On Flynn: Did 45 Not Know or Not Care?
by Terry H. Schwadron
Some announcements by Team Trump just make me unhappy. Some make me downright furious because at best they show any lack of judgment, and, at worst, look to make chumps of all of us.
Disclosure that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired last month after lying about his contacts with the Russian government, had been working as a lobbyist and foreign agent for Turkey prompted an immediate headache. Flynn formally registered his lobbyist status with the Justice Department, indicating that he had been acting on behalf of the Turks through the campaign until three days before being named National Security Adviser.
Documents showed that Flynn, a retired Army general, had done lobbying work between August and November 2016 that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey” and was paid at least $530,000 for the work.
Remember, Flynn was fired not because he worked as a then-civilian through the transition period talking with Russians, including the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but because he lied about it to Vice President Mike Pence. For his part, Pence said after the disclosures that it further justified having persuaded the President to fire Flynn.
The FBI is also continuing to probe Flynn’s communications with the Russians as part of a series of investigations by Justice and Congress about Russian influence on the American election.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted on narrowing the question to the filing of the actual paperwork registering Flynn, saying repeatedly that since the papers were just filed, it would have been impossible for the President to know about Flynn’s other work as a lobbyist. What? Flynn was not only the National Security Adviser, he had been under consideration as a Vice Presidential candidate. As the Washington Post summarized, “Michael Flynn’s revelation raised no alarms during the transition, but the former national security adviser’s work potentially benefiting Turkey meant he was representing the interests of a country other than the United States while he was advising Trump on foreign policy during the election.”
Working for Turkey under the current situation is equally troubling all by itself.. Turkey’s help in the war on ISIS, its wobbly status as a full ally while it leans towards closer ties to Russia, Turkey’s role in Middle East politics all make lobbying for Turkey troublesome in a guy who is supposed to be guiding the President’s thinking about international policies.
Forget the fact that this makes Flynn an object of scorn: What are we to make of a President who either knew it and ignored it, or, possibly worse, did not know that his closest adviser was working for a foreign power? Isn’t this just the sort of question at the base of the current investigations of Russian interference? What are we supposed to make of presidential pronouncements about “draining the swamp” of lobbyists?
It gets worse.
The investigative site ProPublica published a report last week about nearly 400 individuals whom Team Trump administration has appointed to executive-branch positions that require no Senate confirmation. Of the total, 36 are registered lobbyists. They include an adviser in Homeland Security who was a lobbyist for defense and Homeland Security contractors; an adviser in Health and Human Services whose lobbying clients were Big Pharma firms; a special assistant in Defense who had been a registered lobbyist for a defense contractor.
This is exactly the kind of situation that Mr. Trump is taking credit for eliminating by barring those whom he is hiring from moving for five years into jobs lobbying at the agencies where they are currently working. Apparently, the opposite does not apply.
Several other of the 400 are people who have fostered right-wing conspiracy theories, including the birther issue for former President Obama, and that Ted Cruz’s father killed John F. Kennedy, all listed by the ProPublica website.
ProPublica’s highlighted appointment of Danny Tiso, at the Department of Labor. Tiso’s LinkedIn page identified him as having graduated from high school in 2015 and an announcement suggested that he would not have been a senior until the 2015–2016 school year. Tiso worked for the Trump campaign in New Hampshire as an event coordinator. His previous work experience consists of four internships.
None of this has anything to do with partisanship or ideology. None of it has to do with jobs or borders or Making America Great or not. Instead, this is about straight-up competence. Trump supporters and critics alike should be able to agree: Do a better job while you’re representing me.