Just prior to Michael Flynn’s resignation last night, the Washington Post published this report.
The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials said.
The message, delivered by Sally Q. Yates and a senior career national security official to the White House counsel, was prompted by concerns that Flynn, when asked about his calls and texts with the Russian diplomat, had told Vice President-elect Mike Pence and others that he had not discussed the Obama administration sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, the officials said. It is unclear what the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, did with the information.
Beyond the salacious idea that the National Security Advisor risked being blackmailed by Russia, what this tells us is that the White House has known Flynn was lying for at least 2-3 weeks. But then there is this tidbit from the report.
A senior Trump administration official said that the White House was aware of the matter, adding that “we’ve been working on this for weeks.”
All of the sudden yesterday, in the swirl of this becoming public knowledge, the focus of the story became that Flynn had lied to Vice President Pence and the two connected for him to apologize. That makes no sense. If the White House has known that he lied for over 2 weeks, why did they wait until yesterday to tell Pence he’d been set up?
It is also true that intelligence sources signaled to Flynn and the White House via David Ignatius on January 12th that they had recordings of his conversations with the Russian Ambassador, prompting Flynn to supposedly lie to Pence. Are we to believe that everyone in the administration simply ignored that signal and waited until the contents were revealed last Thursday?
One way to explain why no one in the White House acted on this information prior to yesterday is that it is yet another example of their incompetence…the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing. Far be it from me to claim otherwise.
But short of an amazing level of incompetence are some troubling questions this raises. The most significant being the the one raised years ago by Howard Baker: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” In other words, was Flynn relaying information the president wanted to communicate to Vladimir Putin about his intent to get rid of the sanctions Obama had imposed for Russian interference in the election?
There is also the fact that Flynn had been in contact with the Russian Ambassador dating back prior to the transition – in the midst of the election. Was he part of a back-channel effort to coordinate between the Trump campaign and the Russian government?
It is important to note that Flynn is the third person associated with Trump and his presidential campaign to resign after information was released about their ties to Russia. In August, campaign manager Paul Manafort resigned after it was reported that Ukraine leader Yanukovych’s pro-Russia political party had earmarked $12.7 million for Manafort for his work between 2007-2012. Then in September, Carter Page took a “leave of absence” from the campaign after reports surfaced that intelligence officials were investigating his ties to the Kremlin.
The one thing we’re learning from these recent leaks is that the intelligence community has remained on this case even after the inauguration placed the target of them in the White House. I suspect that Flynn’s resignation isn’t the end of this story.