THE PROBLEM STARTS AT THE TOP
Trump was Flynn’s role model. That’s the uneasy truth at the heart of his abrupt exit.
If you start firing people for lying, for purveying “alternative facts,” for making U. S. foreign policy before you take office, for possibly having financial ties to Russia and possibly being vulnerable to blackmail by Russia, for being investigated by U. S. intelligence agencies — well. Where will it stop?
That’s the obvious and extremely uncomfortable question surrounding the forced departure of national security adviser Michael Flynn less than a month into the Trump administration. Because you might say President Trump is his role model.
If the tone is set from the top, Flynn might have thought he was doing exactly as Trump wanted. And it might not just be a tone. Who knows what Trump explicitly instructed or witnessed.
It was not shocking that events unfolded this way. Flynn was, after all, the guy who took money from Russia Today, the Russian propaganda outlet, for a speaking engagement. Who yelled “lock her up” about Hillary Clinton at the Republican convention. The guy who spread rumors of sex crimes with children online and spread lies, or at least untrue or partial information, about whether his son had a security clearance and whether he discussed Obama- era sanctions with Russia ( both cases in which Vice President Pence got burned).
This is also the guy whose son not only promoted the certifiably hallucinatory “news” about a Hillary Clinton- run child sex slave ring at the Comet Ping Pong pizza joint in my neighborhood, but also gloated on Twitter about what he called the # Muslim-Ban. Most other conservatives knew enough not to advertise Trump’s travel ban in a way that seemed patently unconstitutional. That’s when young Flynn finally shut down his Twitter account ( although he revived it briefly Tuesday to defend his dad).
The father and son clearly never made the transition from campaign mode to governing mode. Remind you of anyone?
WINTER SITUATION ROOM
Is the Flynn exit a sign that Trump is getting serious? That his executive orders will be less like press releases and his tweets will be more tethered to reality, and that the awesome responsibility of the presidency is finally dawning on him? That he’ll fire or marginalize Stephen Bannon, who seems to be itching for show- downs with immigrants and minorities, as well as Iran and China? Dream on. The same day he fired Flynn, the president held a press conference that never addressed the raging issue of Flynn’s future — because he only called on two U. S. news outlets, both of them rightleaning and sympathetic. He formulated his response to the North Korea missile test at the Winter Situation Room, aka the restaurant terrace at Mar- a- Lago.
And on Wednesday, he called Flynn “a wonderful man.”
FOIBLES AND LEAKS
A top candidate to succeed Flynn is David Petraeus. It’s apparently of little concern that the retired general and former CIA director passed classified information to his biographer, with whom he was having an affair. It might in fact be a feature rather than a bug. This administration is noteworthy so far for a pile- up of personal foibles and an astonishing flood of damaging leaks.
Ulysses S. Grant grew up in a town with a newspaper called The Castigator. My husband passed on that nugget from a Grant biography, and I can’t get it out of my head. For two years now, covering Clinton, Trump and the politicians with less obvi- ous flaws who failed to stop them or even to run, investigative reporters and opinion journalists might as well have been in a TV series called The Castigators.
So let me say a few nice things about Republicans. When the Obama sisters left the White House, they received a wise and sweet letter from Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager about how to move on with their lives. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, in an indication he might actually do his job as head of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asked the Office of Government Ethics to investigate White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway for plugging Ivanka Trump’s clothing line on TV. Sen. John McCain has been stalwart in his attempts to redirect Trump’s Russia policy.
And Trump himself has not only named solid military men to run Defense and Homeland Security, he made a stunningly excellent choice for Veterans Affairs secretary — Obama holdover David Shulkin. The Senate confirmed him 100- 0 Monday night.
The glass, then, is a couple of inches full. But the rest remains empty. That is because the real problem is at the top.
President- elect Donald Trump and National Security Adviser designate Michael Flynn on Dec. 21 in Palm Beach, Fla.