Donald Trump's White House falls apart a little more every day. It seems like every morning there's more news about who among Donald Trump's friends, relatives, and advisers is being subpoenaed, questioned, accused, or indicted or, worse for the president, who has flipped and will testify against him. Meanwhile, Trump flails around, making accusations against everybody from the FBI to the Democrats to the Washington Post and George Soros. It would be great fun to watch if the stakes weren't so high for the country.
The linchpin to this whole "Russiagate" case is Mike Flynn. The former three-star general and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was a loose cannon whom Obama had to fire in 2014. While Flynn had a real vision to transform the bloated DIA from a second-tier also-ran in the intelligence community to a primary war zone intelligence service, he was known as a nasty jerk to those around him, he was unnecessarily harsh with his subordinates, and he simply could not or would not follow the president's direction.
Flynn suffered from that very Washington affliction: He thought he was smarter than everybody else in the room and he wouldn't take advice. Trump has the same disease.
After Flynn had proven himself a thorn in the collective sides of Obama and Ashton Carter, then Secretary of Defense, he jumped into the Trump campaign with both feet, famously leading a chant of "Lock her up!" in reference to Hillary Clinton, at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
I believe it was then that Obama decided to have a little fun with Flynn, at Trump's great expense. Here's what we know:
NSA spies on Americans. They also spy on Russians. And when an American is on the phone with the Russian ambassador, or meeting with Russian attorneys with "ties to Russian intelligence," and then reporting back to a major Republican presidential campaign, NSA lights up. So NSA knew that Flynn was in touch with Russian Ambassador Serge Kislyak even before the two hung up the phone.
A conversation between a senior presidential campaign official and a Russian diplomat or intelligence officer is major news in the intelligence community, and that news would have been reported back to Obama posthaste. So Obama knew that Flynn, Donald Trump Jr., and others were meeting with the Russians. And he knew what was being said because NSA had given him the transcripts.
Another thing we know is that in their first post-election meeting at the White House, Obama gave Trump one piece of unsolicited advice: Don't hire Mike Flynn. The meeting was reported everywhere, and most observers thought that Obama had made the recommendation because he had to fire Flynn from DIA for insubordination.
I don't think that was it at all. I think Obama knew that Trump would do exactly the opposite of what he wanted. If Obama doesn't want him to hire Flynn, then, by God, he's going to hire Flynn. And so he did.
Flynn then proceeded to dig himself a deeper hole. We know that he telephoned Kislyak on December 22 and again on December 29 to ask him to either delay or veto a United Nations Security Council Resolution that would have condemned Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Of course, NSA was fully cognizant of these conversations and, as it turns out, provided those transcripts to the FBI.
Was this "collusion" with the Russians? Of course not. It was an overeager, underinformed, and amateurish attempt at foreign policy. If anything, it was collusion with the Israelis to try to block Obama's foreign policy on Israel and the settlements. If anything, it was a violation of the Logan Act of 1799, which prohibits the making of foreign policy by a private citizen, which Flynn still was.
But that's not the point. The point is that the FBI by then had a transcript of the call when they asked Flynn to speak with them about it.
And therein lies the rub. First, I can tell you from personal firsthand experience that nobody should ever, EVER, talk to the FBI, at least without an attorney sitting right next to you. FBI agents will lie, cheat, and deceive to get you to trip yourself up in your response to their questions. Even if you don't remember what you said in some particular conversation months or years ago, or if your recollection is fuzzy, they will charge you with a felony for "making a false statement." That's the leverage that they want over you.
Mike Flynn is a career intelligence professional. He knew that NSA would have been listening to his conversations with the Russians. He knew that NSA would have passed the information to the FBI. But when the FBI interviewed him about his talks with the Russians, he lied. It's as simple as that. He lied. And that's a felony.
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