Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Reflections on Flynn's Departure

So let's get this straight.

Between the election and the inauguration, Michael Flynn, then Trump's prospective National Security Adviser, called the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, and urged him not to retaliate against US sanctions because the sanctions would be lifted under Trump.

Point one:  These conversations may have been a technical violation of the Logan Act, which forbids any private citizen from interfering in U.S. foreign policy.  Personally, I support the underlying purpose of the Logan Act, but no one has ever actually been prosecuted under it.

Michael Flynn
Point two:  Even if you do support prosecutions under the Logan Act, prospective Trump officials are not just any private citizens.  They were soon-to-be officials in an incoming administration who were going to be setting foreign policy in a matter of weeks.  It was therefore reasonable for them to contact officials in foreign governments to discuss what U.S. policy was to be.

Point three:  This was not just any conversation with foreign officials about future U.S. policy. The Russians had been hacking the Democrats' e-mails and publishing them in order to sway the election in favor of Trump.  The Obama administration was imposing sanctions specifically to punish them for the interference in the election.  The beneficiary of that election was proposing to reverse the punishment.  I suppose it is asking too much to expect an incoming President to punish the people who (however illegally) helped him to win.  Nonetheless, the whole thing is unsettling. Russian intelligence hacked Democratic servers and released the contents in a manner calculated to help Trump win.  Several members of the Trump campaign (including Flynn) had "repeated contacts" with Russian intelligence.  No one has proven that these things are related.  But it is hard not to be suspicious.

Point four:  Did Trump know about the conversations?  Well, duh!  Look, this isn't something like  Iran-Contra, in which rogue intelligence agents attempted to implement a policy that they knew the President wanted, but without letting him in on the details of what they were doing.  It was plausible then that these were rogue agents acting without official authorization because they were doing something secret that was supposed to be concealed.  Lifting sanctions on Russia is not the sort of thing that can be hidden.  If Flynn's proposal to lift sanctions was not undertaken with Trump's approval, then he was a rogue operative who should have been out on his ear the moment he was found out.  No President could possibly condone this type of unauthorized activity that are a direct challenge to his authority.  (Of course, I suppose given that these are Trump and Flynn we are talking about, nothing can be ruled out altogether.  But really!)

Point five:  In the current leaky-as-a-sieve administration, we now know an astonishing amount about what happened.  The conversation was monitored by the NSA, as is routine for the Russian ambassador in the U.S.  Still, the NSA has an extraordinary amount of incoming material to sort through and could easily have missed this one had Putin not refrained from retaliating against U.S. sanctions.  This drew attention to the conversations between Flynn and the Russian ambassador. Still- President Obama apparently learned of the conversation on January 5, seven days after it took place. Five days later, on January 12, the calls became public knowledge.  It was then that Flynn denied (to the incoming Vice President) that he had discussed anything substantive.  On January 19, FBI Director James Comey made the argument against telling Trump what they knew lest it jeopardize the investigation.  Wrap your head around that for a moment.  Comey was essentially urging that the entire intelligence community go rogue and conceal from an incoming President an important foreign policy initiative by his prospective National Security Adviser.  It was on January 26 that Trump was informed of what he (presumably) knew perfectly well anything.  The only difference was that he now knew that the intelligence community knew.

Point six:  It was not until the whole thing went public that Trump finally saw fit to move against his National Security Adviser.  Which means that either he allowed a rogue operative to defy his authority until publicly caught at it, or Flynn was acting with his authority all along.  Even granting that there is no accounting for either Trump or Flynn, I think we can safely assume it much more likely that Flynn's actions were authorized.

Point seven:  I was one of a number of people who thought for a time that Trump could not fire Flynn for fear he would spill the beans.  But its seems a safe assumption that the "beans" are every bit as incriminating from Flynn as they are for Trump, so I think he can be counted on to keep his mouth shut.

The good new is the Flynn is gone.  Michael Flynn is a functioning paranoid -- one who lives in a fantasy world and sees alarming patterns everywhere that don't actually exist.  Kevin Drum, keeping a "swamp watch" on all of Trump's nominees, rated whether they were part of the swamp, rich, crazy, or scary.  Most were denizens of the swamp and most who were not (and some who were) were filthy rich.  The good news is, only two were crazy, only two were scary, and Flynn had the dubious distinction of being the only one to be both crazy and scary.  (Steve Bannon, ranked as merely scary, wants to know why he isn't considered crazy, too).  Aside from being both crazy and scary, he also has suspicious ties to Russia -- all in all, a disaster as National Security Adviser.  We can hope to see him replaced with someone more normal.

It should also be noted that there were four members of the Trump campaign with suspicious Russian ties -- Roger Stone, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn.  Stone and Page were fairly minor figures and are now safely out.  Manafort was campaign manager for a time, but was also forced out and held no role in the Trump Administration.  With the departure of Michael Flynn, the Russia clique appears to be gone.

The bad news is that Steve Bannon is still in the White House, along with Steve Miller.  And, of course, Donald Trump.  Furthermore, Drum has also speculated on Flynn's future career.  With the Heritage Foundation?  CNN as a national security analyst?  RT?  Infowars?  The worse news here is that in some of these forums, he just might still exercise some influence with Trump.

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