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.