A Day In the Washington Swamp, Ethics Edition

Today the New York Times featured another attack on Michael Flynn, which other outlets, like CNN, have picked up and trumpeted. The Times story was precipitated by the Trump administration making available to the press the Form 278s (financial disclosure forms) that have been filled out by incoming members of the administration. The Times must have immediately requested General Flynn’s 278 and gotten it via email, which is the procedure the administration has set up.

So what is the story, and why is it important, given that Flynn is gone from the administration, having served it for less than 30 days?

Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser who was forced out of the job in February, failed to list payments from Russia-linked entities on the first of two financial disclosure forms released Saturday by the Trump administration.

The first form, which he signed in February, does not directly mention a paid speech he gave in Moscow, as well as other payments from companies linked to Russia. The second, an amended version, lists the names of the companies that made the payments under a section for any nongovernment compensation that exceeds $5,000 “in a year.” That list appears to include all of the work that Mr. Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, has done since leaving the military in 2014, without providing compensation figures for any of it.

No reason was given for the discrepancy between the two forms.

That’s the story; it is followed by the usual Times editorializing. You can see a typical Form 278 here. The Times says that the first time he filled out the form, Flynn did not “directly” mention a paid speech or other payments. There is no explanation of what “directly” means. I speculate that Flynn may have initially aggregated his income by category, e.g. “speeches.”

It is not clear why Flynn filed a second form. The Times tells us that he signed the first form in February. He resigned from the administration on February 13. So was the second form filled out after his departure? The Times doesn’t say. I speculate that during the few days between when he filed the first form and when he left the administration–or maybe even thereafter–someone in the ethics office told him that he should itemize the various speeches, etc, rather than listing his income by category. Which he dutifully did, perhaps after he had already been fired. (We can answer these questions when we see the Form 278s; the Times does not reproduce them in its article.)

The Times complains that on the amended form, Flynn listed his various sources of income, but didn’t “provid[e] compensation figures for any of it.” Actually, that is standard practice, if you look at the form, although some nominees do add specific payment amounts.

In sum, the Times’s latest shot at General Flynn adds nothing to the reader’s knowledge of any issue. It is just more bile directed at the Trump administration.

On Friday, two “senior administration officials” conducted a press briefing on the administration’s release of the Form 278s for its nominees. They were proud of the administration’s exemplary transparency, but the Democratic Party press corps was in attack mode, as always:

Q But do you have to make 180 requests for 180 names, but you’re not going to give us the names? We could sit here and go look them up, but can you not provide that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know that I can. Certainly I don’t know that I have that list.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we’re not — we’re following the instructions and the guidelines, and following along the way the Obama administration —

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No different than what they did.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: — what the Obama administration did. We’re doing it exactly the same way, exactly the same manner.

Q Okay, that’s not — you do lots of things differently than the Obama administration (inaudible) about every day. So don’t rely on the Obama administration.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, no, no, you’re absolutely right. You know what we did differently? We’re actually ahead of schedule. So the Obama administration released these items on April 3rd, and we’re now March 31st. So we are different.

Q Two questions for you. One is, now that you’ve finished up doing this round, can you tell us how many billionaires work in this administration? (Laughter.)

The reporters were eager for information about Ivanka Trump:

Q Are we going to see a financial disclosure separately from Ivanka Trump, who I guess has just taken a staff job just this week?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, not today. She literally two days ago started the process. She has 30 days to even fill in the form. Jared will be there.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The good news about that is, is that for purposes of Jared Kushner, all of her assets are imputed to him, so there’s not going to be any surprises.

It’s just another day in the press’s guerrilla war against the Trump administration.

ONE MORE THING: It isn’t germane to the main point of this post, but it should be noted that the Times article includes this contemptible reference to David Horowitz:

The speaking fees, all of which were from 2016, ranged from about $10,000 to about $22,000. He gave talks to relatively run-of-the-mill groups like the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce in Nebraska, but also to the David Horowitz Freedom Center in California, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as an anti-Muslim hate group.

A disgusting lie perpetrated by two smear merchants, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the New York Times.

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