You would have to be a dolt to think that the big story in the affair of General Michael Flynn’s defenestration from the Trump administration is the one that blares from the headlines or screams on the Sunday gabfests. It reminds me of the Plame affair during the Bush administration. Borrowing from a Watergate-era film, I wrote about that one at some length for the Weekly Standard in “Three years of the Condor.” Today Victor Davis Hanson does something similar in the excellent NRO column “Seven days in February.”
The big story in the Flynn affair may be more apparent than the alleged scandal of Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador. It is nevertheless worth noting.
The critical conversation giving rise to Flynn’s resignation was originally reported at one remove from the transcript by the Washington Post in a February 9 story by Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima. They reported through a glass darkly: “Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election.”
The reporters offer a somewhat revealing description of their sources: “The fuller account of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak provided by officials who had access to reports from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that routinely monitor the communications of Russian diplomats. Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.” Those “former officials” would be Obama’s guys. The “current officials” would be pursuing Obama’s agenda in office. It would be nice to know who they are.
It should be noted that information deriving from a transcript of Flynn’s intercepted conversation with the Russian ambassador may well have been shared by the NSA with other agencies must have been shared with other government intelligence agencies as a result of reforms finalized and implemented on President Obama’s way out the door last month. Kaveh Waddell provides useful background in “Why is Obama expanding surveillance powers right before he leaves office?”
The leaking of the classified transcript to political reporters is blatantly illegal. The involvement of “nine current and former officials” represents an epidemic of lawlessness. It warrants investigation and prosecution, although you would be well advised not to hold your breath on that one. The reporters who were entrusted to play their part in their affair won’t identify their source. A prosecutor would have to undertake a serious investigation to identify those who had access to the transcript and take it from there.
Incidentally, the “current and former officials” requested anonymity from the Post reporters in part because sharing classified intelligence with the Washington Post is a felony under the Espionage Act. The Post reporters oddly write that they requested anonymity “to discuss intelligence matters.” It is a formulation designed to obscure the obvious.
Former Attorney General Mukasey takes up the issue in the Wall Street Journal column “Democracy can’t function without secrecy.” Mr. Mukasey too would like justice to be done in the Flynn affair:
Leaks like the ones about Mr. Flynn—not to mention of conversations between President Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia—have an obvious source: a small group within the bureaucracy who have no higher cause to which they can appeal. They ought to be identifiable easily enough. Using a grand jury to investigate and prosecute one or two such people could have a salutary effect. That might bring us closer to a time when “loose lips sink ships” had some purchase.
The leak is highly likely part of a campaign to undermine the Trump administration by Obama administration officials. Adam Kredo explored this aspect of the Flynn affair in the Washington Free Beacon.
I believe that the Weekly Standard’s Lee Smith has written the single best piece on the Flynn affair. Smith’s column on it is “The echo chamber strikes back.” Smith’s conclusion merits quotation:
It’s not the “deep state” that did in Flynn—it’s the usual suspects going about their usual business, and the stakes are clear. Either the Trump White House learns to defend itself, or it loses.
But there is another issue, of perhaps far greater concern than the political warfare in the domestic arena. If Trump’s opponents are right now seeing Russia merely as an instrument to beat up the president, the fact is that Russia is a real power in the real world. An American political fight over Russia might well escalate, and evolve into something else that dangerously affects our foreign policy and our national security.
Smith’s excellent article can usefully be supplemented by Andy McCarthy’s NRO column: “Why was the FBI investigating General Flynn.” As I say, the big story here is not the one in the headlines.