Michael Flynn’s resignation and the torrent of remaining questions concerning him, his ties to Russia, President Trump’s awareness of his activities and the dysfunctionality in the White House should prompt some soul-searching in the administration, among Republican lawmakers and outside defenders of the White House. Here’s a short list to start the ball rolling:
First, Kellyanne Conway has been exposed (again) as someone who, in the words of MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, is both uninformed and untrustworthy about what goes on in the White House. “Everybody in the White House but Donald Trump has complained for months that she is a free agent. She goes out, she says whatever she wants to say. She doesn’t coordinate her message,” he said. “And then she comes back in and they have to clean it up.” Likewise on NBC’s “Today Show,” Matt Lauer excoriated her for her nonsensical explanation of the Flynn episode, challenging her argument that Flynn had enjoyed the president’s confidence. “Kellyanne, that makes no sense! Last month the Justice Department warned the White House that General Flynn misled them! And that as a result he was vulnerable to blackmail and at that moment he still had the complete trust of the president?” To top it off, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos blasted her for pleading ignorance again and again. “You asked to come on at the president’s request, the president wants you to come out and speak for the White House this morning. Do you know if the president was told three weeks ago, when Sally Yates told the White House counsel that General Flynn had been compromised, do you know if the president was told that?” When she continued to insist she did not know basic facts, he exclaimed, “Why does the president have Kellyanne Conway, ask to have her come on our program, if she can’t answer the simple yes or no questions about what happened with General Flynn?” Well, obviously he doesn’t care about getting out the truth.
The lesson here: Do not have on the air someone who intentionally or unintentionally dissembles. The media should not give a stage for her to mislead the American people.
Second, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) continues to run from questions about Flynn and the president. “I think the president made the right decision to ask for his resignation. . . . I’ll leave it up to the administration to describe the circumstances,” he told reporters. He declined to press for an investigation or further explanation. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) still feigns disinterest in the episode — or any other scandal involving the White House. He insists the Flynn matter is “taking care of itself.” This comes as the ranking Democrat of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), warns more information is about to come out. This occurs as Trump’s disapproval ticks up to 54 percent in the latest Gallup poll. Republicans increasingly look like apologists for an inept and dishonest White House.
The lesson here: Republicans should never trust the White House to take care of anything, let alone a scandal. Republicans now look like they are actively trying to bury a serious matter of national security. Their credibility as a serious co-equal branch of government is at risk.
Third, Vice President Pence was burned by Flynn, who misled him about the nature of Flynn’s calls with the Russian ambassador. Pence’s own credibility was besmirched simply because he was being a good soldier. Either the president or the White House counsel (who learned weeks ago about the real nature of Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador) failed to warn him not to go to bat for Flynn.
The lesson here: Let besieged White House staff do their own dirty work. If they cannot provide evidence to corroborate their position, do not vouch for what they say.
Fourth, the intelligence community obviously knew what Flynn had said to the Russian ambassador. The investigation into ongoing Trump campaign connections to Russia during the campaign continues. Their integrity was questioned by Flynn and the president.
The lesson here: Do not go to war with the spies; they will get you eventually.
Fifth, neither Defense Secretary Jim Mattis nor Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson are blabbing to the press. They are quietly going about their business, as best as they are able without high press visibility. They are soothing allies and establishing credibility with Congress. They both understand there is a narrow window (especially with an administration this unsteady) to put American foreign policy on a more solid footing. Instead of fencing with the “killers” (as they like to refer to themselves) in the White House they are trying to accomplish achievable objectives (e.g., rebuilding the military).
The lesson here: The less done in public the better in the Trump administration. Staying out of the line of fire and refusing to become enmeshed in White House staff debacles (or better, going on record against them) can be a winning strategy.
Like a good spy-thriller, the watch words here should be to trust no one, watch your back, make sure you avoid men and women of shoddy character and be on the side of disclosure and candor. Otherwise, you’re likely to have your own reputation sullied.