It is a real drama in the White House.
Russiagate in 2017.
National Security Advisor Flynn has resigned.
Now the main question is: Did the elected Trump know about his activities? Or was he unaware of what his man talked about with the Russians?
The National Security Adviser to the President has been accused of discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, weeks before Trump took office.
If confirmed, Flynn could have violated the Logan Act, a law against private citizens engaging in foreign policy.
As more information surfaces, the united front presented by the administration begins to disintegrate.
- What is Flynn accused of?
- How has the White House handled the scandal?
- Are there deeper consequences?
Controversy surrounding his relationship with Russia has dogged Donald Trump ever since he began campaigning for the presidency. Many are concerned over alleged business ties to Moscow, and there is bipartisan disbelief at his continued insistence that Russia should be treated as a friend.
It has been confirmed that Mr Flynn spoke a number of times with Mr Kislyak by phone in December. Now, however the administration is faced with its first serious test as Flynn’s flip flopping story had White House officials giving conflicting accounts of the issues spoken about in the conversations. Today, the National Security Adviser has resigned.
Initially, Mr Flynn denied that the two men discussed US sanctions imposed over Russia’s actions in Ukraine as well as alleged hacking of the US Democratic Party. Vice-President Mike Pence told CBS News on January 15 that Flynn did not talk sanctions levied by the Obama administration.
“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence said. This is where the allegations have become problematic for Trump and his team.
Differing versions of events
In the time since Pence’s interview, amid continuing media pressure for a full and truthful description of the phone calls, Flynn has now admitted to being unsure if sanctions were discussed. He claimed that he had “no recollection” of discussing sanctions and “couldn’t be certain.”
We are now aware, thanks to leaks from inside the White House, that Flynn had indeed discussed the sanctions and lied to the vice president when he denied doing so. This is a result of the fact that phone calls between Russian and American officials are routinely monitored.
Yesterday, the ensuing furore had led to Flynn’s position in the administration being brought into question. A senior administration official was quoted as saying, “the knives are out… there’s a lot of unhappiness about this.”
The opposition, however, were concerned more about the implications of Flynn’s covert communications with the Russian diplomat. He is known to have visited Russia as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and was sat just a few feet from Putin at a Gala in 2015. The House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi demanded that Flynn be suspended until an FBI investigation can determine the extent of “his secret contacts with the Russians.”
On Sunday, the White House adviser, Stephen Miller, was asked whether Flynn had misled the vice president. He refused to back Flynn and offered little to no explanation of the administration’s current stance. “I don’t have any answers today… I don’t have any information one way or another to add anything to the conversation.”
It is known that President Trump values loyalty over most other values, and some observers believed this would be enough to save Flynn. He was an ardent supporter of Mr Trump during the campaign, and he has become a close ally of both the president and the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon. It perspires today that this was insufficient and Flynn was unable to weather the storm.
What are the implications for the administration?
With the numerous daily scandals and stories surrounding Trump’s White House, one could be forgiven for thinking that this particular issue will be in the past soon. However, in the eyes of some observers, the ramifications are serious and wide ranging. In some cases, calling into question the ability of the president to maintain national security.
David Frum, ex-Bush speechwriter, tweeted yesterday: “It’s as if a hostile foreign power has seized the U.S. government and is, by remote control, steering it toward the maximum possible catastrophe.”
If true, the statement of John Schindler, an ex-National Security Agency analyst, is terrifying. He claims the intelligence community is so concerned about Trump’s “troubling ties to the Kremlin” that it’s has begun “to withhold intelligence from a White House which our spies do not trust.”
In light of these comments, the fact that Flynn has lost his job should be secondary. That the president’s ability to withhold sensitive information from an aggressive rival is being called into question less than a month into his term, should truly worry the American people.