It’s a pretty simple question:
Did he, or didn’t he?
Did National Security Adviser Mike Flynn lie to the vice president of the United States about a critically important national-security matter, or didn’t he? Whatever the answer, important consequences ought to flow.
We already know that Flynn lied to the American public. Understanding how controversial and maybe even criminal such an act might be, the former general denied undercutting the Obama administration by secretly discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador while Barack Obama was still president and still responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy. According to the Washington Post, nine current and former intelligence officials say that transcripts of Flynn’s intercepted phone calls prove that he did discuss sanctions with the ambassador. Notably, Flynn himself has dropped his previous denial. (He now claims not to remember clearly.)
We also know that as vice president-elect, Mike Pence had echoed Flynn’s initial denial, going on news programs to publicly and emphatically repeat the claim that sanctions had never been discussed. By doing so, Pence put his own public credibility on the line for Flynn. The question is why.
If Flynn lied to Pence about his conversations, thus making the vice president an unwitting partner in his deception, it’s impossible to see how such a breach of faith over a matter of national security could be tolerated by any competent management.
On the other hand, if Flynn did not lie to Pence, if Pence, Sean Spicer and others in the Trump team knowingly joined him in concealing the truth about those conversations, then we no longer have a case of a rogue official undermining U.S. foreign policy. The entire Trump administration is then implicated, adding substantially to very serious questions about the nature of Trump’s relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin.
Aides to Pence have quietly told reporters that the vice president had been deceived, that Flynn lied to him, but no such statement has yet been made on the record. That version would contain the political damage; it would also jibe with Flynn’s previous record as an erratic leader with questionable judgment and a flexible attitude toward the truth. That reputation had led many to question Flynn’s appointment to such a sensitive position in the first place.
It has taken all of three weeks in office to prove that criticism valid.