Flynn Flap Brings Out Long GOP Knives for Trump

Hawkish, neocon Sens. McCain, Graham, and Blunt rush to use incident to undermine the president

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 14 Feb 2017 at 6:25 PM

After former National Security Adviser Gen. Michael T. Flynn resigned from his post Monday evening, it didn’t take long for a few relentless Republican critics of President Donald Trump use the incident to undermine the administration.

Flynn announced his resignation after leaked details indicated he misled Vice President Mike Pence after he pressed Flynn concerning a call with a Russian official before Trump’s inauguration. At the time, Flynn told Pence that he had not discussed the topic of U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador. Flynn’s resignation was all it took for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to run to the microphones to critique Trump.

“However, since the GOP Establishment and Trump never got married, it would be silly to call this a divorce. But there is no love lost between the two.”

“If somebody in the administration is subject to being blackmailed, I think that’s something I’d like to know about,” Graham told CNN’s Kate Bolduan Tuesday. “I think if the shoe were on the other foot we’d want to know the answers to these questions. Did Gen. Flynn act alone?”

“I want to know, did Gen. Flynn do this by himself or was he directed by somebody to do it?” Graham asked.

In his resignation letter, Flynn wrote that he had “inadvertently briefed the Vice President-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador.” During Tuesday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer said that “what this came down to was a matter of trust” and insisted that Flynn did nothing “that was a violation of any sort.”

Nevertheless, Graham, McCain, and Blunt smelled the blood and began ramping up their attacks, using Flynn’s phone call to Russia to insist there may be more to the story.

“Maybe Gen. Flynn went rogue, but that’s a question I’d need to know more,” Graham said. “I think most Americans have a right to know whether or not this was a Gen. Flynn rogue maneuver, or was he basically speaking for somebody else in the White House?”

Graham offered no evidence to support his speculation.

For his own part, Blunt went so far as to call for a thorough investigation into the Trump administration’s ties with the Russian government.

“I think everybody needs that investigation to happen,” Blunt told KTRS radio. “And the Senate Intelligence Committee … that I serve on, has been given the principal responsibility to look into this, and I think we should look into it exhaustively so that at the end of this process, nobody wonders whether there was a stone left unturned, and shouldn’t reach conclusions before you have the information that you need to have to make those conclusions.”

Blunt added that Flynn was due for a severe and exhaustive bout of questioning with the Senate Intelligence Committee following his resignation.

“What did [Flynn] know? What did he do? And is there any reason to believe that anybody else knew that and didn’t take the kind of action they should have taken?” Blunt said.

McCain, an especially vocal critic of Trump, said in a statement that Flynn’s resignation was “a troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus.”

“Gen. Flynn’s resignation also raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia, including statements by the president suggesting moral equivalence between the United States and Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, threats to our NATO allies, and attempted interference in American elections,” McCain said.

But the three Establishment-aligned GOP senators were not alone in their quest delegitimize Trump's administration over Flynn's misstep. The mainstream media seemed particularly thrilled to pounce on Flynn's talks with Russia and use them as evidence to bolster their narrative that Trump is in cahoots with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Right now, the political and media Establishment is coming across as the heavies in this story," Craig Shirley, a Reagan biographer and presidential historian who wrote the upcoming book, "Reagan Rising," told LifeZette in an email. "However, since the GOP Establishment and Trump never got married, it would be silly to call this a divorce. But there is no love lost between the two."

McCain and Graham, two of Trump's most consistent GOP Establishment detractors throughout the presidential campaign, have much to gain from discrediting Trump — both senators curry influence in Washington as the leading purveyors of neoconservative, interventionist foreign policy. Neither of them voted for Trump and both largely have refrained from offering even the sparsest of praise for Trump following his Election Day victory.

And the three senators seem hell-bent on assuming that Flynn's misleading comments made to Pence concerning the nature of his phone call could to lead to larger, darker ties — and implicate Trump in the web of deception, as well. In this matter, McCain, Graham, and Blunt seem to have aligned themselves with the Democrats' attempts to undermine Trump.

"Flynn's departure only matters if 1) he's followed by a mainstream, experienced replacement, 2) we get to bottom of the Trump/Russia story," Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said in a tweet.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) demanded to know "by what authority did General Flynn have these conversations" with the Russians.

And Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) wanted to know, "What did the president know and when did he know it?"

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