Feel better now that Michael Flynn is gone?
The man who never, ever should have been national security adviser isn’t anymore. His ties with Russia, and then his sin of omission about them, caught up with him this week, and he resigned.
According to the FBI, Flynn put an innocuous spin on his pre-inauguration phone calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Turns out, the conversational niceties included discussion of then-President Obama’s upcoming sanctions against Russia, accused of cyberattacks to help swing the election Trump’s way. Officials familiar with the call — one of many calls between the two that began before the Nov. 8 election — said that Flynn hinted that the new administration would foster a much more friendly relationship with its former Cold War enemy. He implied that sanctions could be “undone.”
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This alone is a possible violation of the law. Private citizens, as Flynn was at the time, are prohibited from engaging in acts of diplomacy. His departure on Monday should not be the end of it, and he should be made to answer for this transgression, in Congress and, if necessary, in a court of law.
The FBI began questioning Flynn soon after Inauguration Day. Once the Washington Post revealed the depths Flynn’s contact with Kislyak reached, the spin started. Flynn assured Vice President Mike Pence that the conversation was harmless, a formality. Pence assured the nation that Flynn was telling the truth.
Flynn, who has penchant for fake news and whose sexist and Islamophobic comments are on the record, clearly was fatally flawed from the start. The general retired from an impressive career, serving as, among other things, director of intelligence for the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in 2014, serving in the Obama administration, he was pushed out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Bad fit. He also has been a regular paid contributor to RT, Russia’s news service.
Was Flynn so assertive that he made those calls to the Russian ambassador on his own, or did he fall on his sword? Come on, Trump spent much of his political capital during the campaign praising Vladimir Putin. Russia hacked its way into the Democratic National Committee’s emails, revealing information that would damage his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
On Monday, before Flynn’s resignation, Sean Spicer, the president’s persevering press secretary, said that Trump was “evaluating the situation.” But the Justice Department had, weeks earlier, warned the White House that Flynn had soft-pedaled his account of his conversations with the Russian ambassador. DOJ was right to be deeply concerned that this made him vulnerable to blackmail should the Russians want to put him, and the United States, in a tight spot.
Which brings us to why no one should feel great that Flynn is gone: Trump still has a deep and abiding relationship — in politics and in business — with a dictator who, with tacit encouragement — or maybe more — put America’s democracy on a collision course with chaos. Its cherished values have been exposed and undermined. Trump allows this.
Flynn was just the tip of the Russian iceberg. A submerged mass that we still can’t see threatens to demolish the ship of state.