How Can Trump Survive the Fall of Mike Flynn?

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 February 14, 2017|
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National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned Monday in the midst of what looks on the surface to be a fairly overblown scandal. White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Tuesday told reporters President Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation due in part because of the “evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation.” So what happened?

During the transition period between presidential administrations, the retired Army general met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, on behalf of President-elect Trump. At that time, Flynn was tapped to head the National Security Council but was still considered a private citizen. Under the Logan Act, a federal law passed way back in 1799, no private U.S. citizen can conduct diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. government.

Flynn allegedly violated the Logan Act—his accusers say—by discussing with the Russian ambassador certain sanctions the Obama Administration had leveled against Russia over its incursions in Ukraine and Crimea. The meeting was surreptitiously recorded by America’s intelligence services, which they often do whenever Americans meet with foreign persons of interest.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Flynn admits he spoke with the ambassador. The trouble is, he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the details. First Flynn reportedly denied that sanctions had come up in the discussion. Later, after the story made the front page of the Washington Post, Flynn said sanctions might have been mentioned.  But the vice president had already put both his personal reputation and that of his office on the line by publicly defending Flynn when the concerns over his meeting with the Russian ambassador surfaced. The general’s misjudgment threatened to engulf the entire three-week-old administration in scandal.

But there’s more to this than meets the eye. John Schindler, a former National Security Agency analyst, reported in The Observer that unnamed elements of the U.S. intelligence community were revolting against Flynn. The reason had less to do with verifiable intelligence on Flynn and more to do with a disparity in worldviews and the fact that Flynn tends to rub people the wrong way.

“Widely disliked in Washington for his brash personality and preference for conspiracy-theorizing over intelligence facts,” Schindler wrote, “Flynn was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency for managerial incompetence and poor judgment—flaws he has brought to the far more powerful and political NSC.”

That’s one way of looking at it. Here’s another side of the story: when Flynn was in charge of the DIA under President Barack Obama, he instituted a series of highly unpopular administrative reforms. He clashed with the Central Intelligence Agency and his management style was disliked by many within the bureaucracy. He also left the Obama Administration under a cloud of suspicion because of strange ties with Russia, as well as a litany of public comments that ran counter to the Obama Administration’s preferred narrative for national counter-terrorism policy.

In terms of personality: Flynn was an abrasive, brash, and very blunt military man. (Is it any wonder why Trump liked him?) He was not a member of the political or military establishment. He fought his way from the bottom up. Flynn became a strong leader and a key member of the U.S. intelligence community. But, his public pronouncements on Islam and other critical foreign policy issues alienated him from many of his co-workers and Leftist political bosses.While being an outsider has its obvious advantages, it also comes with the constant threat of being beset by enemies. This is precisely what took down Flynn.

With all of these factors in play, Flynn fell on his sword and resigned. In so doing, he likely spared President Trump a long, drawn-out ordeal that would have tested the fledgling administration’s already-constrained ability to govern.

Evidently, word of Flynn’s questionable conversation with the Russian ambassador was shared between the Department of Justice and the White House about a month ago. The Justice Department fretted over the fact that Flynn was open to blackmail from Russia. But, the investigation was conducted under Obama Administration official Sally Yates (the former DOJ official who also declined to enforce the president’s travel moratorium). That strongly suggests it was a partisan endeavor.

Keep in mind, too, that the FBI has stated that no specific sanctions were discussed (and therefore Flynn never violated the Logan Act) in the conversations they recorded between Flynn and the Russian ambassador.

There is no proof that anything nefarious happened. What has happened is that a devoted public servant (who shares a controversial worldview with Donald Trump on national security issues) has removed himself from the president’s circle. He did so, it would seem, to quell the controversy and allow President Trump to do what the people put him in the White House to do.

Now the Left has a their scalp just a few weeks into a rocky new administration. They’ll want more—and soon. On Tuesday morning, the New York Times reported that Flynn’s deputy, K.T. McFarland, was also expected to leave her post.

Since the news broke of Flynn’s resignation, CNN contributors have stepped up their criticism of Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway for “misleading” the press. Also under fire is long-time Trump adviser, Stephen Miller and Michael Anton, the writer of the brilliant “Flight 93 Essay, who is the National Security Council’s communications chief. Anton is viewed by Trump’s Leftist opposition as the leading intellectual for “Trump’s authoritarianism.” Of course, there is also the hatred of Stephen K. Bannon, a man who the Left has transmogrified into the Svengali of the Trump Administration (or, rather, the Trump Administration’s version of Dick Cheney).

The Left is targeting these individuals because they are the most effective leaders in the Trump White House and the ones who promise to change the way things are now done.

For now, retired Army Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, Jr. has been named to replace Flynn as acting National Security Adviser. General Kellogg has served the country with distinction, serving in the Vietnam War, where he earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with “V” device, and the Air Medal with “V” device. Kellogg also served as the Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division from 1997 to 1998 and ended his career as Director of the Command, Control, Communications, and Computers Directorate under the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Kellogg is a fine man and will do his job well. He is but a placeholder until a permanent replacement can be found.

Another name floating around is retired Army General and former Obama CIA Director David Petraeus. Indeed, he is slated to meet with the President today to lobby for the position. Petraeus has the distinction of having saved the U.S. in Iraq (at least until the Obama Administration ruined it). With the desire of President Trump to surge further into Afghanistan, Petraeus’ previous experience in Afghanistan during the Obama Administration would be helpful to the Trump Administration in securing that goal.

Despite the Petraeus record of fine service to his country, his elevation to this position would be a terrible choice.

There is no skating around the fact that Petraeus compromised national security when he shared privileged information with his mistress. If the argument is that General Flynn opened himself up to blackmail by the Russians because of comments he may or may not have made to the Russian ambassador, then it is difficult to see how Petraeus would be a better fit since he almost certainly made himself susceptible to blackmail by having an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Plus, the image of placing Petraeus (a man who wantonly compromised state secrets) as National Security Adviser would send the wrong message. After a contentious election in which President Trump lambasted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not securing state secrets during her tenure at the State Department, it would be nearly impossible to justify Petraeus’ role. After all, he is guilty of the same kind of carelessness as Clinton.

Some other names that have been mentioned are those of retired Navy Admiral Robert S. Harward, Jr. and former NATO chief, retired Navy Admiral James Starvridis. In the case of Starvridis, you have someone who was ardently anti-Trump. Had Hillary Clinton won the election, he was apparently on her shortlist for a cabinet position. Starvridis recently went ballistic over the Trump Administration’s 90-day temporary travel moratorium from seven countries where ISIS is operating. Therefore, his nomination as National Security Adviser would simply be untenable.

Harward, on the other hand, is a retired Navy SEAL and former deputy commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM). He has extensive combat experience and a deep retinue of experiences in combating terrorism. His experience as a Navy SEAL is likely to endear him to the President in the same way that Trump nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke’s did.

Harward is low-key and well-liked by many people. His nomination would likely defuse a tense situation and would certainly change the narrative. Additionally, his years of experience fighting terrorism would play well into the Trump Administration’s overall goal of destroying ISIS and defeating jihadist terrorism globally.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether any of these people will, in fact, be considered as Flynn’s replacement. But, one thing is certain: Mike Flynn has fallen. His resignation is the first major victory that the Left (and most of the GOP-establishment) can claim since Donald Trump announced his bid for the presidency in 2015. It still remains unclear as to whether or not Flynn actually broke the law or lied to the vice president.

What is clear is that he felt that he needed to resign to save the Trump Administration from controversy and distraction over the long haul. It was likely a noble move on his part. Unfortunately, it does not negate the damage that has been done. Since the president was aware of the Justice Department’s concerns about Flynn for a month, the press and hostile members of Congress will demand answers to “what did the president know and when did he know it?”

If the White House is going to move past this, the president needs to nominate a replacement who both shares his tough view on foreign policy but who also doesn’t attract the level of controversy that Flynn did.

The path forward will be difficult. Trump must select a fellow traveler to run the embattled National Security Council. He would do well, however, to select someone who is far more low key than Flynn was. The next days will be crucial.

About the Author:

Brandon J. Weichert
Brandon J. Weichert is a contributing editor to American Greatness. A former Republican Congressional staffer and national security expert, he also runs The Weichert Report, www.theweichertreport.com, an online journal of geopolitics. He holds Master's degree in Statecraft & National Security from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. He is also an Associate Member of New College at Oxford University and holds a B.A. in Political Science from DePaul University. He is currently completing a book on national security space policy due out next year.
  • QET

    “Misleading” is the word people use when they have no basis for impugning someone’s statement other than they disagree with it or in hindsight would the speaker have said it differently. In other words, it is no charge at all. Trump gave them their red meat, their sacrifice. Now he’d better hold the line. It must suck having your nominal party working hand-in-glove with the opposition to discredit everything you do or say right out of the gate. The sheer stupidity of it all beggars belief. Trump may indeed turn out to be the disaster all these people keep insisting he will be, but if he does, it will be impossible to know with certainty whether it was his own character or incompetence that failed or whether he was simply driven to failure by this pack of hyenas busy tearing the meat from his bones.

  • jack dobson

    Come, now. The illegal coup the Democrats, Establishment Republicans and Administrative State pulled against Lt. Gen. Flynn merely illustrates this is an all-out war. The slimy, criminal elements of the Deep State can unlawfully intercept and disseminate a telephone conversation, but how many divisions do they control? Who controls the Department of Justice?

    The Trump DOJ just needs to take some big scalps. There is no reason a few Obama holdovers can’t spend the rest of their lives in a prison cell. Put some Never Trumpers in the dock to put the point on it.

  • AEJ

    I appreciate the facts presented in this piece, and the analysis in the second part of it of potential replacements. But the first part seems a little over the top (as does the Title but seeing as another contributor here has said he didn’t select the title for his past piece, maybe BW doesn’t ‘own’ this one).
    Disclaimer:
    I like M Flynn. He’s addressed some important and relevant things, and his service is appreciated. However, he made a fatal mistake and he has to own that, and pay the price. That’s now done.
    This incident is not some catastrophe to be survived. This is a slight bump in the road. Now we just need to Stay Calm and Carry On.
    There are sharks to be sure, thinking they’ve found blood in the water but who doesn’t know those sharks are everywhere, and hasn’t known for a long time? DJT? He knows most of all. But there’s no blood here. No whole ‘body’ to be consumed. However, if someone throws some blood into the water, then the sharks will surely be attracted. So don’t get semi-hysterical and offer the Left (and Conservative, Inc) something that smells like Fear. KC&CO.
    Gen Flynn didn’t ‘sacrifice’ himself to ‘save’ DJT. He wounded himself. Poor judgment at minimum with his actions. Seems he went a bit rogue, and then, wasn’t exactly honest about that.
    This can’t be tolerated. Trust is imperative, especially when you need to delegate. On top of that, look at the awful position it put Pence, Conway, and others in. I’d be angry if that were done to me.
    We didn’t elect DJT to be ‘Pope; infallibility isn’t expected. What we need is Trust. Trust in gov’t, which has been SEVERELY eroded for decades. Trust that, as DJT promised, he will do what is best for We the People. AMERICA first. Not Gov’t, or any Admin, or _____. I see confirmation in this. Flynn acted poorly; he was ‘fired’. Simple concept. He’s not a law unto himself, no one is, nor should be treated as such (that includes Judges as well…)

    I don’t see how anyone could think, after following DJT for all these months, that he opts for Loyalty over what is right for the country. He’s also shown that he’s not stubborn beyond reason, Nor do I think he was/is naive about the DOJ, FBI, etc. and potential enemies trying to thwart. All he had to do (and I’m sure he did!) to learn the truth was read for himself what was said, and form a judgment, and make a decision. Done. Now we KC&CO.
    Finally: a good sign when someone sees they may have been wrong and steps away rather than trying to ‘always look right and always come out clean’. Trump knows (do we?) that no one is infallible; risks and missteps comes with being human but recognizing early and rectifying is paramount.
    A little NB about DJT on this in the ‘Real’ world: he was a bidder on the Manhattan site that became the Time Warner Center. He was outbid and afterwards he said he was relieved because he realized it would have been a mistake as costs would make the project a money drain. The TW Center ended up being built for about $2B (nearly twice projected) and was sold recently for $1.3B.
    BTW, he also warned in advance when seeing the plans for the Javits Center that the roof would leak. It did. (They built a giant diaper for a solution afterwards…)

  • Sam McGowan

    § 953. Private correspondence with foreign governments.
    Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
    This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply himself, or his agent, to any foreign government, or the agents thereof, for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

    This is the full text of the Logan Act. Whether General Flynn violated it is debatable, but proving he did would be as impossible as proving that Hillary Clinton deliberately violated national security with her personal Email server. NO ONE has ever been convicted under the Logan Act.

    What happened with General Flynn can be laid at the feet of three men – Barrack Obama, John Brennan and Mike Morrell. They hate Trump and they hate Flynn, and they all were Clinton supporters (Brennan not publically) and Obama and Brennan had access and control of the recordings. That Sally Yates got involved is a good indication of their complicity. President Trump made a grave mistake by asking General Flynn to resign. He’s now lost credibility and has caused morass among those of us who supported him. As for General Petraeus, there should never have been an investigation. It was the result of a highly-connected socialite using her personal relationship with an FBI agent to coerce him into conducting an investigation, during which the relationship between the general and Col. Paula Broadwell was discovered. Examination of Col. Broadwell’s personal computer found classified information that she had “no need to know” even though she had the proper security clearances.

    I have no idea who President Trump will chose to replace General Flynn. Whfat I do know is that hope in him is gone. We can expect more “revelations” from Deep State operatives in the future. They’ll probably come up with a photo(shopped) of Bannon having intercourse with a goat and Conway with a donkey – and Democrats will jump with glee.

    • The content of that law runs completely contrary to the first amendment of the US Constitution. If I go to any Embassy in the United States of America with signs that protest laws or customs in that country – am I in violation of the Logan act? If I meet a foreign diplomat at a dinner party and try to convince them to change their laws to make them accord with the universal principles of the Declaration of Independence (even though some American laws don’t) – am I in violation of the Logan act? If I express disagreement with US government policy to foreigners – am I in violation of the Logan Act? If so – this is a ridiculous law – it should be revised or gotten rid of. It sounds like the Alien and Sedition Acts.

      This entire event simply shows how little freedom Americans have – if Flynn can get fired for having a casual conversation as a private citizen with a foreign diplomat – then what does that tell us?

      This is a standard of conduct I would expect in Putin’s Russia – where many relics of Soviet times remain, not of the United States. It just demonstrates which civilization is making progress and which is regressing. The West is – despite the election of President Trump – clearly still regressing. We can only pray President Trump is made of sterner stuff and does not start firing more of his best people.

  • Doug Gebhart

    Michael Hayden, for the short-term. Then Gates or Rice. Just for two years. Bannon, Conway, etc. Need to hide in a cave. PS. Bolton for McFarland to destroy the leakers. PPS. We also need some distractions. Pompeo fire some hi-level folks at the CIA in a “re-structuring” Trump fire all the AGW crowd at EPA and NOAA who should have known about falsifying of data. Find some damaging HRC data and leak it out.

  • msher_1

    Disagree with author re Flynn. Flynn lied to public and then to Pence and thereby Trump and let Pence put himself out there to tell Flynn’s version (one call, no sanctions discussed) and thereby wreck his own credibility. Regardless of whether there was or wasn’t anything wrong with Flynn’s phone calls and irrespective of the Intel Community’s very disturbing actions and war against him, he lied to the public and apparently to his his bosses and created huge trouble for them. He cannot be trusted and he had to go. I would have fired him the moment I learned of his lie. If Trump knew of his lies but waited to fire him, that was huge misjudgment on Trump’s part.

    Furthermore, Flynn knew his calls were taped. (Even I as merely a hobby reader of espionage practices know calls of foreign gov’t personnel are bugged.) To lie about the number and subject of the calls puts into question his judgment. Duck the questions or be truthful about multiple calls but vague on subject matter and no disprovable denials. In their outrage at the Intel agencies, and their (legitimate) concern, most Trump supporters are overlooking Flynn’s bad judgment and the question of whether he can be trusted. No not after skunking Pence and telling dispovable lies to the public. And if Trump actually knew, this was bad management on his part.

    I am a Trump supporter, not a troll. I want him to succeed. His policies have been superb, but his management of staff, communication and roll outs has been full of errors. He needs to do better Actually, I think it’s a chief of staff who is in charge of much. I’m questioning what Preibus is doing and whether he is in fact acting as a chief of staff. Either Trump is not letting him do his job, he is not competent to do the job or he is sabotaging. (Never forget his closes ties to Ryan and the GOPe.)

  • This is so predictable. And now of course CNN is running articles about how many of Trump’s other aids etc were “in contact” with the Russians. This is nothing but a calculated attempt by elements in the GOP who are determined to deepen tensions with Russia to derail any attempt by the President to ease those tensions.

    Letting Flynn go was a mistake and it predictably leads to pressure to hunt more “Russian agents” in the Trump administration all in the interest of proving that the President is himself the biggest of “Russian agents.”

    Trump will now begin bleeding slowly – he should not have hacked off one of his limbs and hoped for the best.

    • Peter

      I agree. I am disappointed by this as the left now smells blood.

  • Brother John the Deplorable

    Whenever you hear “embattled,” “constrained,” or some other word that sounds like Trump can’t control his team — to the extent that he has one! — the person speaking or writing is using a word that translates to, “we’re trying hard to destroy him for good…,” in much the way way “controversial” means something leftists, Marxists, or Democrats hate and don’t understand.

  • Sandy Daze

    Are you referring to:

    Vice Admiral Robert S. Harward, USN
    Deputy Commander, U.S. Central Command
    http://www.navy.mil/navydata/bios/navybio.asp?bioID=338
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f45550a009c7c5e00184735530e81d7ad15960620c14379f02ff315a658a2211.jpg

    If so, you might want to ensure you get the biographic details, particularly the correct spelling of the Admiral’s name, correct. Just a thought.

    A key aspect of VADM Harward’s career was that he was Deputy to then-Commander, CENTCOM, James Mattis. The connection between the men would be an important consideration for NSC-DoD relations.

    • Brandon Weichert

      As I stated in my radio interview on this article, my autocorrect changed it last minute. By the time I realized that it had done this, the editors had already published the article. As for my biographical points: everything I said about the Vice-Admiral was accurate. And, yes, I am fully aware of Admiral Harward’s connection with Mattis. It’s one of the many reasons why I support him. Part of Making America Great Again means having a coordinated national security apparatus–particularly when Trump’s nat sec team wants to introduce vital reforms and enact key policies that the Left and more Establishment GOP’ers would oppose.

      • Sandy Daze

        Beating the horse…

        I recall something about a craftsman and his tools, how did that colloquialism go again …?
        ~~
        As to the “biographical points” I did not dispute anything you said, I highlighted a particular aspect of the Mattis-Harward relationship–an aspect not included in your analysis–in an effort to add greater fidelity to the discussion, presumably one of several reasons for a comment section.
        ~~
        Don’t get me wrong, I want a “coordinated national security apparatus” as much as you do, perhaps more, having devoted a good part of my life being part of that apparatus. Let me ask about standards, accuracy, responsibility, and accountability. Do you think that an acceptable response for a SEAL or a MARINE coming off the range would be, “Yeah, I squeezed the trigger correctly, on target, but the laser designator messed my shots up.”

        Is the SEAL or MARINE responsible for the firing of that weapon ? Is the SEAL or MARINE who pulls the trigger accountable for errant shots, regardless of circumstance?

        Or, does the SEAL or MARINE blame the range instructor, the equipment ?

        MAGA

  • Mark Pulliam

    The sharks smell blood in the water and are circling. The Trump administration needs to regroup quickly. No more missteps.

  • CPT

    I have concerns about how Flynn was toppled — apparently by a cabal of Obama administration leakers and the Democratic-aligned media — but am glad to see him gone. The guy was gunning for a war with Iran from Day 0, and we did not elect Trump just to repeat Bush and Obama’s failed wars in the Middle East.

  • Bad Wolf

    If Trump was in any doubt about the need to establish control over the national security agencies and their agendas, he is disabused of that notion. Forces within the agencies backstabbed Flynn but for Trump forewarned is forearmed. Trump needs to be very thoughtful about who he puts in charge of the agencies and putting together a strategy to purge the agencies of independent political agendas especially from Obama loyalists and old cold warriors determine to resurrect the cold war they grew up in.

    Russia is not the core challenge internationally. China is the core challenge internationally. Fools overplaying our hand against Russia have driven Russia into the arms of China – putting advanced Russian arms especially anti-aircraft weapons into Chinese hands and reversing the great accomplishment of Nixon and Kissinger in separating Russia from China. Lots of stuff for Trump to do.

  • Sandy Daze

    Now that Harward is hopefully out–I had forgotten until late this afternoon his involvement in the Tampa Bay Honey Trap–let us hope it is not petraeus; would rather seen Keane, Kellogg, or Bolton, or perhaps another (not Starvridis either, v smart man, but a never-Trumper). I got a bad sense about Harward last night when I saw how happy Tommy “Dude” Veitor was to see Harward considered. I had forgotten until this afternoon:
    https://s18.postimg.org/d7zt7s015/1562565551422460450.jpg
    Jill Kelley e-mails depict a striving Tampa socialite and a smitten military brass

    FTA:
    After another social event, she wrote a similar mash note to Mattis’s deputy, Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward. “What a Leader you were to these heads of State,” she enthused. “You ROCK!!!”