The Administration Behind the Red Curtain
Days after National Security Advisor Mike Flynn was rousted from his West Wing position next to the president, it has become clear his political demise was a harbinger of scandal to come. His abrupt termination led to a cascade of uncomfortable questions concerning the Trump campaign (now administration) and their interactions with the Russian government. No matter the political party or figure in the spotlight, journalistic lust is drawn to the more salacious possible answers to the questions of the day. However, questioning whether a president and/or his staff have been compromised by a foreign government is a first, even for modern day politics.
Mr. Flynn was the proverbial first domino to fall when he was fired for lying to Vice President Pence and other staff members when he denied the topic of sanctions were broached on his phone conversations with the Russian Ambassador in late December. The Washington Post reported he did speak to the Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, concerning the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration as retribution for hacking their way into the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Flynn was caught in his lie and submitted his resignation letter Monday night, under duress. The intrigue did not end there.
It was revealed that, days prior to her swift dismissal by President Trump for refusing to defend his travel ban in court, then acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned President Trump the government had evidence on Mr. Flynn which might make him susceptible to Russian blackmail. Attorney General Yates notified White House counsel Donald McGahn the government was in possession of intercepts which showed Flynn had lied to VP Pence and other White House officials, causing them to parrot his falsehoods on national television. As the story unravels, it is clear the President compartmentalized the information and kept Pence in the dark, leaving roughly a three-week gap from the moment the President knew of Flynn’s untenable position to when the rest of White House was brought up to speed.
The full gaze of the political and media speculation machine was turned on the Trump administration when it was discovered members of the Trump campaign were in contact with Russian intelligence in the year leading up to the election. The United States Intelligence community occasionally monitors the communications of known foreign intelligence operatives. Americans from the Trump administration were picked up in that intelligence gathering in what is called Incidental Collection, when someone other than the target of the surveillance is also captured in the monitoring. This is how Attorney General Yates knew of Flynn’s deception and appears to be the method from which Trump campaign staffers have been discovered to have had a dialogue with Russian Intelligence.
As more details come to light they give way to yet unanswered questions and speculation. Was Flynn acting on his own when he was making contacts with Russian Intelligence or did he have to consent of Mr. Trump? If Flynn was a rogue staffer who was caught in a lie, why did Mr. Trump leave him in his position for weeks, until the press unearthed the information? The most heretofore unfounded and loaded question posed is: was there collusion between the Russian government and the Trump administration in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other officials in the Clinton orbit? It must be stated at this point there is no solid reporting from any source of such cooperation by the Trump campaign or administration.
Adding to the intrigue, President Trump on Wednesday framed the entire firestorm as a question of illegal leaking and political witch-hunts by Democrats. During a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Trump was asked about General Flynn and stated, “From Intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked. It’s criminal action, criminal act. And it’s been going on for a long time, before me. But now it’s really going on. People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton. I think it’s very, very unfair what’s happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated and the documents and papers that were illegally leaked, I stress that, illegally leaked. Very, very unfair.” Putting an exclamation point on the previous day’s comments, Thursday morning President Trump took to Twitter and posted, “The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!”
Even with a full-throated defense from the President, the government has suspended General Flynn’s high-level clearance, until further review. It appears as though the intelligence community and the White House have different opinions on what requires full investigation. The Red Curtain in front of this administration has foisted questions into public arena which will not go away easily, whether they are warranted or baseless.