On Russia, Flynn Doesn’t Matter, Trump Does
Josh Marshall balances appropriate skepticism with the need to know more about Trump and Russia on Talking Points Memo.
For all we’ve learned over recent days about retired General Michael Flynn and his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, it’s overshadowed by much more that we do not know. Indeed, based on the current evidence we don’t know whether Flynn’s actions were just wildly inappropriate (undermining the current president’s actions with a foreign adversary weeks before taking office) or part of a larger, darker design. Whether Flynn lied to the FBI (we don’t know) or lied to his colleagues is an interesting legal and possibly political question. But again, they are relatively straightforward matters which only become truly significant in terms of the bigger picture, if there is one. The truth is Michael Flynn does not matter. We have before us a question that has stood before us, centerstage, for something like a year, brazen and shameless and yet too baffling and incredible to believe: Donald Trump’s bizarre and unexplained relationship with Russia and its strongman Vladimir Putin.
It is almost beyond imagining that a National Security Advisor could be forced to resign amidst a counter-intelligence investigation into his communications and ties to a foreign adversary. The National Security Advisor is unique in the national security apparatus. He or she is the organizer, synthesizer and conduit to the President for information from all the various agencies and departments with a role in national security. This person must be able to know everything. The power and trust accorded this person are immeasurable. It is only really comparable to the President. And yet, we are talking about the President. A staffer or appointee can be dismissed. The President is the ultimate constitutional officer.
For all that I’ve been associated with scrutiny of the President’s ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia, I’ve always been skeptical of the maximal claims and arguments. Indeed, I’ve been skeptical of the whole idea. All the claims about Trump and Russia rely on suppositions which are unproven and hard evidence we don’t have. But the circumstantial evidence, the unexplained actions, the unheard of spectacle of a foreign power subverting a US election while the beneficiary of the interference aggressively and openly makes the case for the culprit, the refusal to make even the most elementary forms of disclosure which could clarify the President’s financial ties – they are so multifaceted and abundant it is almost impossible to believe they are mere random and chance occurrences with no real set of connections behind them.
Step back for a second and look at this. While certainties are hard to come by, it seems clear that Russia broke into computer networks and selectively released private emails to damage Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. When President Obama took a series of actions to punish the Russian government for this interference, President-Elect Trump’s top foreign policy advisor made a series of calls to the Russian government’s representative in the United States to ask him to have his government refrain from retaliation and suggested that the punishments could be lifted once the new government was sworn in. Then he lied about the calls both publicly and apparently within the White House. What has gotten lost in this discussion is that these questionable calls were aimed at blunting the punishment meted out for the election interference that helped Donald Trump become President. This is mind-boggling.
Consider another point.
Through the course of the campaign, transition and presidency, three top Trump advisors and staffers have had to resign because of issues tied to Russia. Paul Manafort, Carter Page and now Michael Flynn. Page might arguably be termed a secondary figure. Manafort ran Trump’s campaign and Flynn was his top foreign policy advisor for a year. The one common denominator between all these events, all these men is one person: Donald Trump.
As I said above, this has all been happening before our eyes, the train of inexplicable actions, the unaccountable ties and monetary connections, the willful, almost inexplicable need to make the case for Vladimir Putin even when the President knows the suspicion he’s under. When I was writing my first post on this topic more than 6 months ago, I had the uncanny feeling of finding what I was writing impossible to believe as I wrote it. And yet, I would go through the list of unexplained occurrences and actions, clear business and political connections, sycophantic support and more and realize there was too much evidence to ignore. It was fantastical and yet in plain sight.
That’s where we still are. There is a huge amount we don’t know. We don’t know the big answers. But to use the language of the criminal law, there’s probable cause to have a real investigation. Not a rush to judgment, but an investigation. This has been in front of us for months. It may gratify Democrats as partisans to see an entire political party be suborned by a President under a cloud of doubt. But it is horrible for the country. There is so much smoke that you could choke on it. It’s time to find out what Donald Trump’s relationship is to Russia, his and his associates’ contacts with Russian officials during the campaign, whatever business ties there might be. If you were Vladimir Putin you could not have done more to help the cause of Donald Trump. And if you were Trump, you could not have done more in actions and statements to repay the favor. The only question is whether the trajectory of perfectly interlocked actions were simply chance or tacit. Is it even remotely credible that with everything that led up to it, Michael Flynn initiated and conducted this back channel on his own? Hardly. It’s crazy that we’re having this conversation about a sitting President. But here we are. It’s time. We need to know the answer to this question.
Cross-posted from The Sensible Center