There are plenty of cautionary tales to emerge out of the saga of Michael Flynn, who, until late Monday night, was President Trump’s national security adviser. But there are also some reassuring signs of growth from a nascent administration that has thus far careened from one embarrassment to another in its first few weeks.
Let’s first acknowledge the obvious: This should not be the end of the story. Though the White House is insisting we all “move on” now that Flynn’s resigned, there are still some very troubling questions we should demand be answered.
For starters, it is concerning that the president’s national security adviser discussed sanctions with Russian officials before Trump was sworn in, a possible violation of the Logan Act, which prohibits civilians from negotiating with foreign governments without authorization. What, if anything, was promised to the Russians? And what else did Flynn discuss with foreign leaders during his short time in office?
It is also concerning that Flynn withheld that conversation from Vice President Mike Pence, who later had to repeat the falsity — that Flynn did not discuss sanctions — on national television. Was he dishonest about anything else?
We should ask why the administration waited so long to relieve Flynn if, according to a Washington Post report, the Justice Department warned the White House that Flynn had not been honest about his discussions with Russian officials a month ago.
It would not be overkill to see that these lingering questions be addressed, and Republicans especially should want to know that when it comes to national security, the Trump administration will run a tight ship.
The Flynn incident also highlights some broader political problems for Trump.
One of the reasons Trump picked Flynn for NSA was that Trump “liked the way he talked to him,” an adviser told Politico. “He thought Flynn knew what he was doing.” Trump relying on personal interactions and his gut to make an important national security appointment backfired in this case, and it should prompt more professional and thorough vetting of future staff hires.
Running our national defense is not the same as running a business — decisions shouldn’t be based on hunches or 1950s notions of strength, masculinity and competence.
It also appears there’s a bewildering lack of communication in the Trump White House. Despite published reports of Flynn’s dishonesty a full day earlier, and countless mentions of it on television, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One, “I don’t know about that. I haven’t seen it.”
That could have been one of his famous punts, but if not, it’s alarming that no one’s briefing the president on huge potential scandals within his own administration.
There’s also a brewing war between two Trump spokespeople. Kellyanne Conway, senior counsel to Trump, said Monday that Flynn “does enjoy the full confidence of the president.” Meanwhile, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer seemed to correct her later by saying “the president is evaluating the situation.”
That exchange followed a similarly catty one, where Spicer said Conway was being “counseled” for her Ivanka Trump clothing line comments, and Conway retorted that Trump “likes ‘counselor’ more than ‘counseled.’” This sideshow is an unseemly distraction that, if it continues, will surely end up as more fodder for “Saturday Night Live.”
So, what’s the good news? President Trump is apparently capable of reflection and changing course if that proves politically expedient. It’s admittedly a low bar, but Trump skeptics should find it somewhat reassuring.
In spite of his “you’re fired” reputation, he is famously loyal. That he submitted eventually to the necessity of Flynn’s departure says that he can in fact put prudence before allegiance. Democrats and Republicans who are worried about some of Trump’s other staff choices can be moderately hopeful that they might be revisited in the future.
More reassuring news? It does not appear that Pence, who establishment Republicans rely on to guide Trump, has been marginalized as some had speculated. According to Politico, one factor in Flynn’s departure was Pence’s displeasure with the adviser, which he relayed to Trump.
But the best news of all? Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who many blame for informing Trump’s nationalist impulses, told Flynn to “do the right thing” and resign, according to a senior White House official. This, desSpite Bannon’s known affection for Flynn, is also reason to believe we might see a more rational, professional and politically prudent administration, instead of the incontinent, amateurish and reactionary one that’s often been on display.
While there are still many unanswered questions about the Flynn incident, let’s also take a rare opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief. In the era of Trump, change is possible.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.
This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.
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