Asking Mike Flynn to leave his post as national security advisor must have been one of the most difficult — if not the most difficult — decision that President Donald Trump made during his first month on the job.
Flynn, the military intelligence officer and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was one of the first national security officials to vouch for Trump during the 2016 campaign. His support allowed Trump to brag that he’d earned the endorsement of a legendary terrorist hunter who’d helped bring al-Qaeda in Iraq close to extinction. Trump wavered until the very last minute, despite White House staff barking in his ear to let Flynn go.
Ultimately, Flynn ended up tendering his resignation. The Trump administration hopes Flynn’s dismissal will be the end of the story: now that the cancer (maybe too strong of a word) has been excised from the body, the recovery can begin.
That, of course, is unlikely to happen. Mini-scandals in Washington tend to morph into bigger scandals as more questions are asked, more angles probed, and more lawmakers pine for more investigations looking into more aspects of the story.
And in the case of the Flynn inquiry, the investigation ought to continue.
There are so many unanswered questions that it’s becoming difficult for the administration to keep track of it all. Senator Roy Blunt’s point this morning on CNN that the Senate Intelligence Committee needs to look into the matter is a good one. The American people who shovel their taxpayer money into the federal government deserve to know what exactly is happening behind closed doors. It’s a question of ethics.
It would be tempting to just dismiss the Flynn controversy with Flynn himself. But that would do everyone a disservice and potentially overlook some critical roles that other administration officials may have had in this story. For instance:
- Was Flynn authorized by President Trump himself to talk about policy, including economic sanctions, with the Russian ambassador? Did somebody else in the administration encourage Flynn to talk about sanctions? Or was Flynn freelancing?
- If the Justice Department found out that Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about his discussions with the Russian ambassador in mid-January, why did it take until the end of the month for the department to bring the matter to the White House?
- The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department brought the discovery to White House Counsel Donald McGahn. What did McGahn do with that information once it was presented? Did he immediately inform President Trump (this was Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s explanation, but we’ve learned not to take anything this White House says with much confidence)? Or did he wait a few days?
- If McGahn did inform President Trump immediately and Trump knew about the matter weeks before he asked his national security adviser to resign, why did he tell reporters last weekend that he didn’t know anything about it?
- Was this a Flynn problem or a Trump management problem? In other words, did Flynn take it upon himself to talk to his Russian counterpart, or was he granted too much leeway by the White House? If it’s the latter, what’s to say something like this won’t happen again?
- Can we trust anything that the White House press office says? On the Flynn matter, they were either keeping things under wraps and hoping the press wouldn’t find out or were kept out of the loop.
Mike Flynn turned out to be a big liability for the president. The national security advisor is supposed to help his boss deal with international crises, not become the target of front-page stories for days on end. Trump had no choice but to let Flynn go. This saga, though, will continue in the days and weeks ahead — and hopefully as lawmakers probe what happened here, they’ll get to the bottom of these questions.