In a tweet today, President Donald Trump appeared to approve of an article on Bloomberg that was critical of his handling of departure of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, but which also advised that it is Trump himself who is the real target of disgruntled intelligence operatives and bureaucrats, some of whom worked in the Obama administration. Of the Bloomberg article entitled “The political assassination of Michael Flynn,” Trump tweeted, “Thank you to Eli Lake of The Bloomberg View. The NSA and FBI should not interfere in our politics and is very serious situation for the United States of America.”
Thank you to Eli Lake of The Bloomberg View - "The NSA & FBI...should not interfere in our politics...and is" Very serious situation for USA— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
According to leading White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, “Misleading the vice president really was the key here,” as to the reasoning why Flynn’s resignation was warranted. At the daily press briefing on February 14, White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggested that the issue was “trust, pure and simple,” for which Trump took decisive action to demand Flynn’s resignation. He reiterated that it was not a "legal issue, but a trust issue."
"There was nothing wrong or inappropriate about those discussions," Spicer said. In his resignation letter, Flynn admitted that he had submitted “incomplete” information during the vetting process. The transcript of a phone conversation between Flynn and the Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak that was reviewed by the New York Times and Washington Post could be “read different ways,” according to an unnamed source cited by Bloomberg reporter Eli Lake in the article cited by Trump.
Lake wrote that his source reported that the diplomat raised the issue of possible sanctions on Russia with Flynn and the Flynn said that Trump would take office in a few weeks and revisit the issue. “That's neither illegal nor improper,” wrote Lake. It was Sally Yates, and Obama appointee who served as acting Attorney General, who informed the White House about the discussions, suggesting that he could be susceptible to blackmail. Since then, it has been suggested that Flynn may have violated the Logan Act, a law that was passed in 1799 and that has never been enforced. “If it was the lie to Pence that sunk Flynn,” asked Lake, “why was he not fired at the end of January?”
“A better explanation here is that Flynn was just thrown under the bus,” concluded Lake. The article noted that Flynn’s brief tenure was plagued by media questions over his alleged ties to Russia, while he was not allowed by the White House to defend himself publicly. He was told not to speak to the media and his staff not allowed to review the transcripts of the call to the Russian ambassador. Trump’s tweets reveal another side to the story that involved US intelligence services.
“Normally,” wrote Lake, “intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets.” He went on to say, “Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.” Trump tweeted today “This Russian connection nonsense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign.”
This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
Then he directly implicated the “intelligence community” in thwarting his administration. “Information is being illegally given to the failing New York Times and Washington Post by the intelligence community. Just like Russia.”
While in the past, Lake wrote, it was “scandalous” for senior officials to even request the identities of other US officials “incidentally monitored by the government,” the fact that intercepts of the Flynn/Kislyak conversations have been widely distributed is a “red flag.” Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA), who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told Lake that the leaks about Flynn form a pattern and part of a “well orchestrated” attack on Flynn and others in the administration.
Nunes pointed out that the leaking of conversations between Trump and foreign leaders involve information, and possible links to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts., suggests a pattern, which he will ask the FBI to investigate. While the Washington Post reported last month that Flynn was not being investigated by the FBI, three others linked to Trump are being investigated for possible links to the Russian government: former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, Carter Page of Global Energy Capital, and veteran political operative Roger Stone. Flynn went to Russia in 2015 to attend a conference organized by Russia’s official news agency, RT.
However, this has not been shown to be illegal.
Lake wrote that while Flynn may indeed have more ties to Russia than he has admitted publicly, what is also possible is that a “group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government.” Flynn held several key positions during the Obama administration, rising to head the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was removed after developing a reputation as a critic of the intelligence community, and as Lake put it, bent on reforming “the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals.”
Moreover, he had earned the wrath of Democrats when he joined Republicans in calling for Hillary Clinton to be jailed when he appeared at the Republican National Convention in 2016. The media, as Trump has pointed, out has colluded with the intelligence community in an act that would not have been tolerated if Obama were still in office. Already, Trump’s other trusted aide, Kellyanne Conway, is in the crosshairs of the media, which are questioning her credibility. If Flynn and Conway are hors d’oeuvres, then attacking Trump himself is the main course.
Trump has asked retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward to take the position vacated by Flynn. Harward is a former Navy SEAL and also served on the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. He has already signaled that if he takes the job, he will do quite a bit of housecleaning at the NSC: a goal Republicans had throughout much of the Obama years. In 2016, a Heritage Foundation paper recommended cuts to the bloated NSC, which was founded in 1947 and now has nearly 350 staff members.
Reportedly, during the Reagan administration, there were merely 75.
“The 24-hour news cycle has thrust many issues, no matter how trivial, into the limelight, making them the President’s responsibility. The news media expect every tactical detail, from the timing of a raid on a terrorist bunker to the targets of drone attacks, to be known and controlled by the President. As a result, the NSC staff gets overly involved not only in the minutiae of operations, but also in politics. It begins to operate more as a personal White House staff than as an advisory and policy coordination staff, sometimes even to the point of acting like a Praetorian Guard for the President’s political fortunes, which is particularly inappropriate given that many people on the staff are career civil servants from national security agencies rather than political appointees. The results are quite often disastrous.”
Vice Admiral Robert Harward, USN (ret.)
Last year, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) wanted to cap the president’s national security planning staff to around 50 members. The Obama administration pushed back, and the effort came to naught.