Our Commander in Chief, as he is wont to do, went on a tweetstorm early this morning. I’d like to dig into one of these tweets in particular, because I think President Trump is showing us a fatal flaw in his administration:
For days, he’s been complaining about leaks, and while I can understand that frustration, it is nothing new in Washington.
The specific leak he is referring to is regarding the events leading to the resignation of Michael Flynn, his National Security Advisor. Since the leak, every reporter in America has been asking the same question, an echo from Watergate: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”
I am going to suggest that we’re talking about the wrong thing.
Let’s back up. The New York Times has done an excellent job starting to fill in the timeline here, and it is worth review:
We know that on December 29th, Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. There is apparently a transcript of this call.
If true — and it appears to be true — Flynn broke the law in negotiating with Russia. Whether we’re talking about corruption, the Logan Act, or treason depends on the content of those transcripts. But what is very clear is that Trump spokesman Sean Spicer’s suggestion that Flynn did “nothing wrong” is another alternative fact. Even Senate Republicans are pushing for investigation.
The timeline will evolve. But let’s see where things stand with what we have. At the latest, Trump knew about the lawbreaking on January 26th, and still included Flynn in a phone call with Russian President Vladamir Putin on the 28th.
So, even if Flynn lied about the content of the call to Vice President Pence, the fact that Trump knew by the 26th and kept him in the game two days later is a bombshell.
Trump made a huge mistake here, and at this point that mistake is nearly undeniable, in spite of their efforts to spin the resignation as an “erosion of trust.”
But rather than being accountable to that mistake, Trump is instead lashing out at the intelligence officers who leaked the crime to the media. And that, to me, is the real scandal: that our president isn’t upset that a core member of his staff violated the law, but is instead upset that someone told the public that he had.
What I find particularly interesting is that when an employee leaks information about the breaking of a law, we usually don’t call that a leak, we call it “whistleblowing.” It may be some time before we agree on whether Edward Snowden acted appropriately in his leaks. But in this case, no methods were revealed, no advantage given to a foreign power. He simply broke the law, and we’ve been told that. Why the President only wants to talk about leaks — and why Fox News seems content to let him do so — are valid questions.
The President doubled down this morning, in his press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said that Flynn was brought down because, “papers are being leaked, things are being leaked.”
To be clear, here’s where the rubber meets the road for me: the President didn’t part ways with Flynn because he had broken the law, but because we found out he had broken the law. And that should send a chill down the spine of even the most ardent Trump supporter.
Isn’t the real reason, the actual reason that Michael Flynn resigned, the fact that he broke the law? Is Trump actually suggesting that he would have kept Flynn on (as he did for two days) indefinitely if not for the leak?
If so, that is an abominable lapse in judgement.
So, I disagree with the President. The “real scandal” is that Trump appears quite willing to shelter his staff if they break the law. As long as the public doesn’t find out.
Maybe that’s why he doesn’t want to answer the question. Because if the American public understood clearly what he knew, and when he knew it, he would be facing the biggest scandal since Watergate.