The most influential national security job in the still-forming Trump administration will likely go to a retired three-star general who helped dismantle insurgent networks in Afghanistan and Iraq but then surprised — and sometimes dismayed — colleagues by joining the political insurgency led by Donald Trump. …
Flynn has also shown an erratic streak since leaving government that is likely to make his elevation disconcerting even to the flag officers and senior intelligence officials who once considered him a peer.
Flynn stunned former colleagues when he traveled to Moscow last year to appear alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a lavish gala for the Kremlin-run propaganda channel RT, a trip Flynn admitted he was paid to make and defended by saying he saw no distinction between RT and U.S. news channels such as CNN.
Flynn’s personal testiness, unhinged zealousness, rash judgment and anti-Muslim hysteria echo Trump’s deficiencies. Critics point out that Flynn’s confrontational behavior and “chaotic” management style got him forced out from his last job as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn’s presence in the national security realm will make it that much harder for Trump to attract quality people, according to multiple foreign-policy experts whom I contacted. Putting Flynn in the national security adviser spot makes sense if one wants to avoid a confirmation hearing. However, insofar as the national security adviser is supposed to be an honest broker who ensures that the president gets input from the State Department, the Pentagon, etc., installing a volatile personality, prone to extreme rhetoric, is asking for trouble.
Most disturbing is Flynn’s blatantly unethical conduct as Trump’s adviser. According to Yahoo News:
What was striking, according to ethics experts, is that given his overseas consulting business, Flynn began sitting in on classified intelligence briefings with Trump last summer. Flynn was reportedly so assertive during the initial briefing in August, peppering the briefers with rapid-fire questions, that Trump’s adviser Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who also attended the briefing, was prompted to try to calm him down by placing a hand on his arm.
Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, an outside watchdog group, said that she finds it “deeply disturbing” that Flynn attended these briefings at a time that he was representing foreign clients with interests before the U.S. government. “It’s exactly the kind of foreign entanglements our laws are designed to prevent,” she said.
One retired military officer who has advised both Republican and Democratic presidents said of the allegations about Flynn: “If this is true, it’s a disqualifying conflict of interest — if not by ethics laws, certainly in the spirit of conflict of interest, not to mention security regulations. We should be deeply concerned about his ethical judgment, but more specifically how can he possibly provide unbiased advice to the POTUS about Turkey and Russia, when he’s taken money from both.”
One does wonder whether this egregious self-dealing was what Trump voters expected.
Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, blasted the pick, citing Flynn’s affinity for Putin, inflammatory comments about Islam, disregard for human rights abuses in Turkey and hair-trigger personality. “Ideally, the president-elect, who strikes me as someone with an impulsive personality, ought to have someone who is a stable hand smoothing out the rough, impetuous edges of the president,” he said on Thursday at a defense conference. “The impression I have of Gen. Flynn is that he has a like personality to the president-elect.” That impression is widely shared.
Although Flynn’s appointment is not subject to Senate confirmation, his behavior in receiving intelligence briefings while representing foreign clients is well within the scope of congressional oversight. Are there Republican committee chairs willing to take this on, to drain the swamp and make sure those who misused access to the U.S. government are not rewarded? By the way, given that the FBI was apparently looking into Hillary Clinton’s far less blatant conduct (meeting foundation donors on legitimate State Department business), where is James B. Comey? We hope his eager and leak-prone investigators aren’t interested in examining only Democrats’ foreign conflicts.
Two points should be kept in mind. Historically, some of a president’s initial round of appointments don’t last very long. James Jones washed out as President Obama’s first national security adviser pick in less than two years. In early summer 1994, President Bill Clinton cleaned house — replacing his childhood friend and chief of staff, Thomas (“Mack”) F. McLarty III, with Leon Panetta and bringing in David Gergen. In July 1982, Al Haig (whose personality is closest to that of Flynn — who famously declared “I am in charge” after President Ronald Reagan was shot — was out as secretary of state, and one of our best secretaries of state, George P. Shultz, was in. In other words, presidents often make bad picks early on. As they come to understand the job and manage conflicting personalities, the troublemakers and the weak links wash out.
House and Senate Democrats — along with whatever brave Republican souls they can round up, plus outside groups and ordinary citizens — need to take a stance on White House staff appointees such as Stephen K. Bannon and Flynn who are unworthy of high government posts. Two of Trump’s first, most important hires turn out to be the chief executive of a Web site that panders to white nationalists and a Putin toady who got classified intelligence briefings while working for a foreign client. Loyalty is crowding out competency and decency in the Trump White House — shocking, I know.
If the president is going to insist on cramming one sleazy crony after another into the West Wing, perhaps the White House staff and funding should be substantially reduced. Someone has to drain the swamp.