding what they clearly saw as a disturbing situation – one which they attempted to rein in or clean up. It seems to have had little effect in the short-run but was likely part of process that ended in Flynn’s ouster less than a month after Trump’s inauguration. But the better part of a year had already passed when Flynn was figuratively and often literally alone with Trump and operating entirely on his own. He was the one with Trump’s ear during the failed Turkish coup, Trump’s repeated attacks on NATO and comments about Putin, during the entirety of the hacking and Russian election interference campaign and Trump’s frequent statements of support of the same. They could start cleaning things up going forward. But a lot had already happened. They couldn’t do anything about that. They probably had little way of finding out even what had happened. That probably generated a lot of anxiety and rightly so.
As I argued back in March, sometimes you cover up not because you know you’re guilty but because you actually don’t know whether you are or not. Think about it. Trump was flying solo with Flynn for pretty much the entire campaign. If you were them, you’d be worried too.