It generally has been conceded that President Trump knows little if anything about being President or running the country. He is engaging in what might generously be called a very rough and tumble process of on-the-job training; as much he will permit anyone to train him. On the other hand, General Michael Flynn is a three star general with a life-time of experience in the military and in the intelligence community. He knows all the rules about chain of command, intelligence gathering, and giving or following orders. As a result his resignation last evening opens an array of serious questions which should rattle even the most loyal Republican partisans in the Congress.
While he may be a political novice, Flynn knows about protecting U.S. national security. He comprehends what is permissible in the interaction of U.S. officials with the Russians and what may well be dangerous from a perspective of national security. It seems to be totally inconceivable that Flynn would have raised the matter of U.S. sanctions policy with the Russian Ambassador before he assumed his official position as Trump’s national security adviser were he not instructed to do so.
Flynn understood that there was a high likelihood of wiretaps overseeing any conversation he might have had, but Flynn as a former military man follows orders. These instructions must have come directly or in a nuanced manner from the incoming commander-in-chief. This conversation would not have occurred on his own initiative nor would it have occurred on the recommendation of Mike Pence, who certainly would not have instructed Flynn to have this discussion. Either he did it entirely on his own—highly unlikely—or the President-elect suggested that he hold the meeting and assure the Russians not to be concerned by the last minute Obama imposed sanctions. Given Trump’s mysterious and curious relationship with Russia, clearly Putin’s own non-reaction to the Obama move suggested a knowing wink to Trump that he got the message.
The substantive questions are now only compounded by the fact the Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates apparently informed the Trump White House last month that Flynn’s actions vis-a-vis the Russians may have set him up or the U.S. in a position of possible blackmail. We have grown to understand that Donald Trump makes no mistakes and never does anything wrong. Pence did not and would not have instructed Flynn to hold such a meeting without authorization because he and his staff know the rules. As a result, Flynn fell on his sword.
It is clear that Congress and the Justice Department, separately, will need to enter the picture. The matter of Trump’s flirtation with Russia is clearly covering up something. What do the American people and the Congress not yet know? Is the speculation about Russian interference in the American election credible and confirmable? Did Trump know about it? Finally, how long does Trump actually believe he can persist in covering up for Putin and Russia in contravention of almost all of the defense, intelligence, and legal experts who undoubtedly have much to tell?
This story will only unravel if and when the Republican security hawks led by Senators John McCain and Senator Lindsay Graham conclude that the United States’ is at risk. Unless and until they agree to investigate the matter and to subpoena all the parties this dangerous episode will not be clarified. White House shuffling of the deck chairs will not do the trick. Congress needs to determine if perhaps even “high crimes and misdemeanors” have been committed. (It is easy to forget the Richard Nixon was impeached essentially for actions that were deemed to be a cover-up of illegal activity.)