There is only one possible reaction to the resignation of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as President Trump’s national security adviser: good riddance — and not only because Flynn was caught in what looks like a lie.
Of course, Flynn had to go after he admitted that he had “inadvertently” misled Vice President-elect Pence and others about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States in the final days of the Obama administration. Relying on assurances from Flynn, Pence said on Jan. 15 that Flynn and the Russian diplomat didn’t discuss “anything having to do with” sanctions imposed on Russia to punish it for interfering in the American presidential election. Well, it turns out they did.
The Justice Department knew better because the FBI routinely monitors the ambassador’s communications (something Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, should have realized). In late January, the acting U.S. attorney general and a key intelligence official informed the White House counsel of the discrepancy and expressed a concern that Flynn might be vulnerable to blackmail.
But Flynn’s departure is also good news because he was as volatile presence in the administration as he was in the Trump campaign, where he is remembered for inciting delegates at the Republican National Convention in their anti-Clinton chants. “Yeah that’s right,” Flynn said. “Lock her up.” Not unlike the president who appointed him, Flynn engaged in stereotyping of Muslims, at one point tweeting a YouTube video listing bombings committed by Muslims with the title “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” His brief tenure as national security adviser will be remembered most for a bellicose appearance at a White House press briefing at which he put Iran “on notice” — a vague but worrisome warning. Flynn was a rash and reckless hothead unsuited to a position of such tremendous responsibility.
The White House insisted on Tuesday that Trump acted decisively after the Justice Department raised concerns about Flynn’s misrepresentations — although it was a slow-motion, several-weeks-long sort of decisiveness. In the end, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation not because of any illegality or even impropriety in what he said to the Russian ambassador but rather because of “trust” issues. Does that mean if Flynn hadn’t dissembled on the subject Trump wouldn’t have minded if he had talked substance with the Russians? That he wouldn’t have minded that Flynn floated the idea of lifting the sanctions that had been imposed on Russia for interfering in the election on Trump’s behalf? That’s a troubling thought.
Fortunately, the White House won’t have the last word about the contacts between Flynn and the Russian ambassador. The Senate and House intelligence committees already are investigating possible connections between Russia and people associated with the 2016 presidential campaigns. Those investigations must also address contacts between the Trump transition and Russian officials. Even some Republican members of Congress recognize that the latter investigation must be a thorough one. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that “we should look into it exhaustively so that at the end of this process nobody wonders whether there was a stone left unturned.”
Flynn’s early departure under fire is only one sign of disarray in Trump’s foreign policy team. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lacks foreign-policy experience and the office of deputy secretary remains vacant after Trump decided at the last minute not to appoint former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams because Abrams had been critical of Trump during the campaign. But some additional uncertainty is worth the price of replacing a loose cannon like Michael Flynn.