Flynn resigns amid growing Russia scandal
President Donald Trump’s administration this week faced potentially explosive investigations into its connections to the Russian government, after leaks from intelligence agencies forced the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn. The three-star general resigned over several phone calls he made in December to the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, on the same day the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Moscow in retaliation for Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. When news of those calls first emerged in mid-January, Flynn denied discussing sanctions with Kislyak—a denial publicly repeated by Vice President Mike Pence. But The Washington Post reported that transcripts of the calls, made by the U.S. intelligence agencies that had intercepted them, revealed that Flynn did suggest to Kislyak that Russia not react to the sanctions because Trump might reverse them—a possible violation of a law prohibiting private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. The newspaper also reported that White House Counsel Donald McGahn was warned in late January that Flynn had misled Pence about the calls, and could therefore be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow. As the furor mounted last week, Flynn stepped down, acknowledging that he had “inadvertently briefed the vice president–elect with incomplete information.”
The FBI and other intelligence agencies are conducting a broad investigation into contact by members of Trump’s campaign team and inner circle with senior Russian intelligence officials during the election, The New York Times reported. Those contacts occurred at the same time Russian-backed hackers were giving emails from Democratic officials to WikiLeaks. President Trump dismissed the “Russia connection” as “nonsense,” and said the “real scandal” was intelligence agency leaks. He has reportedly tapped retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL, to replace Flynn.
GOP Senate leaders said Flynn’s links to Russia would be examined as part of an existing Intelligence Committee investigation into Moscow’s interference in the election. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the Russian investigation had cast a cloud over the White House and was interfering with Republican policy initiatives, including tax reform and replacing Obamacare. “It’s a dysfunctional White House,” McCain said. “Nobody knows who’s in charge.”
What the editorials said
Flynn’s departure won’t end this scandal, said the New York Daily News. Trump hasn’t explained why he took weeks to remove Flynn from his post after being told Flynn had lied, or why he’s so determined to forge an alliance with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The day after Flynn spoke to Kislyak in five separate calls, Moscow announced it wouldn’t retaliate against the U.S. sanctions—a decision Trump immediately praised as a “great move,” adding, “I always knew he [Putin] was very smart!” Was Flynn really a “rogue operator,” or was he simply “carrying out Trump policy”?
Flynn was damaged goods and needed to go, said The Wall Street Journal, but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that a senior government official has been brought down by targeted, anonymous leaks from our intelligence agencies. Those agencies appear to be mounting “an insurrection” against Trump in revenge for his negative comments about them. Aren’t the liberals who have been fretting about Trump’s supposed authoritarianism concerned that “authoritarian tactics were used against Flynn”?
What the columnists said
This mushrooming scandal “could conceivably oust Donald Trump from power,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. Intelligence agencies that have been analyzing the infamous “dossier” on Trump’s Russian ties have corroborated some of its less salacious allegations, including the dates and places of specific meetings between Russian officials and Trump associates. More bombshells will go off, sooner or later. Republicans will not be able to play ostrich if there’s evidence that the president is “secretly beholden to a foreign power.”
Regardless of your view of Trump, the intelligence agencies’ “political assassination” of Flynn should trouble every American, said Eli Lake in BloombergView.com. It is highly unusual, and illegal, for intelligence agencies to leak the contents of electronic intercepts—especially in order to destroy a top U.S. official. “This is what police states do.” Expect more leaks. For the intelligence agencies, “Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entrée.”
Flynn’s demise may actually be “the best thing that could happen” to Trump, said Jonathan Tobin in NationalReview.com. It will force him to put U.S. interests first in any dealings with Putin, and reconsider how he’s managing his administration. If he’s “as smart as he thinks he is,” Trump will see this scandal as a warning that he needs to bring in “competent professionals” and stop relying on chaos-creating ideologues like Flynn and chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Trump won’t be able to move on from this scandal easily, said Chris Cillizza in WashingtonPost.com. They say “there’s no smoke without fire,” and the White House is currently “engulfed in smoke.” Why was Trump’s campaign in “constant” contact with Russia during the election? Why is Trump so reluctant to say anything that would anger Putin? The only way Trump can put this fire out is by explaining, in person, “what he knew and when he knew it.” If he doesn’t, “we might be looking at a full-on blaze very, very soon.”
On the cover: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Illustration by Fred Harper
Cover photos from Newscom (2), Getty