UPDATE - Hmm, this sounds a bit ominous, coming from a guy who's in a position to know what might be working its way through the pipeline:
Ranking Dem on House Intel Committee: "Flynn's conversations with the Russians are only the beginning."https://t.co/Ew1giTbU4F— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) February 14, 2017
Just to be clear, the journalists who peppered the Speaker of the House Tuesday morning with questions about the resignation of Gen. Michael Flynn on Monday night were just doing their jobs. This is the story of the day, and rightly so. The president's hand-selected National Security Advisor was forced out of his post after it was revealed that he'd misled the Vice President about the nature of a back-channel discussion with a top Russian official; he'd done so knowing full well that questions about his ties to Russia had been dogging him, and by extension his boss, for months. As I wrote last night when this story broke, the White House had little choice but to basically can the guy. Distorting the truth to Pence on such a sensitive topic, which then caused Pence to unintentionally promulgate a provable falsehood to the public, simply could not be permitted to stand. The Russian context also made the initial distortion criminally stupid (albeit probably not criminal, as some have suggested). In the clip below, Speaker Ryan says that President Trump did the right thing by requesting and accepting Flynn's letter of resignation, but is that what happened?
This appears to be the first time someone is saying Trump asked for the resignation. His aides insisted he didn't https://t.co/i5EGpSymbX— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) February 14, 2017
During an interview hours earlier on NBC’s “Today," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said that Flynn resigned voluntarily. "The President is very loyal. He’s a very loyal person. And by nighttime, Mike Flynn had decided it was best to resign. He knew he became a lightning rod, and he made that decision," she said.
Conway, of course, had also insisted that Flynn enjoyed Trump's "full confidence" mere hours before he fell on his sword under mounting pressure, so take that for what it's worth. On the other hand, there's this, from a Politico reporter:
Bannon told Flynn to resign this weekend. Flynn called number of Trump aides, confidantes and "realized he was not supported," source says.— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) February 14, 2017
It's possible that neither side is really wrong here. Trump may not have explicitly demanded the resignation, but if his top people were making it clear to Flynn that he wasn't welcome anymore (Vice President Pence and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus were reportedly furious over the incident), the message was unequivocally delivered. And based on the results, it was obviously received, too. The precise tick-tock on how this all went down will be reported out over a number of days, and it's certainly an interesting storyline to follow. If the president decided to cut a longtime ally loose because he'd effectively lied to and embarrassed the Vice President, that's a leader making the right call by standing up for his second-in-command and demonstrating that such conduct will not be tolerated within his team. But what's more interesting to me is this important nugget from the Washington Post:
The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials said. The message, delivered by Sally Q. Yates and a senior career national security official to the White House counsel, was prompted by concerns that Flynn, when asked about his calls and texts with the Russian diplomat, had told Vice President-elect Mike Pence and others that he had not discussed the Obama administration sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, the officials said.
Was Flynn only "potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail" because he hadn't told Pence the truth on this specific point, or was there a fear that he was also compromised in some other way? (See update above). If so, was that concern not deemed credible, given that Flynn wasn't promptly sidelined or relieved of his duties? Why not? What else might he have discussed in his fateful phone conversation with the Russian ambassador? Remember, Gen. Flynn isn't the first person in Trump's high-level orbit to be forced out under a swirl of questions about Kremlin connections. We linked to this piece by former NSA official John Schindler yesterday, but you should probably read it again. Between Flynn, Manafort, the DNC hacks, and the US intelligence community's assessment that Moscow sought to influence the 2016 election, something stinks here. If this were a Democratic administration, conservatives would be thunderously demanding investigations. They'd be right. Partisan tribalism should not prevent the US government from making sure that Russia isn't in the process of penetrating our politics. If this is all overblown nonsense (reminder: Russia did not "hack the vote" and make Trump president), and the DOJ revelation is Sally Yates' politicized revenge, we can and should put the whole episode in the rearview mirror. But Americans need the truth on this. The FBI and Senate Intelligence Committees are in the process of ascertaining it. Which brings us back to Paul Ryan, who was right to decline to pre-judge the situation with serious probes afoot. In the clip below, you can tell that the Speaker was fully anticipating an onslaught of queries about the Flynn saga, but you'll notice the tail end of an unrelated statement the very beginning of the Q&A session:
Ryan and his House Republican colleagues held this event to communicate their progress and approach on repealing and replacing Obamacare, which is a priority to millions of voters. The goal of this presser was to try to drive the news cycle with clear, smart messaging. But the Flynn imbroglio eclipsed all else. Indeed, as of this writing, every top search result on YouTube from today's media availability features the Speaker's comments and answers about Flynn; Obamacare got totally buried. The current ongoing sense of perpetual upheaval and controversy at the White House -- which is perhaps overblown by the press, but not entirely invented by it -- is hobbling the agendas of both the president and his key Hill allies. Lurching from one PR crisis to another may rally the base for awhile, but at some point, it looks like chaotic incompetence even to voters who've decided to give Trump a chance. This president campaigned on the basis that he's an excellent manager and leader. He must know that he needs to get his White House in order, sooner rather than later.