Trump administration National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned on Monday amid a storm of controversy. He has become the shortest-serving National Security Advisor in U.S. history, having retained the position for fewer than four weeks. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump simply ignored questions from reporters about Flynn’s resignation.
Flynn allegedly spoke to the Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, several times in December, over the course of at least one conversation discussing recent U.S. sanctions. The sanctions were imposed by the Obama administration in response to cyber attacks suffered by the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election.
The content of his conversations was subsequently revealed by a government wiretap. According to multiple officials, who spoke to the Washington Post on Thursday, Flynn did discuss the sanctions with Ambassador Kislyak over the course of several conversations that month. They also said that Flynn seemed to indicate that the administration would be reevaluating the set of existing American sanctions against the Russian Federation.
These, of course, include the most recent measures, imposed in response to perceived Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Russian government is accused of making efforts at disrupting the Democratic National Committee. This could give the impression that the new administration was actively planning to seriously consider removing the sanctions imposed as a result of efforts that were a partial influence on the Trump campaign’s victory. Some would say that this sounds a bit fishy.
It has been argued that Flynn’s communications to that effect constitute a violation of the Logan Act of 1799. The act applies to aspects of regulations on correspondence between U.S. citizens and representatives of foreign governments. The act prohibits unauthorized U.S. citizens from carrying on “any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.”
Michael Flynn apparently denied that he had discussed the sanctions with Ambassador Kislyak behind the scenes with Vice President, Mike Pence. On January 15, Pence went on CBS Face the Nation and, when asked about the rumors swirling around Flynn, said that there had been no mention of the sanctions. Since that point in time, senior Trump administration officials have become aware of more details of Flynn’s communications.
There have also been claims that other members of the Trump campaign interacted with Russian Intelligence officials during the election. There has been an official inquiry into this matter for some time, going back at least as far as the DNC cyber attack.
In January, American intelligence services concluded that the Russian government had attempted to influence 2016 election results in Donald Trump’s favor. It made no mention of participation between the Trump campaign and Russian government entities and little to no evidence to that effect has been presented or released.
In his letter of resignation, Michael Flynn wrote, “Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events , I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect [Mike Pence] and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology.” The president has appointed retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg as acting NSA while the search for a suitable replacement proceeds.
There are still questions surrounding the amount of knowledge that administration officials possessed regarding the conversations. It is also unclear precisely how much president Trump personally knew about the situation. Some have asked why officials failed to act sooner. I would ask the same question. Flynn represented a significant liability to the administration.
More information will need to surface before drawing convincing conclusions. Inevitably, congressional investigations of possible misconduct will continue regardless of Flynn’s resignation.
This resignation promises only to attract more oversight from the legislature, which is losing trust for the administration. It is still in its infancy and the prospect of continuing dysfunction is surely frustrating to administration officials. Trump, above all, is not likely to be pleased with the situation.
Since the beginning of the 2016 election much has been made of Donald Trump’s connections with Russia. He received a significant amount of criticism from the left, about the possibility that he could move toward softening up relations with Vladimir Putin.
One must certainly ask how common a series of telephone conversations like those between Flynn and Kislyak are in the larger scheme of things. In other words, under slightly different circumstances, would a similar set of communications attract the same amount of criticism and scrutiny?
It is certainly not uncommon for an incoming National Security Advisor to speak with a foreign diplomat during the transition to a new administration. Flynn, however, allegedly engaged in communications that could be construed as illegal, especially when they are viewed in the context of the current political climate between the U.S. and Russia.
It is not difficult to understand why this scandal is embarrassing for the administration. Not only does it provide evidence of naked organizational incompetence, but it also raises some of the same ethical questions about the objectives of Trump’s presidency.
The Trump administration has broken records for firsts in quite a few categories already. Among these is a unique approach to Russian President, Vladimir Putin, that has many scratching their heads. In the future, it will be extremely important to continue to scrutinize the administration’s evolving relationship with Russia for this reason.