Caught in a national security lie, Michael Flynn is on the chopping block
Trump National Security Advisor and conspiracy theory enthusiast Michael Flynn lied when he said he never spoke to Russia's ambassador about lifting sanctions prior to Trump's installation in the White House. Democrats on the House Intelligence committee are calling for his suspension and for his security clearance to be revoked.
As the Washington Post reports, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn himself seems to realize he has been caught (emphasis mine):
National security adviser Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials, current and former U.S. officials said.
Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election.
Flynn on Wednesday denied that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak. Asked in an interview whether he had ever done so, he twice said, “No.”
On Thursday, Flynn, through his spokesman, backed away from the denial. The spokesman said Flynn “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
Flynn’s new denial sounds a lot less like political strategy than it does like a legal one, which makes sense given the pressure that Democrats are bringing to bear by demanding investigations of Trump’s Russia ties. The Post also reports that Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak predated Trump’s November 8 popular election loss.
In furtherance of the Democrats’ pressure, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) introduced a resolution seeking a vote on Trump’s “conflicts, ethics violations + Russia ties,” and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) issued a statement on this new report, in context with Flynn’s security clearance:
If this new report is accurate, it raises grave questions about whether General Flynn was dishonest with the American people, whether he misled his own White House colleagues, or whether White House officials knew about his secret dealings with Russia and misled the public themselves. To this day, General Flynn refuses to disclose how much he was paid when he had dinner with Vladimir Putin in apparent violation of the Constitution’s ban on foreign emoluments. Last week, we asked Chairman Chaffetz to obtain General Flynn’s security clearance application and any updates, and now there is more urgency for the Oversight Committee to make this request. If this new report is true, we need to ask not only whether General Flynn should be leading our national security efforts, but whether he should even hold a security clearance.
As Cummings points out, the Post report has put Vice President Mike Pence in the hot seat for repeating Flynn’s denials on television, from which the administration is distancing itself by noting that Pence relied only on Flynn’s word. A more troubling sign that Shareblue flagged at the time was Pence’s preemptively lawyerly response to the question of whether any Trump aides or associates had been in contact with Russia during the campaign.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement, in which he is equally adamant about what the consequences ought to be if the report is correct:
The allegation that General Flynn, while President Obama was still in office, secretly discussed with Russia’s ambassador ways to undermine the sanctions levied against Russia for its interference in the Presidential election on Donald Trump’s behalf, raises serious questions of legality and fitness for office. If he did so, and then he and other Administration officials misled the American people, his conduct would be all the more pernicious, and he should no longer serve in this Administration or any other.
Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee and the ranking member on the CIA oversight subcommittee, was also firm on the urgency of the issue:
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) February 10, 2017
These past and present troubles come against a backdrop of withering public opinion toward Russia, with a brand-new PPP poll showing just 13 percent of Americans with a favorable view of Russia, versus 63 percent unfavorable.
As the net tightens around Team Trump and Russia, and the fragile web of mutual support between administration figures collapses, there is little public support for Trump, Pence, Flynn, and company to fall back on. Accountability is coming, and Republicans will soon be forced to choose whether to stand with an administration that cannot even stand with each other, or to side with the American people.