Does Mike Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor for lying represent a change of heart in the Trump White House? Tired of grumbling at CNN, did the notorious late-night channel surfer switch over to the classic movie channel in time to catch Big Daddy on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof declaim “the powerful and obnoxious odour of mendacity…[that] smells like death”. Has the new president -- struggling in the polls, under siege by an invigorated press, losing court battles at a faster clip than he managed as a property developer -- experience an epiphanic realisation that only the truth can set him free?
The answers, in order: “no”; “almost certainly not”, and “hell no!”.
Mike Flynn, like so many eight year olds before him, has found himself in trouble not for fibbing as much as for being caught His pre-inauguration phone conversations with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s Ambassador to the US, which we now know included a nod and a wink over Trump’s stance on sanctions, would have slid unnoticed between history’s shelves had it not become clear federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, knew exactly what was said. Ironically, it was Sally Gates, the Acting Attorney General, who most recently alerted Team Trump that Flynn was lying about his Kislyak calls, and that this put him at risk of blackmail. Ironic because Yates herself was fired some days later for refusing, on constitutional grounds, to impose the President’s Muslim ban -- a view upheld unanimously by a succession of federal judges. Truth also carries a price tag.
It seems odd, if not disqualifying in itself, that Mike Flynn, National Security Advisor until yesterday and a former Director of National Intelligence under Obama, wouldn’t be alert to the near-certainty his calls would be wiretapped and transcribed. They dutifully were. Reckless or naive, Flynn assured Vice President Mike Pence no mention of the sanctions took place between him and Putin’s emissary, a falsehood Pence repeated ad nauseum on Sunday talk-shows. Forcing the Veep to lie on his behalf, it seems, was the straw that broke the camel’s back -- and not the act of lying or the underlying collusion with Moscow. The White House knew from day one that Flynn had told porkies about the Russia calls; according to the New York Times, the transcripts were circulating as early as December. Flynn’s crime was neither lying nor coddling with foreign dictatorships -- it was failing to cover his traces on both counts. Is there anyone who doubts that, had Flynn got away with it, Trump would have happily kept him close, even knowing what we know now?
Mike Flynn is a loose cannon at the best of times, which explains why Trump offered him the plum National Security Advisor role, perhaps the most senior job in government outside of White House Chief of Staff that doesn’t require Senate confirmation. Senate hearings for Flynn would have been a trainwreck, given the General’s checkered past (Obama fired him), outlandish views (especially on Islam), and widespread hostility towards him on both sides of the aisle. His fondness for Putin’s regime in particular would have had Republican Senators like John McCain and Lindsay Graham gleefully send Flynn packing.
There’s an excruciating video doing the rounds of Flynn at an election rally leading chants to “lock up” Hillary for hosting a home-based email server -- a dumb move, sure, but many rungs below holding secret talks with the Russians about lifting sanctions while Obama still sat in the Oval Office. Treason is such a harsh word, but my thesaurus is failing me.
It won’t help Trump’s “nothing to see here” posture on Russia more generally. Many questions remain, and the President (once again thanks to Russia hawks McCain and Graham) won’t get a free pass from Congress. What’s more, the notorious dossier compiled by a former British Intelligence official won’t go away. In recent days, calls logged in the report have been verified by US intelligence officials, giving additional credence to its claims. The more salacious aspects (unsuited to a family publication) remain fanciful, but the substance of the dossier -- that the Trump camp was actively colluding with Moscow to damage Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances -- is far from disproven. He could have done with Mike Flynn, whose affection for Putin is second only to Trump’s. He would have been a useful ally in pushing back against what promises to be a slow-moving avalanche of awkward revelations.