Today Sally Yates appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee reminded us of anagging question: Why did it take Donald Trump so long to Fire his National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn? 18 days passed after his administration was informed by acting Attorney General Sally Yates that Flynn was lying about not discussing sanctions with Russian ambassador before Flynn was fired. Yates testified under oath that she met twice with White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, January 26th and 27th and informed him in no uncertain terms that Flynn was miss leading the American public and other members of the administration, including Vice President Pence, and was thus vulnerable to Russian blackmail. She also testified that on January 30th she had an additional telephone conversation with McGahn to inform him that he could view transcripts of the Flynn/Kislyak conversations. Yet Trump didn’t fire Flynn until February 13th, right after the media got a hold of the story.
We also learned today that President Obama had warned Trump not to offer Michael Flynn the National Security Advisor job two days after Trumps election victory. We also recently learned earlier that Flynn was warned in advance by others in the Trump administration that calls with Russians like Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak were likely being recorded by our intelligence services. Flynn probably didn’t need those warnings since he had been a career military intelligence officer and had been the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency before he was fired by President Obama.
I think that everyone seems to be settling for the obvious explanation that Flynn was fired became he became a public relations liability. That is certainly true, but in the process the media seem to be missing something really important. That explanation doesn’t answer other important questions. White House press secretary Sean Spicer has stated that Trump was briefed on the matter immediately following McGahn’s meeting with Yates on the 26th. Yet we have been told that Pence didn’t learn that Flynn had lied to him until February 9th. So why didn’t Trump tell his Vice President for two entire weeks about Flynn’s lies and advise Pence and other staffers to back away from defending Flynn? Also unanswered is the question as to why Flynn was allowed to participate in matters requiring the greatest secrecy while Trump was investigating the charges and deciding Flynn’s fate.
There are several other questions that have also gone unanswered. Why did Flynn feel it was okay discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador if he was reasonably sure that the call might be recorded? In addition, if Flynn was acting on his own in talking to the Kislyak about sanctions, why would he feel he had the authority to do so? And if, as everyone assumes, Flynn assured Kislyak that the Trump administration would soften or remove the sanctions once Trump took office, why would Kislyak believe him unless Flynn provided assurances that the message was coming directly from Trump himself? And apparently Kislyak did believe Flynn, and so did Vladimir Putin, because in an unprecedented move Putin decided not to retaliate for Obama’s sanctions and did not kick American diplomats out of Russia. On the other hand I cannot imagine that Flynn would tell Kislyak that the message on sanctions was coming from Trump if that was not really the case. That would cause him nothing but trouble for absolutely no reason at all. Flynn had no authority to lift the sanctions and only a limited say, along with others in the administration, as to whether the sanctions should be lifted.
There is only one plausible explanation which ties all of this neatly together. Flynn was told by Trump to assure the Russian Ambassador that the sanctions would be soften or lifted after the new administration took office and that was the message Flynn relayed to Kislyak. That would explain Flynn was able to assure Kislyak that the message was coming directly from Trump and why the ambassador, and later Putin, believed him.
That also explains why Flynn, an experienced intelligence officer, would feel comfortable speaking about the sanctions with Kislyak even though he knew that the call was probably being recorded by both sides. If he was acting under orders from the future President of the United States, why should Flynn be worried if the call was recorded? It also explains why Trump didn’t take Yates’ warning that Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail seriously. Trump knew that Flynn would not be vulnerable to blackmail because he was acting on his boss’s orders.
It also answers a question of why between January 26th and February 13th, when Flynn was fired, did Trump continue to allow Flynn access to meetings where top secret topics were discussed. The simple answer is that Trump knew that Flynn had done nothing wrong in his book. Why should he fire him or restrict his access to top secret information. So apparently for much of those 18 days Trump hoping he could bull his way through the controversy as he usually does and keep Flynn on as National Security Advisor. He certainly didn’t want the fire Flynn for doing following his orders.
However, if administration sources are to be believed, Flynn’s downfall can be traced to lying to Vice President Pence and other staff members. So if he was doing Thump’s bidding why would Flynn feel the need to lie? There is also has a simple explanation in that regard. I strongly suspect that only very few people in the administration knew that Flynn was to talk to the Russian ambassador about sanctions. Perhaps only Trump and Flynn were privy, or perhaps one or two more like Bannon and/or members of Trumps family. Flynn would have been told to tell no one. This would explain why Trump didn’t tell Pence about the issue after Yates warned McGahn. Trump’s was thinking that the more he kept the story contained the better. He wanted no one, even his Vice President, to suspect his involvement.
So when story got out that Flynn had spoken to Kislyak on the day President Obama imposed the sanctions, the media began speculating that the sanctions may have been the subject of the Flynn/Kislyak conversation. People within the administration naturally starting asking Flynn questions. When Pence confronted Flynn, Flynn had his orders, so like a good solder, he lied. Much later when Pence was made aware of Flynn’s lies, the manure hit the proverbial fan.
The pieces are starting to come together, but we have not yet addressed the big question – why would Trump fire Flynn for doing exactly what he told him to do. Trump is known for his loyalty to those who have been loyal to him. Firing Flynn for something Trump ordered him to do would be totally disloyal. The answer is that Trump left himself with no other choice. The only way to save Flynn was for Trump to admit that he told Flynn to have the sanctions discussion with the Russian ambassador. With all of the suspicion whirling around about because of his public bromance with Putin and his campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians, Trump could not, or would not do that. There is obviously a limit to Trump’s loyalty to his people when his own hide is on the line.
Trump probably told Flynn that he appreciated his loyalty, but that he had to take one for the team. Of course that was followed by the threat that if Flynn ever divulged that Trump had instructed him to provide assurance to the Russians with regard the sanctions, Trump would deny that charge outright. Now Flynn can’t be real happy that situation, especially now that it looks as if he could eventually do some jail time. Imagine being fired for something your boss ordered you to do. Remember when Flynn’s lawyer requested immunity from Congress for Flynn in return for his testimony? He stated that Flynn “has a story to tell and he wants to tell it”. That story most probably involves the only person more senior than Flynn in the administration and the task that person asked Flynn to perform.
Hopefully, if and when Flynn is indicted (and I strongly believe he will be), he will be allow to cop a plea for a lighter sentence in return for his story. (I frankly don’t care if he goes to jail or not; his career in government is over and he might even lose his military pension.) Or perhaps the truth about the sanctions conversation is but the first tale that Flynn might be able to tell about the Trump campaign’s collusion with the Russians.