The President and his aides may have thought that former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s resignation would clear up the Trump Administration’s troubles. But it seems, less than a day later, that troubles may be just beginning – for everyone involved.
According to the New York Times and the Washington Post, the FBI interviewed Flynn during the first week of Trump’s administration about his pre-inaugural conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislya. At issue — whether Flynn was making promises to the dignitary in violation of the Logan Act, which prevents private citizens from negotiating with foreign countries.
It turns out those FBI investigators came away believing that Flynn may have lied when he denied discussing U.S. sanctions with Russian officials. The investigators were reportedly able to draw on transcripts of Flynn’s and the Russian ambassador’s conversation, which was wiretapped by U.S. spies doing routine surveillance of foreign diplomats.
If it turns out Flynn did mislead the FBI, as he did with the Vice President, he could be facing criminal charges — and that could lead investigators to wonder how long Donald Trump’s closest aides knew Flynn was keeping a secret.
According to Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Trump and others knew for weeks that Flynn was a problem and conducted their own internal assessment before determining that Flynn couldn’t be trusted. But that begs the question of what the White House’s own inquiry ultimately turned up, and what the White House’s timeline on Flynn actually looked like.
Flynn was named national security adviser in November. By December, it seems that Russia was playing nicer with the incoming administration than it was with the outgoing one. Allegations of Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador emerged around January 10th, and on January 19th, acting Attorney General Sally Yates, as well as other influential members of the intelligence community, told Trump that Flynn could be a national security risk as his mendacity made him vulnerable to blackmail by Russia.
But even with all the information at his disposal, it was almost a month before Trump took action, and only then, because either Flynn or Vice President Pence was lying.
And he didn’t take action, at least publicly, over a broken law or an unsavory act: the President said Flynn had merely “eroded” his trust. It may be no wonder that the intelligence community is reportedly avoiding giving sensitive information to anyone who wields power in the White House.
In the meantime, Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s top aides, is handling a Flynn-related controversy of her own. On Sunday, she told the media that Flynn had the “full confidence” of the President — a full-throated defense of Flynn from a White House official. But she was quickly proven wrong, not just by Flynn himself, but by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who previewed Flynn’s resignation late Monday.
With her own ethics questions looming, the confusion may indicate that Conway is out of Trump’s inner circle.
At the same time, Priebus now appears to be under attack from confidantes of chief strategist Steve Bannon, leading sources close to the White House to believe that Trump’s Oval Office has dissolved into a civil war.
And as all this dissolves, President Trump is making a top priority that White House leaks are quickly plugged up before any more unsavory information gets out to media.
Good luck at that.