The first political casualty of the Trump White House could be former Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway asserted Flynn retains the full confidence of the president during an interview on MSNBC Monday afternoon. But Flynn remains the subject of intense scrutiny for possibly misleading Vice President Mike Pence, and the White House appeared initially cautious to mount a robust defense of the former general over the weekend.
“President Trump should fire Flynn to lance the boil . . . This episode does not stand alone.”
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Media outlets first reported on Friday that Flynn may have spoken to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, before Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
While that is not forbidden — especially for an incoming national security figure — discussing the sanctions that former President Obama placed upon Russia could be a violation of a law passed in 1799.
The Logan Act forbids negotiations between private U.S. citizens and foreign leaders. The law has never been used — not once — and certainly never against a top incoming White House official.
However, threatening to use the law against people is old political hat.
In 2015, liberal activists wanted to see 47 Republican senators prosecuted for writing an open letter to Iranian leaders. Republicans responded by reminding Democrats that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in April 2007, allegedly to defy President George W. Bush on Syrian policy.
But the real danger for Flynn runs deeper than an obscure law governing talks with foreign leaders. Trump and Pence are reportedly unhappy that they were given misleading information about the call, which took place on Dec. 29, the same day Russia got hit with sanctions.
Flynn was part of the transition team, and had been chosen as Trump’s national security adviser. However, he had no official authority to deal with Russia at the time.
Flynn initially said he did not speak to Russian officials about lifting the sanctions once Trump took office. Pence, following that information, denied that Flynn had spoken to the Russian ambassador about sanctions during interviews on Sunday morning shows on Jan. 15, just days before the inauguration.
But it was reported on Friday that the FBI allegedly had a transcript of Flynn calls with Russian officials.
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Flynn then changed his story, saying he is not sure if sanctions were discussed.
On Friday, Flynn made at least two phone calls to Pence.
The disclosure compounds mounting problems for Flynn. One of his top lieutenants was effectively dismissed from the National Security Council Friday when the CIA declined to give him the highest clearance.
For Republicans, it seems as if Flynn, long troubled by charges he lacks the experience and temperament to head the NSC, could be losing the confidence of the White House. Some observers believe that has already happened.
“President Trump should fire Flynn to lance the boil,” said Robert Kaufman, an expert on the Middle East and a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University. “Flynn misleading the vice president on such a vital matter is bad enough. Worse, this episode does not stand alone, but appears to be emblematic of Flynn’s less-than-steady judgement. Flynn has already eroded — probably beyond repair — his credibility.”
Flynn’s critics are many. He is seen as too close to Russian leaders, and dismissive of the Russian threat to the West.
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Flynn, the former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was reportedly dismissed by President Obama in 2014 for a lack of management finesse.
He became a top critic of Obama’s war on the Islamic State, and often derided Islamic jihadism as a cancer within the religion. Trump took notice of Flynn and his tough talk on ISIS, and hired him for his campaign.
Speaking last year to LifeZette, Flynn criticized the Obama administration for often announcing war strategies and attacks on ISIS and al-Qaida before operations began. Flynn told LifeZette he wanted a more stealth approach to attacking ISIS.
But during the campaign, Trump critics noted that Flynn attended a luncheon with Russian President Vladimir Putin to honor Russia Today, a Russian television network that operates in the United States. RT is often criticized as pro-Kremlin propaganda.
Flynn also had a prolific pro-Trump Twitter account that once suggested Democrat Hillary Clinton was guilty of sex crimes.
Hill Democrats dislike Flynn, and several Democrats in the House have already called for an investigation into what Flynn told the Russian ambassador — the issue could turn into a costly distraction for the administration’s agenda.
Now the suggestion that Flynn may have spoken to Russia about lifting sanctions before he was sworn in may be the last straw for the Trump administration.
“In any other Republican administration, Flynn would be gone,” said Kaufman, a conservative-leaning author. “President Trump has enough opposition as it is. Don’t give the Democrats ammunition when you can avoid it. Whether President Trump realizes this or doubles down in support of Flynn is the question. Firing Flynn now will spare him much trouble later.”