As we now know, the Trump White House hired an unstable man of poor judgment as its national security adviser, which is merely the most important post in the entire national security/intelligence apparatus.
That man, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, had earlier taken $34,000 from the Russian government in violation of U.S. law, Pentagon regulations and the Constitution. He had appeared beside Vladimir Putin in Moscow, had secretly taken more than $500,000 to act as an agent of the Turkish government, had secretly plotted the kidnapping of a legal American resident for delivery to Turkey and eventually made himself so vulnerable to blackmail by Russian officials that he had to be removed from his highly sensitive post after 24 days in office. In addition, he is now under criminal investigation by the FBI and the Defense Department.
So how does the Trump administration justify putting such a dangerous man in such an important position?
Barack Obama made them do it. Seriously, that’s their story.
As press secretary Sean Spicer explained Monday, the Obama administration had allowed Flynn to keep the standard security clearance that comes with his retired rank; therefore it was Obama’s fault that Trump hired him.
“That was something adjudicated by the Obama administration in April of 2016,” Spicer told the press on Monday. “They took no steps to suspend that, so that’s not really a question for us. It’s a question for them at that time.”¹
There are many, many problems with that narrative. It’s a well-known fact that Obama had fired Flynn from a top intelligence post back in 2014 because of incompetence and poor judgment. It’s a fact that Flynn had since confirmed that poor judgment with a series of bizarre public statements, so that anyone paying attention should have known he was a loose cannon. Finally, in a post-election meeting with Trump, Obama had pointedly and personally warned the president-elect against hiring Flynn.
Despite all that, it was still Obama’s fault.
In testimony to a Senate subcommittee Monday, James Clapper made an additional critical point. Like Flynn, Clapper is a retired lieutenant general who served in top intelligence posts under President George W. Bush and President Obama, and as he revealed, neither administration relied on a standard security clearance to vet top job candidates.
“I know what I went through as a political appointee twice in two — in a Republican and a Democratic administration,” Clapper said. “And the vetting process for either a political appointee or someone working in the White House is far, far more invasive and far, far more thorough than a standard TS/SCI clearance process.”
But not in the Trump administration, which is somehow Obama’s fault.
In that same Senate hearing, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates explained her own role in the events leading up to Flynn’s eventual ouster. On Jan. 26, she and a top aide went to the White House to explain that Flynn had been lying to the Trump administration, including to Vice President Pence. Contrary to Flynn’s statements, he had secretly discussed the lifting of sanctions against Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, and FBI counterintelligence experts were worried that the discrepancy made Flynn vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
“Not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information,” Yates told Congress. “That created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.”
Yet after Yates repeated her warnings, including warning of potential criminal prosecution, nothing happened. For another 18 days, Flynn remained as national security adviser. He participated in high-level meetings, hired staff, made decisions and offered counsel to Trump. Basically, the Trump White House was prepared to ignore the FBI warnings until news of the situation leaked to the Washington Post.
Then, and only then, was Flynn removed.
Trump and his Republican defenders have attempted to focus public attention and outrage on the unknown person who committed that leak to the Post. In fact, Trump has his suspicions about who the perpetrator might be, as he revealed just hours before the Senate hearing:
Senators did ask Yates, under oath, whether she had leaked that information or had authorized someone else to do so.
“Absolutely not,” she replied.
The truth is that the leak could have come from the FBI or Justice Department. It also could have come from within the Trump White House, from a rival of Flynn who wanted him gone or from some patriot who recognized the danger that he posed. Whoever that person was, he or she did the country and the Trump administration a great favor.
Maybe that was Obama too?
¹ “At that time,” in April of 2016, Flynn had already become an integral and high-profile part of the Trump campaign operation, featured prominently in Trump rallies. Try to imagine the reaction if the Obama administration had announced back then that Flynn’s security clearance had been yanked.