Why are Republicans Spending Time Defending Michael Flynn?

I spent the weekend digitizing the rest of our new issue, so I hope you take the opportunity to peruse our many excellent features, articles, and book reviews. I’ve spent this morning watching the FBI/NSA hearing in front of the House Intelligence Committee. As a result, I’m a little behind on the news.

So, I just want to provide a bit of a casual observation right now. The Republicans are keen to distract from the Russian angle to this investigation by complaining that Michael Flynn’s name was divulged to the public as someone who was in contact with the Russian ambassador. The way they are arguing this is that the identity of U.S. citizens who are incidentally captured by electronic surveillance on foreign targets is supposed to be masked or protected from dissemination.

There’s no doubt that the fact that Flynn was in contact with the Russian ambassador was widely disseminated within the Obama administration and that it leaked fairly quickly to the press. Both could be crimes, it’s true. But this is predicated on two things. The first is that Flynn was not the target of surveillance. That is not assured since he clearly was a subject of a counterintelligence investigation that began in the early summer of 2016. The second assumption is that the fact the incoming National Security Advisor was colluding with the Soviet ambassador to undercut current U.S. national security policy was not something of the utmost concern to our intelligence agencies and policy makers.

Under the circumstances, and given Flynn’s subsequent firing and the disclosure that he was richly compensated by Russian entities for relatively little work, and the fact he was working at the time as an agent of a foreign power (Turkey) and did not disclose that, it’s curious that the Republicans want to put so much focus on defending him.

It does serve to divert focus from potentially more damaging revelations, I suppose, but in a far from optimal way. Is this seriously the best they can do to try to shield the Trump administration from scrutiny?

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.