Continuing to Unravel
Terry H. Schwadron
Michael T. Flynn and his foreign contacts won’t let us move away from problems in the White House. Time and again, the unwelcome image of the former National Security Adviser pops up amidst questions about wrongdoing of one sort or another.
But then, he’s not alone. Strong testimony before Congress yesterday disclosed that what Flynn and others were doing caught the attention of the intelligence community more than a year ago. John Brennan, the former CIA. director, said in testimony that became concerned enough last year of Russian influence in the Trump campaign — wittingly or unwittingly — that he called both Russian and U.S. officials. Brennan did say that he had no evidence to show as to whether the attempts at influence represented “collusion,” but that formal investigation was warranted. Brennan said let senior members of Congress know last year what he had discovered as well as former President Obama and Mr. Trump.
The Washington Post and NBC also reported that Dan Coats, the current director of national intelligence and the NSA said no when Mr. Trump tried to get them to rebut any collusion arguments. In testimony yesterday, Coats would not address the report, but did not deny it.
By last summer Brennan said he was “convinced” that Russia was engaged in an “aggressive” and “multifaceted” effort to interfere in our election and he believed “there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation” by the FBI. Since the White House is still denying it all, and Republicans luke-warm about more investigation, Brennan’s message was yet a new slap.
Still, for actions alone, the spotlight continues to turn to Flynn as a central figure.
Since he’s not talking publicly, on his behalf, let me say that he is just doing what he needs to do to survive. But he is in legal quicksand over repeated meetings with Russian and Turkish operatives, failures to file as representing foreign interests and his central role in contacts between the Trump efforts and Russians.
At a glance, here are the most recent developments:
· Taking the Fifth. Flynn is bucking a Senate Intelligence Committee subpoena, not only for his testimony but for any documentation he has relating to the full breadth of possible investigation targets. His refusal is legally tenuous, as I understand it, because documents either are or are not subject to Fifth Amendment protections to self-incrimination. Since he has put himself forward as a defender of all things Right, he should not hide behind the subpoena. However, since he clearly must answer to Robert Mueller III at the FBI, perhaps he should do that first.
· Lobbyist. Among the most serious issues to have surfaced recently was that Flynn, working as a lobbyist on behalf of the government of Turkey even as he was advising Mr. Trump as president-elect that he advised against arming Kurds, mirroring the position that the Turkish government held and still holds. There has really been no comment on this by the White House, but it is clear that Mr. Trump continues to be loyal to Flynn.
· Timely admissions or not. Over the last week, it became clear that Flynn had told White House Counsel Don McGahn that he was under investigation in early January, before the inauguration. The White House says they knew nothing. This seems discoverable, of course. Along the way, Gov. Chris Christie, paragon of ethics himself, reminds us that he would not have allowed Flynn to take a White House job. Why didn’t he share this with Vice President Mike Pence or did he?
· Lying about income. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md) came up with evidence that Flynn lied to his Pentagon supervisors about payments from Russia. This is not good for Flynn, clearly, but more importantly, it points up the fact that the transition team didn’t do its job correctly, to say nothing about why it takes the ranking minority member of the House Oversight Committee to nail the details.
· Comey and the President. The dispute in storytelling by James Comey Jr, fired FBI director, and President Trump over whether Mr. Trump asked Comey to lay off Flynn is at the heart of truth-telling difficulties at the White House. Comey was to appear in public testimony before congressional committees, but now that seems to be off until he is fully debriefed by Mueller and the FBI investigators.
When I look at it all at once, it feels as if there should be real urgency in sorting out the details surrounding Flynn and all of his activities. It is clear that he broke norms if not outright laws. It would be helpful to all, including the President, to resolve what is true and what is actionable.
Meanwhile, Flynn’s role continues to touch those around him, in turn raising more questions.
All this leads nowhere good for the White House.
Vice President Pence, for example, is standing by his claims that he did not know that Flynn had been secretly lobbying for the Turkish government until March, despite the report claiming Flynn had actually disclosed to the Trump transition team back in January that he was under a federal investigation. You have to wonder whether Pence didn’t do his job then, or whether he too is so loyal to Flynn — who was fired for lying to the Vice President — that he cannot see the problem.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-Mo.) and John Warner, (D-Va), heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee are considering contempt charges as they push back against Flynn’s lawyers over the refusal to present documents. They are extending subpoenas to two Flynn companies as well.
Meanwhile, everyone in the West Wing is said to be hiring private lawyers for protection in the ever-widening investigation.
Looks as if they all will need lawyers.