Coverup in search of a crime

New York Daily News - - NEWS - CHARLES KRAUTHAM­MER let­ters@charleskrautham­

It’s a Water­gate-era cliche that the coverup is al­ways worse than the crime. In the Mike Flynn af­fair, we have the first recorded in­stance of a coverup in the ab­sence of a crime. Be­ing cov­ered up were the Dec. 29 phone calls be­tween Flynn and the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton. The pre­sumed vi­o­la­tion was Flynn ne­go­ti­at­ing with a for­eign ad­ver­sary while the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was still in of­fice and, even worse, dis­cussing with Sergey Kislyak the sanc­tions then be­ing im­posed upon Rus­sia (for med­dling in the 2016 elec­tions).

What’s wrong with that? It is ris­i­ble to in­voke the Lo­gan Act, passed dur­ing the John Adams ad­min­is­tra­tion, un­der which not a sin­gle Amer­i­can has been pros­e­cuted in the in­ter­ven­ing 218 years. It pro­hibits pri­vate cit­i­zens from ne­go­ti­at­ing with for­eign pow­ers. Flynn was hardly a pri­vate cit­i­zen. As Don­ald Trump’s pub­licly des­ig­nated in­com­ing na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, it was per­fectly rea­son­able for him to be talk­ing to for­eign ac­tors in prepa­ra­tion for as­sum­ing of­fice within the month.

Worst case: He was telling Kislyak that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion might lift sanc­tions and there­fore, com­rade, no need for a spi­ral of re­tal­i­a­tions. How dif­fer­ent is this from Barack Obama telling Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev, on an in­ad­ver­tently open mic, dur­ing his 2012 re­elec­tion cam­paign, “This is my last elec­tion. Af­ter my elec­tion, I have more flex­i­bil­ity.”

Flynn would have been giv­ing the Rus­sians useful in­for­ma­tion that might well have con­trib­uted to Rus­sia’s de­ci­sion not to re­tal­i­ate. I’m no Rus­sophile. But again: What’s wrong with that? Turns out, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has not lifted those sanc­tions. It’s all a tempest in an empty teapot.

The ac­cu­sa­tions of mis­be­hav­ior by Flynn carry a sub­lim­i­nal echo of a long­stand­ing charge against Richard Nixon that he in­ter­fered in the Paris peace talks in Oc­to­ber 1968 to pre­vent his Demo­cratic op­po­nent from claim­ing a ma­jor for­eign pol­icy suc­cess on the eve of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

But that kind of al­leged diplo­matic free­lanc­ing would have pro­longed a war in which Amer­i­cans were dy­ing daily. The Flynn con­ver­sa­tion was noth­ing re­motely of the sort. Where’s the harm?

The harm was not the calls but Flynn’s ly­ing about them. And most es­pe­cially ly­ing to the vice pres­i­dent who then went out and told the world Flynn had never dis­cussed sanc­tions. You can’t leave your vice pres­i­dent un­der­cut and ex­posed. Flynn had to go.

Up to this point, the story makes sense. Ex­cept for one thing: Why the coverup if there is no crime? Why lie about talk­ing about sanc­tions? It’s in­ex­pli­ca­ble. Did Flynn want to head off lines of in­quiry about other con­tacts with Rus­sians that might not have been so in­no­cent? Mas­sive new leaks sug­gest nu­mer­ous con­tacts dur­ing the cam­paign be­tween Trump as­so­ciates and Rus­sian of­fi­cials, some of whom were in­tel­li­gence agents. Up till now, how­ever, re­ports The New York Times, there is “no ev­i­dence” of any Trump cam­paign col­lu­sion or co­op­er­a­tion with Rus­sian hack­ing and other in­ter­fer­ence in the U.S. elec­tion.

Thus far. Which is why there will be in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Spec­u­la­tion ranges from the wildly malev­o­lent to the rather loop­ily in­no­cent.

At one end of the spec­trum is the sce­nario wherein th­ese cam­paign of­fi­cials — in­clud­ing per­haps Flynn, per­haps even Trump — are com­pro­mised be­cause of tainted busi­ness or po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties known to the Rus­sians, to whom they are now cap­tive. A fevered con­spir­acy in my view, but there are non­cer­ti­fi­able peo­ple who con­sider it pos­si­ble.

At the be­nign end of the spec­trum is that the eas­ily flat­tered Trump imag­ines him­self the great deal­maker who overnight be­comes a great states­man by charm­ing Vladimir Putin into a Nixon-to-China grand bar­gain — we jointly call off the new Cold War, join forces to de­stroy the Is­lamic State and reach a new ac­com­mo­da­tion for Europe that re­lieves us of some of the bur­den of par­a­sitic al­lies.

To me, the idea is nuts, a nar­cis­sis­tic fan­tasy grounded in nei­ther strat­egy nor his­tory. But that doesn’t mean Trump might not imag­ine it — af­ter all, he main­tains that if we had only stayed in Iraq to steal its oil, we wouldn’t have the Is­lamic State. And if this has in­deed been his think­ing about Rus­sia, it would make sense to sur­round him­self with ad­vis­ers who had ex­ten­sive deal­ings there.

I be­lieve nei­ther of th­ese sce­nar­ios but I’m hard put to come up with al­ter­na­tives. The puzzle re­mains. Why did Flynn lie? Un­til we an­swer that, the case of the coverup in search of a crime re­mains un­solved.

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