As the furor rages unabated after the testimony of James Comey, both sides are coming to the realization that it settled nothing. Comey said just enough to allow both sides to reinforce their preconceived notions and declare a victory. Comey’s testimony is not the end, but is more like pulling a thread that causes other threads to unravel. Even though Comey did not present irrefutable evidence of criminal activity by the president, he did make a blatant accusation that the president is corrupt. The investigations will continue and, at this point, it seems that the trails all point toward Michael Flynn.
The investigation of Michael Flynn is at the center of the dispute between James Comey and President Trump. In Comey’s opening statement, the former director claimed that it was the investigation of Flynn that prompted Trump’s alleged request that, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy.”
Who is Michael Flynn? Flynn is a retired US Army general who rose to command the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama. He served honorably in both the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of the War on Terror. Flynn abruptly retired a year early from his position at the DIA, apparently under pressure from the Obama Administration. Sean Spicer confirmed in May that Barack Obama had warned the Trump camp about getting too close to Flynn.
In fact, Flynn became an early advisor to the Trump campaign and was considered as a vice presidential candidate. Flynn eventually was appointed as President Trump’s National Security Advisor after delivering a fiery speech to the Republican National Convention.
As National Security Advisor, Flynn lasted just over three weeks. The issue was false statements that Flynn had made to Vice President Pence, Press Secretary Spicer and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Before the election and during the transition, Flynn had secret communications with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in which he discussed sanctions that the Obama Administration had imposed on Russia in response their interference in the election. Flynn denied discussing the sanctions until the Washington Post reported that leaks revealed that there was evidence from surveillance that Flynn was not being truthful.
Even after Flynn’s duplicity was revealed, Trump waited 18 days before finally deciding to fire him. Shortly after the Flynn’s dismissal on the basis of loss of trust, The Hill reported that Trump called him “a wonderful man” and said that the media had treated him “badly.” The is in sharp contrast to the firing of Comey, who was attacked by Trump on Twitter in the days after his dismissal.
Since leaving the White House, Flynn’s troubles have only gotten worse. Flynn is under investigation for failing to disclose a $33,000 payment from the Russian state-owned propaganda network, RT, after leaving the DIA. The New York Times reported in April that Flynn initially failed to disclose other payments from “companies linked to Russia.”
Flynn also may have broken the law by doing consulting work that benefitted the government of Turkey without the permission of the US government. After being fired by Trump, Flynn registered with the US government as a paid foreign agent for work done the year before that could have aided the Turkish government. Flynn may have also failed to fully disclose his contracts and payments from the Turkish consulting work.
Further, the Wall Street Journal reported that Flynn met with Turkish government contacts last summer, while he was still working for the Trump campaign, and discussed the possibility of returning Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric that Turkey blames for last summer’s failed military coup, without going through legal US extradition procedures. Former CIA Director James Woolsey said the discussion involved “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away.” Woolsey said he did not hear a specific plan and would have objected if he had.
Even before Donald Trump was nominated as the Republican candidate, Flynn drew criticism for his ties to Russia. In December 2015, Flynn was paid $45,000 by RT to speak at the network’s 10th anniversary gala. The network also paid airfare for the trip and hosted Flynn at a luxury hotel in Moscow according to NBC News. Flynn sat at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin at the event.
In 2013, as head of the DIA, Flynn arranged a controversial trip to Russia for a group of US intelligence officers with the goal of building a working relationship with the GRU, Russian military intelligence. Flynn planned to host GRU officers in the US, but the Russian invasion of Crimea led to chilled relations between the two countries.
There are many questions about Mike Flynn that are unanswered. There is not even a definitive answer on how Flynn and Trump came to know each other. In an interview with the New Yorker, Flynn claimed he hit it off immediately with Trump in an August 2015 meeting in New York. In his interview with NBC News in May 2017, Trump denied knowing Flynn in 2015 In any case, Flynn was identified as an advisor to Trump by February 2016.
Trump’s relationship with Michael Flynn is central to the question of whether the president tried to interfere in the investigation of Flynn and whether he abused his authority in firing Director Comey. Trump is also alleged to have asked other intelligence officials to back off from the Flynn investigation. When asked by senators, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Advisor Mike Rogers said that they have never been “pressured” to interfere in an investigation. Neither would answer the question of whether Trump had ever broached the subject, however.
Right now, even after James Comey’s testimony, there are far more questions than answers. At this point, it is unknown whether a crime has been committed by either Mike Flynn or Donald Trump, but if there has been no crime then what has the White House cover-up been about? Did President Trump act illegally to protect Flynn? If so, why? Why did Trump really fire Comey? And why fire him when he did, months after taking office and seemingly out of the blue? The timing of the firing endangered the Republican legislative agenda at a time when the Republican health care reform had just passed the House and the party was looking towards tax reform.
Mike Flynn seems to hold many of the answers, but he isn’t talking. The retired general is invoking his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination and refusing to comply with a subpoena to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Flynn also initially refused to comply with a subpoena for personal documents relating to his businesses. Eventually Flynn agreed to provide some documents after senators issued subpoenas his businesses as well.
With Special Counsel Bob Mueller likely investigating Flynn alongside the Senate Intelligence Committee, the probe into the Russian interference in the election and possible collaboration by members of the Trump campaign isn’t over yet. It’s just getting started and the relationship between President Trump and Gen. Flynn is likely to generate many more headlines before it’s over.