Extraordinary stuff from the Washington Free Beacon's Adam Kredo -- a well-sourced, solid reporter who nevertheless leans very heavily on unnamed sources to piece together this scoop. What he's hearing is that a cabal of hardcore supporters of President Obama's reckless and unpopular Iranian nuclear deal set their sights on Gen. Michael Flynn months ago, moving behind the scenes to kneecap someone they've long viewed as a threat to the future of their signature accord. There are a few holes in the tidy narrative of a Machiavellian plot, which we'll get to, but here are the alleged details:
The abrupt resignation Monday evening of White House national security adviser Michael Flynn is the culmination of a secret, months-long campaign by former Obama administration confidantes to handicap President Donald Trump's national security apparatus and preserve the nuclear deal with Iran, according to multiple sources in and out of the White House who described to the Washington Free Beacon a behind-the-scenes effort by these officials to plant a series of damaging stories about Flynn in the national media. The effort, said to include former Obama administration adviser Ben Rhodes—the architect of a separate White House effort to create what he described as a pro-Iran echo chamber—included a small task force of Obama loyalists who deluged media outlets with stories aimed at eroding Flynn's credibility, multiple sources revealed.
...Top members of the Obama administration's national security team have launched a communications infrastructure after they left the White House, and have told reporters they are using that infrastructure to undermine Trump's foreign policy. "It's actually Ben Rhodes, NIAC, and the Iranian mullahs who are celebrating today," said one veteran foreign policy insider who is close to Flynn and the White House. "They know that the number one target is Iran … [and] they all knew their little sacred agreement with Iran was going to go off the books. So they got rid of Flynn before any of the [secret] agreements even surfaced." Flynn had been preparing to publicize many of the details about the nuclear deal that had been intentionally hidden by the Obama administration as part of its effort to garner support for the deal, these sources said...One senior White House official told the Free Beacon that leaks targeting the former official were "not the result of a series of random events."
Let's unpack this a little. It's entirely plausible that some Obama acolytes -- especially Ben Rhodes, who's no stranger to underhanded tactics and misrepresentation -- had it in for Flynn from the get-go. After all, their boss fired him from the Defense Intelligence Agency, leading to a string of very public rebukes of Obama administration policy from the former spy chief. Team Obama was probably horrified that Trump's November victory meant that Flynn would be newly empowered, and it stands to reason that they'd maneuver aggressively to undermine him. That's especially true if they believed he'd be an instrumental voice to unwinding their sacrosanct nuclear pact, the spirit (and, allegedly, the direct terms) of which Tehran has repeatedly violated, according to both Obama and the UN Secretary General. I'm absolutely willing to buy the notion that Rhodes and friends were willing to shovel anti-Flynn dirt to their buddies in the press (Rhodes' calling card is building media "echo chambers") to controversialize their nemesis to the greatest extent possible.
That being said, two points: First, Obama's character hitmen didn't force Flynn to draw a check from a Kremlin propaganda outlet or deceive Vice President Pence about a phone conversation he had with the Russian ambassador. Those were self-inflicted wounds that severely damaged Flynn's credibility -- and they ultimately proved impossible to overcome or outlast. If Rhodes, Inc. laid the groundwork for Flynn's ouster, his own conduct eventually did him in. Second, if there's hidden evidence pertaining to the nuclear deal that the Obama administration had worked hard to suppress, why would Flynn be the only person who could expose it? President Trump was extremely critical of the agreement on the campaign trail, stopping just short of a vow to rip it up upon taking office. If new details were to prove that the accord was even worse for America than it already seems, or that Iran's been cheating, there would be many high-level voices within the administration and Congress calling for a robust response. If the key thrust of the Free Beacon story is true, Trump could throw a few high hard ones at Obama's schemers by (a) going public with the intel that Flynn allegedly wanted to bring to light in a retaliatory move, and/or (b) make sure that Flynn's replacement is also a strong Iran hawk. The staffers behind Obama's failed "Smart Power" foreign policy cannot be allowed to use subterfuge to torpedo Trump's people, or shape Trump's policy, with impunity. Meanwhile, here's Bloomberg columnist and reporter Eli Lake, whose sources are outstanding, making the point that Trump is actually quite right when he complains that an important element of this whole affair is the leaking of information to the press:
It's very rare that reporters are ever told about government-monitored communications of U.S. citizens, let alone senior U.S. officials. The last story like this to hit Washington was in 2009 when Jeff Stein, then of CQ, reported on intercepted phone calls between a senior Aipac lobbyist and Jane Harman, who at the time was a Democratic member of Congress. Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do. Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told me Monday that he saw the leaks about Flynn's conversations with Kislyak as part of a pattern. "There does appear to be a well orchestrated effort to attack Flynn and others in the administration," he said. "From the leaking of phone calls between the president and foreign leaders to what appears to be high-level FISA Court information, to the leaking of American citizens being denied security clearances, it looks like a pattern."
Flynn appears to have sealed his own fate with several ill-advised actions, and it seems legitimate to investigate whether or not he was compromised by the Russian government in any way. But there are two sides to this story, evidently, and neither party should be exempt from suspicions about ulterior motives. Parting thought: Now that Trump is in the market for a new National Security Advisor, is Gen. David Petraeus seriously on his short list? Petraeus is sharp, deeply knowledgeable and incredibly accomplished. But he was also convicted of the crime of mishandling classified material -- which was a central (and entirely deserved) line of attack against Trump's opponent in the general election.
UPDATE - I'll have a few points on the stories that broke last night and early this morning about Trump associates being in contact with Russian intelligence officers during the campaign a bit later. But as Trump seeks to make the leaks the story (and compares the US to Russia again), this is a good, pithy commentary on the Flynn matter from Steve Hayes:
Both. Same intel officials who politicized intel under Obama targeted Flynn. And Flynn made serious errors of judgment on Russia, truth.— Stephen Hayes (@stephenfhayes) February 15, 2017