These days, when I see a sustained media pile-on against someone, I’m made immediately doubtful about the intentions of the media.
The media could allay those doubts by reporting things that might, at some point, be independently verifiable.
But in the case of the innuendo assault against National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the media have yet to do that.
Over at Hot Air, Allahpundit has laid out an extensive recounting and analysis of the hearsay-brief being built against Flynn by the Washington Post. WaPo keeps being the original media source of anything that might be called “substantive” alleged against Flynn, which right off the bat is a red flag. There are other allegations about personality clashes and he said-she said stuff behind the scenes, coming from other news outlets (the New York Times has had a report or two). But those aren’t substantive. They’re filler. You might as well read a slam-book and use it to form moral judgments about a seventh-grader.
I think Allahpundit is very right about this point: the knives are out somewhere for Mike Flynn.
But the narrative that the knives are being wielded by people in the Trump administration, who have honest intentions, doesn’t hang together. If that were the case, none of this would make sense.
If Flynn had done something for which he should be removed from his post, no one would have to run around with knives trying to stab him in the back from the shadows.
And, of course, the first point to make is that it has in no way been established that Flynn has done anything to be removed over. He is supposed to have spoken to the Russian ambassador to the U.S. back in December, and to have discussed with Ambassador Kislyak (among other things) the sanctions Obama imposed on Russia due to the intelligence assessment that Moscow tried to interfere in the 2016 election.
The Russians say there was no discussion of the sanctions, for whatever that may be worth. Flynn and the ambassador agree that the call took place, but beyond that, we have only the claims of WaPo’s anonymous sources about what was said in the call, and whether it was inappropriate.
I suspect that’s all we’ll ever have. WaPo acknowledges that a “case” against Flynn would be hard to build, and that there is nothing inherently disquieting about a prospective president’s advisers speaking to foreign contacts:
U.S. officials said that seeking to build such a case against Flynn would be daunting. The law against U.S. citizens interfering in foreign diplomacy, known as the Logan Act, stems from a 1799 statute that has never been prosecuted. As a result, there is no case history to help guide authorities on when to proceed or how to secure a conviction.
Officials also cited political sensitivities. Prominent Americans in and out of government are so frequently in communication with foreign officials that singling out one individual — particularly one poised for a top White House job — would invite charges of political persecution.
Former U.S. officials also said aggressive enforcement would probably discourage appropriate contact. Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, said that he was in Moscow meeting with officials in the weeks leading up to Obama’s 2008 election win.
So what we have here is unsourced rumor about something that others have also routinely done, and that Flynn can’t be prosecuted for. No one is going to be removed from his job for cause over that.
An unprosecutable “offense” is something Flynn would never have his day in court over. It’s the easiest, cheapest thing in the world to simply smear someone with. Beware letting such rumor-mongering come to rule our public square. No one’s life and property are safe where that is the case.
I think most of us would rather be fair about these things. That’s probably a big reason why this media campaign against Flynn has been getting little traction. (The social media share counts on the sample of articles I reviewed from the last 48 hours are remarkably low. Hardly anyone seems interested.)
The other important point to make, besides the fact that this is an unsourced smear job from start to finish, is that the overall narrative being implied is so ridiculous. Aside from the overhyped innuendo about Flynn’s phone call with the Russian ambassador, the pile-on rumors are about various luminaries in the national security establishment maneuvering like stammering children to box in an out-of-control Flynn.
Allahpundit sums up the narrative this way (and I recommend reading this whole passage, to understand just how bizarrely incompetent it makes out Trump’s team to be):
[O]ne likely explanation for the backbiting against Flynn — he’s in a turf war with the broader intelligence community, which has incentives to undermine him by leaking. (That’s how WaPo managed to scrape together nine sources.) But that’s not the only turf war he’s fighting. Remember, Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner were allegedly forced to intervene several weeks ago when Pompeo, Jim Mattis, and Rex Tillerson complained that Flynn was being too aggressive in trying to assert his influence. Bannon and Kushner allegedly promised to do something about it; around the same time, Trump took the surprising step of hiring an additional White House advisor on counterterrorism (Tom Bossert) who would report directly to him, not to Flynn, a sign that someone near the top of the food chain isn’t comfortable with Flynn being the president’s only pipeline for natsec information.
On top of all of that, Flynn’s influence may also be threatening the policymaking ambitions of other major players within the White House’s inner circle. “Three weeks into Mr. Trump’s presidency,” writes the Times, “Mr. Flynn’s role on national security matters has been challenged by other West Wing power players — including the president’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who have both taken expansive roles shaping foreign and defense policy.” Remember the news last week about Bannon landing a seat on the National Security Council’s Principals Committee? That’s yet another way to make sure Flynn isn’t Trump’s exclusive eyes and ears on intelligence. The question is whether all of this is being done prudentially, because Trump and his team have reason to believe they can’t completely trust Flynn (the worst possible quality you could have in a national security advisor) or whether it’s a pure power play to expand the influence of people like Bannon at Flynn’s expense.
Apparently, we’re seriously supposed to believe that Donald Trump, Rex Tillerson, and Jim Mattis – all with decades of executive leadership experience behind them – don’t know what to do about Mike Flynn, and have to circle around him with poles and baffles like animal cops trying to corral an alligator. (We’re also supposed to believe that inner-circle adviser Steve Bannon, whom Trump has stood by unwaveringly under a barbaric campaign of character assassination, has to maneuver against Flynn if Flynn is a problem, instead of just having it out up-front.)
If Flynn is such a disaster for national security administrative discipline, Trump can fire his patoot. The most meaningful analytical factor for me is that Trump hasn’t done so. Trump isn’t on the outside of his own national security team looking in – unlike WaPo, NYT, Politico, and every Beltway hood rat who seems to be wielding a knife in this situation. Trump knows what work product he’s getting from Flynn. It requires a really unhinged view of Trump, to think he doesn’t know what to do if his national security adviser is off the reservation.
Consider just this one point: the sudden, careless references, reportedly from WaPo’s sources, to U.S. intelligence monitoring phone calls and online communications between the Russian ambassador and U.S. citizens. (See the WaPo link above.) To blithely talk about that to the Washington Post is evidence that someone is willing to do whatever it takes, no matter how irresponsible, to put Flynn in a bad light. And it’s blindingly obvious that it’s not Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis, or Steve Bannon. (I’d be extremely hard to convince that it’s Mike Pompeo either.)
I’ve seen multiple reports today that when Trump was asked about the “Flynn controversy” while flying with Prime Minister Abe to Mar-a-Lago, he said he didn’t know about it.
President Trump, answering reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday, said he was not aware of the report.
“I don’t know about that. I haven’t seen it. What report is that?” he said. “I haven’t seen that. I’ll look into that.”
Maybe that’s a dodge by Trump. But the most important thing to understand is that there is only one narrative that hangs together here, and it’s that Mike Flynn is being railroaded. If anything else were going on, all the clues would be different.