14 February 2017
Out like Flynn
When Russian politicians complain about the apparently forced resignation of President Trump's National Security Adviser, that will only confirm to some American observers that General Flynn was too chummy with Russia for Trump's good. Flynn stepped down after mere weeks on the job after the media learned that recordings of his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. from before his confirmation contradicted his own account, made directly to the Vice President-elect, that he had not discussed Trump's intentions regarding the last round of sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama administration to protest alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. Flynn's offense ultimately was threefold. He may have violated the Logan Act by discussing U.S. foreign policy with a foreign diplomat while still a private citizen; he apparently lied to Vice President Pence about the content of the conversation; and as the Russians would know that he lied, he made himself theoretically vulnerable to blackmail that could compromise U.S. policy. Flynn may have been the leading Russophile on Trump's national-security team, and it would make sense for the President to replace him with someone of similar sympathies, albeit with less suspect ties to Russia, in order to counterbalance relative Russophobes like the new Secretary of Defense, who regards Russia as a "principal threat" to U.S. interests. Despite the suspicions of hard-core Russophobes here, it should be possible to favor friendlier relations with Russia, warts and all, without coming under criminal suspicion. I know it's part of internet folklore now that anyone who says anything in Russia's favor online is in Russia's employ, but for all Vladimir Putin's alleged ill-gotten gains I doubt he's that rich. Trump's security and foreign-policy appointments so far suggest that he has a healthy interest in hearing multiple points of view, if not necessarily as many as he should hear, and it might be at least as big a mistake as appointing Flynn apparently was to feel obliged to replace him with someone of the opposite viewpoint.