In former FBI Director James Comey's dramatic testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, there was a good deal of discussion about President Trump's demands for loyalty. But there's only one person to whom Trump himself has seemed to show anything resembling loyalty in this Russia scandal: Michael Flynn. Which raises a question that remains mysterious. Why was the president so intensely interested in protecting Flynn?
In Comey's prepared statement, he made clear that Trump attempted to apply particular pressure on him with regard to Flynn. Here's part of Comey's remarks:
The president then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, "He is a good guy and has been through a lot." He repeated that Flynn hadn't done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the vice president. He then said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." [Comey]
One thing we can say for sure is that Trump was not going to this trouble — including what looks a lot like obstruction of justice — just because he thought Flynn was a "good guy," and Trump is such a mensch that he'll do anything for a good guy. No one who is familiar with Trump could believe that.
And he did go to a great deal of trouble. Let's put these events together:
- According to Comey, Trump specifically asked him to lay off the investigation of Flynn.
- According to The Washington Post, Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats "if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn." In their testimony to Congress on Wednesday, Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers refused to say publicly whether Trump had made those requests of them.
- After Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed the White House that Flynn had lied to investigators about contacts he had with Russian officials and was therefore vulnerable to blackmail, it took 18 days before Flynn was actually fired.
- Even after firing Flynn, Trump continued to sing his praises. "Gen. Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he has been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases," he said two days after firing him. "And I think it is really a sad thing that he was treated so badly." Trump has continued to praise Flynn ever since.
Donald Trump is not known for his loyalty to those who work for him. As much as he demands loyalty from others, Trump doesn't give it out freely, and Flynn is not someone he has known for very long. Yes, Trump seems enamored of generals, and Flynn was the first prominent retired high-ranking officer to endorse him. But he has also shown no hesitation about cutting people loose when they become a liability. Have you heard many stories about times in which Trump set aside his own self-interest in order to help someone else? Any?
Now consider that Flynn lied to members of the administration and to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials; probably violated the law by accepting payments from Russia for speeches without seeking prior approval as retired generals are supposed to do; was secretly acting as a paid agent of the Turkish government while he was advising the Trump campaign; and delayed a mission against ISIS, which was something Turkey wanted, while he was being paid by them, possibly acting to aid a foreign government rather than do what was in the best interests of the United States.
Given all that, you'd think that Trump would not only have kicked Flynn to the curb, but that he would have kept kicking him once he was down there. And yet not only did he not do that, he seems to have been doing everything in his power, even to the point of potentially committing the crime of obstruction of justice, to protect Michael Flynn. He has even reportedly been sending Flynn encouraging texts. Why would that be?
I don't have a good answer. But the idea that it's just because he likes Flynn is impossible to believe. What we're left with then is Trump's own self-interest.
It may be that Trump believes Flynn is the keystone of the Russia scandal, and if he goes down then the scandal will accelerate until it reaches the Oval Office. It may have something to do with some piece of information or relationship we know nothing about. But what's obvious is that Trump is trying very hard to keep Flynn out of harm's way, or to keep him happy. If we can figure out why, we may understand this whole scandal a great deal better.