The country is a little bit safer with Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn deposed as National Security Adviser—but not much. It’s a relief to be rid of the paranoid, Islamophobic, fact-averse Trump adviser who reportedly didn’t know he needed Congress to approve new arms deals. But let’s be clear: The White House cover story for Flynn’s departure makes no sense. The most dangerous person in the White House still has a job.
Flynn resigned, according to the Trump administration, not because he was caught talking to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama in December but because he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about it. Late Monday night, he admitted to giving Pence “incomplete information” about his conversations with Kislyak, which supposedly led Pence to repeat lies about those talks to the press. That was the first story, anyway. Late Tuesday afternoon, the White House claimed Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation. But the real question is the age-old puzzle about corruption in the White House: “What did the president know and when did he know it?”
We have just learned that Trump actually knew about his national-security adviser’s sanctions discussions with Kislyak at least by late January. That’s when, according to The Washington Post, acting Attorney Attorney General Sally Yates brought transcripts of Kislyak’s intercepted calls to the White House, and warned that Flynn could be subject to Russian blackmail for lying to Pence. Trump fired not Flynn but Yates shortly afterward, when she refused to enforce his travel ban. It took him until now, though, to acknowledge that he’d been warned about Flynn’s talks with Russian leaders, and that’s mainly because of intelligence-community leaks to reporters about the Flynn transcripts.
The good news is that suddenly we have the media widely asking the old Watergate question about what the president knew and when. In the last 24 hours, I’ve heard that from cable reporters so young they can’t remember Richard Nixon and may not even know the question’s origin. The media seem newly energized by the cascade of leaks from the intelligence agencies. It’s more challenging than simply cherry-picking damaging disclosures about Hillary Clinton from Wikileaks (which Obama warned were provided by hackers with ties to the Russian government, shortly before he left office), which had been the media’s obsession throughout much of 2016.
The bad news is that we’re at the mercy of intelligence-community leaks, as various factions in the three-letter agencies peddle their stories to reporters. That’s because so far, the congressional GOP leadership, which has the power to escalate investigations into not only Flynn’s ties to Russia but other Trump staffers’, as well as the president’s—has been missing in action.