Take your pick for the worst news of the day for President Trump — a tax plan panned as anti-populist, or Trumpcare 3.0’s flop, or having to back off the wall funding and NAFTA withdrawal? I’d go with none of those, but rather, the latest news about Michael T. Flynn, who has come to epitomize the worst characteristics of the administration even though he left more than two months ago.
The Post reports on the saga of payments Flynn received from Russia and Turkey:
The Pentagon’s top watchdog has launched an investigation into money that former national security adviser and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn received from foreign groups, members of the House Oversight Committee said Thursday.
The Pentagon office will try to determine whether Flynn “failed to obtain required approval prior to receiving” the payments, according to an April 11 letter from Defense Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the committee chairman. In the past, the Pentagon has advised retiring officers that because they can be recalled to military service, they may be subject to the Constitution’s rarely enforced emoluments clause, which prohibits top officials from receiving payments or favors from foreign governments.
At the daily briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer struggled to explain how Flynn made it onto the team. He feebly offered that he had a security clearance in the Obama administration, suggesting that the Trump team did not do any vetting.
If the Pentagon finds wrongdoing, it can in essence claw back the improperly received monies from Flynn — which might be the least of Flynn’s troubles. Democrats today also released a letter showing that Flynn had been warned upon departure not to receive foreign money without prior clearance.
The White House has refused to comply with requests for documents. CNN reported, “White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short outlined in a letter to the House oversight committee how it would not complete the request from the panel, referring some requests to the Department of Defense, saying the office doesn’t have custody of some of the other documents or simply stating ‘we are unable to accommodate’ others.” There is no excuse for the administration not to comply. If need be, the committee must issue a formal subpoena and pursue contempt proceedings if the White House still refuses to cough up what information it has.
Here the administration’s scandals, secrecy, foreign ties and ineptitude seem to all come together. In the Flynn fiasco, we have contacts with Russia, apparent lying about contacts with Russia, payments from Russian entities (both for a speech and for an appearance at an RT gala), White House stonewalling and a complete failure of vetting. And, of course, Flynn brought with him a peculiar pro-Russian bent, raising the question as to why and how he came to take positions at odds with U.S. interests but very much in sync with Russia’s.
Needless to say, the White House response to the Flynn fiasco is puzzling. Why not give the committee every scrap of paper, if Flynn just carried out normal duties during the transitions as the president claimed? Why did the president suggest that Flynn should pursue immunity in exchange for his testimony? These questions, not to mention the failed attempt to distract investigators with the false claim that President Barack Obama “wiretapped” Trump Tower, lead one to believe that the president is exceedingly concerned about Flynn’s role in the investigation.
Meanwhile, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — who said this week he saw no evidence Flynn complied with the law, but has otherwise drawn forceful criticism for failure to investigate Trump with the same kind of fervor he exhibited when a Democrat was in the White House — just so happens to be taking medical leave for three to four weeks. That simply must be a coincidence, right?