Posted on February 14, 2017
Houston – we have a problem. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has just resigned his position amidst claims that he had unauthorized contact with Russian diplomats prior to the Trump administration taking office – and then lying about it to the White House. I want to frame this in a way that gets everyone asking the right questions — because this certainly looks bad.
Starting from the beginning – I’m sure we all remember the accusations of the “Russian Election Hacking” in the recent Presidential election. In short, some think that the Russians stole Hillary Clinton’s emails and the DNC emails, although there has not yet been any conclusive evidence of this. Some intelligence agencies are in disagreement about the breadth of the breach, who exactly did it, and why. A general Intelligence Agency report was released to the public asserting that Russian influence in the election was purposeful – mentioning their use of social media trolling among other things. (You really should read the report for yourself – HERE)
In response to this and the loss of the Hillary Clinton campaign for president, the Obama administration became more vocal about Russian influence after the initial hacking report was issued in October of 2016 (SEE HERE) and finally culminated in sanctions instituted against Russia – forcing their diplomats out of the US embassy (SEE HERE). These went into effect on December 29th, 2016. This is where the story gets interesting.
General Michael Flynn placed a phone call to Russian diplomats after engaging in a few text messages on December 29th – the same day the Obama sanctions rolled out. Originally he suggested the phone call was congratulatory in nature and that they only discussed holiday pleasantries. He went as far as to say this to Vice President Mike Pence who later defended Flynn on national television. (SEE INTERVIEW HERE). Why is any of this a big deal? Well it’s technically illegal for any unauthorized citizen of the US to “negotiate” with any foreign actor. I say “technically” because there have never been any cited violations of this act (see Logan Act of 1799) and it is relatively common for presidential candidates and their staff to discuss policy and ideas with foreign leaders. This has been documented HERE and HERE. The FBI investigated Flynn’s phone call via wiretapping and “didn’t find anything illicit.” (FBI STORY HERE) It’s important to understand this because main stream media and many pundits have framed the story in a legal sense rather than a political one. If he did something unequivocally illegal – the FBI and CIA would have flagged him early on. Let’s hope that lying to the White House is all Flynn did. — which is still not good.
However, there is something more pernicious than the possible illegalities — and that is Flynn’s lie is damaging the image of the Trump administration. Flynn appears to have lied to both the President and the Vice President (and thus the country). It seems that the transcript of that phone call was reviewed by the White House on Monday and Flynn resigned the following day. Needless to say, this is red meat to the media and the anti-Trump crowd. I am certainly concerned about it in a political sense and from a security standpoint. Our national security advisor is the chief advisor to the president and literally works inside the White House to assist with security briefs and policy. There should be nearly seamless communication between them – especially considering security was one of Trump’s strongest campaign promises. I am sad to say I do not have all the answers, but I will give you my initial opinions for the record.
My opinion is skeptical – of all of it. The initial “Russian Hacking” of the election was shown not to have any significant influence on the actual election results. The Russians (as well as the Chinese and virtually ever other major player on the world stage) try to hack the United States every day. In 2015 there was a massive cyber attack on the state department email system as well as a massive Chinese hack of the FDIC and other government institutions. All of the accusations of Russian hacking comes at a time of great tumult between the US and Russia for its role in the Syrian controversy. This certainly makes me think the hacking of this type are relatively normal. If the best hacking that the Russians can do is bankroll a few internet trolls for fake news and grab John Podesta’s emails (whose password was literally “password”) I really don’t think there’s cause for heightened concern. We are acting like it’s a new thing that the Russians have tried to undermine the USA — does anyone remember the Cold War?
The situation with Flynn makes me slightly miffed for a few reasons. 1) It makes me question the security of the United States as much or more than I did before. Between the court strike down of the executive order (which I will soon be writing about) – the lack of a National Security Advisor – and the apparent miscommunications of executive agencies and staff – I am not gaining any confidence. It’s important to remember that General Flynn actually worked for the Obama administration as head of the DIA (yes DIA). 2) I am worried about the Trump administration being prone to “leaks”. There have been many “unnamed sources” that contributed to this story and continue to do so. Why is Trump not able to get a handle on this? 3) This will inevitably cause the leftists to say “I told you so” about every anti-Trump narrative under the sun. Just remember that whenever a politician is making outrageous complaints – they probably did the same or worse in the past.
The hysteria surrounding this story can be confusing, but let’s be sure to ask the right questions and view this in context. The Russians are certainly no friend to the United States and never really have been (we were only tacit allies in world war II) – It was bad when Obama tried to negotiate with them leading up to his re-election in 2012 and it’s no better now. The difference is there was very little hysteria when Obama did similar things. So here are the questions to ask.
- Did anything illegal occur?
- Has it happened before?
- If so, what were the results?
- Are we being intellectually honest?
The last point is important – please do yourself a favor and take whatever criticism you have of President Trump and his administration and put the shoe on the other foot. Ask yourself if you would be as upset (or more) if another president did the same thing. It’s important for all sides to do this because it results in a calmer discussion of the topic at hand. People on the right are also guilty of ignoring situations like this one — they should be honest about it and recognize that it isn’t a good thing. In this case – I don’t feel panicked about what this means for the country or think the White House is about to self destruct, but I do think the criticism is valid about how the administration handles leaks, communication, and overall cohesiveness in regards to the President’s mission. Events like this have a negative impact on foreign policy. My most important concern is if the investigation continues and we discover that Flynn did something worse than this — those optics will be extremely hard to control for this administration and it will certainly be a great disappointment.
Let me know what you think.