My political scandal radar is screaming at David Ignatius's op-ed this morning in the Washington Post involving the unanswered questions about Trump and Russia. Ignatius has four big questions, including "Why didn't Obama make this public before the election?" to "What do the Russians truly have on Trump?" but the ones that immediately set off the alarm bells are the last two:
Question 3: What discussions has the Trump team had with Russian officials about future relations? Trump said Wednesday that his relationship with President Vladimir Putin is “an asset, not a liability.” Fair enough, but until he’s president, Trump needs to let Obama manage U.S.-Russia policy.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, cultivates close Russian contacts. He has appeared on Russia Today and received a speaking fee from the cable network, which was described in last week’s unclassified intelligence briefing on Russian hacking as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”
According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
If the Trump team’s contacts helped discourage the Russians from a counter-retaliation, maybe that’s a good thing. But we ought to know the facts.
Question 4: Finally, what’s the chance that Russian intelligence has gamed its covert action more subtly than we realize? Applying a counter-intelligence lens, it’s worth asking whether the Russians hoped to be discovered, and whether Russian operatives fed the former MI6 officer’s controversial dossier deliberately, to sow further chaos.
These questions need to be answered — not to undermine Trump, but to provide a factual base to help the country recover from an attack on its political system. As Trump rightly says, “fake news” threatens our democracy. Truth will protect it.
The big thing here is Mike Flynn, incoming National Security Adviser, contacting the Russian ambassador multiple times on the day President Obama announced that nearly three dozen Russian spies were being booted from the country. That right there is enough to absolutely deny Flynn the position, but the evidence against Flynn of his Russian involvement is already pretty substantial even if he wasn't already a crackpot tinfoil hat lunatic who's likely to get us into a shooting war.
Also, this is a warning shot that the IC knows full damn well every word Flynn said to Ambassador Kislyak, as the notion that the NSA sure as hell wouldn't have those lines tapped is silly to the point of institutional gross negligence on the part of the Puzzle Palace. Not only does the piece confirm that, but it almost certainly means that either A) there's a FISA warrant out on those conversations or B) the NSA is happily leaking this to the press to make a point. If Flynn was making side deals on behalf of the Trump administration, what Ignatius above calls "discouraging the Russians from counter-retaliation" that's pretty much the definition of treason, guys.
Again, it's only a matter of time before the contents of Flynn's conversation with the Russian Ambassador is leaked. The story is giving Flynn notice that he's basically a dead man walking, and that maybe he wants to cooperate. The larger issue is whether or not Flynn was making deals with the knowledge of Trump. Flynn only has so much protection, you see. Should his armor be stripped, either by leaks, by an angry GOP Congress, or by Trump serving him up as a blood sacrifice, this cannot end well for him. He knows this. So what does he do?
Believe me, a lot of people are asking these exact questions right now around Washington, and I'm betting more than a few folks are going to be advising The Donald to fall on his sword over this. Whether or not Trump decides to do the right thing, well I wouldn't put good money on that. I'm betting he figures once he takes office, all this goes away.
He's probably right. This time. And that will remain true until the base turns on both Trump and Republicans in Congress. But if enough Republicans join with the Dems, Trump's support on Capitol Hill could collapse quickly.
After that, all bets are off.
New tags, long overdue: Michael Flynn, and The Big T.