Nicholas Schmidle writes: Two days before the Inauguration of Donald Trump as the forty-fifth President of the United States, Michael Flynn, a retired lieutenant general and former intelligence officer, sat down in a Washington restaurant. On the tablecloth, he placed a leather-bound folder and two phones, which flashed with text messages and incoming calls. A gaunt, stern-looking man with hooded eyes and a Roman nose, Flynn is sharp in both manner and language. He had been one of Trump’s earliest supporters, a vociferous booster on television, on Twitter, and, most memorably, from the stage of the Republican National Convention. Strident views and a penchant for conspiracy theories often embroiled him in controversy — in a hacked e-mail from last summer, former Secretary of State Colin Powell called him “right-wing nutty” — but Trump rewarded Flynn’s loyalty by making him his national-security adviser. Now, after months of unrelenting scrutiny, Flynn seemed to believe that he could find a measure of obscurity in the West Wing, steps away from Trump and the Oval Office. “I want to go back to having an out-of-sight role,” he told me.
That ambition proved illusory. Three weeks into his job, the Washington Post revealed that Flynn, while he was still a private citizen and Barack Obama was still President, had discussed American sanctions against Russia with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador in Washington. The conversations were possibly illegal. Flynn and Kislyak’s communications, by phone and text, occurred on the same day the Obama Administration announced the expulsion of thirty-five Russian diplomats in retaliation for Russia’s efforts to swing the election in Trump’s favor. Flynn had previously denied talking about sanctions with the Ambassador. At the restaurant, he said that he didn’t think there was anything untoward about the call: “I’ve had a relationship with him since my days at the D.I.A.” — the Defense Intelligence Agency, which Flynn directed from 2012 to 2014. But, in a classic Washington spectacle of action followed by coverup followed by collapse, Flynn soon started backpedalling, saying, through a spokesman, that he “couldn’t be certain that the topic [of sanctions] never came up.”
He compounded his predicament by making the same denial to Vice-President Mike Pence, who repeated it on television. Flynn later apologized to Pence. But by then his transgressions had been made public. In a White House characterized by chaos and conflict — a Byzantine court led by a reality-television star, family members, and a circle of ideologues and loyalists — Flynn was finished.
The episode created countless concerns, about the President’s truthfulness, competence, temperament, and associations. How much did Trump know and when did he know it?
John McCain, a Republican and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that the fiasco was a “troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national-security apparatus” and raised “further questions” about the Trump Administration’s intentions regarding Vladimir Putin’s Russia. [Continue reading…]