In an environment where every day has felt like a month and almost every news cycle has something that the media consider a potentially administration-shaking disaster, we finally have something worthy of the perpetually screaming headlines — a national security adviser getting fired under a haze of suspicion about his dealings with Russia.
This is gobsmacking by any standard. Michael Flynn, a Trump loyalist constantly at the candidate’s side over the past year, couldn’t even last four weeks. His ouster coincides with reports in the New York Times and by CNN about contacts between Trump aides and Russian officials during the campaign that play into the darkest suspicions about the administration.
Although Trump’s critics are already vested in the most dire scenario — Dan Rather has it all pegged as the next Watergate — the spectrum of possibilities here is quite broad, ranging from a major scandal to a complete fizzle.
Flynn may have flatly lied about a crystal-clear conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions out of his own cognizance of guilt, or he may have inadvertently relayed incomplete information about an ambiguous conversation and watched the situation spin out of control. Which is it?
The Times story about communications between Trump advisers and Russians stipulates that it’s unclear that the conversations had anything to do with Trump, a rather large caveat in the splashy report. If it turns out the contacts did relate to Trump, they could be explosive; if they didn’t, they might be much ado. Which is it?
More broadly, the people around Trump may have been complicit in a Russian assault on the integrity of our election process, or malicious anti-Trump bureaucrats are piling unwarranted insinuations atop fragmentary information, or something in between, or all of the above. Which is it?
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All of this obviously demands serious investigation on Capitol Hill. Not a pretending-to-investigate-so-we-can-say-we’re-investigating probe, but an honest-to-goodness attempt to get to the bottom of the whole fetid matter.
The public deserves to know the facts, and even if Republicans wanted to look the other way, the trial by leak will continue everyday in the press.
It is not to excuse Flynn’s ineptitude or what appears to have been his deception to note the disturbing nature of the campaign against him. It made use of what is supposed to be the very most sensitive and carefully guarded information gathered in our surveillance of foreign officials to destroy his public career.
There is much about his rapid downfall that still doesn’t add up. His alleged legal vulnerability was a potential violation of the Logan Act, which forbids private interference in U.S. foreign policy. The Logan Act is literally never prosecuted, and is seemingly left on the books solely to give op-ed writers and cable-TV talkers an excuse to suggest people they don’t like might have broken the law.
Let’s get everything related to this affair on the record in a full, reliable manner. Let’s see the transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak, now that the entire world knows that they exist. Let’s hear from Flynn, and Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone, and anyone else in the Trump orbit who might have been talking to the Russians. Let’s get a detailed accounting of how the Russians went about their hacking, and why we know it was them. While we’re at it, let’s hear from ex-CIA director John Brennan, who clearly has cultivated a burning hatred of Trump, and do whatever is possible to identify the source of leaks and the motives of the leakers.
Let’s air it all out. It’s unlikely that anyone will agree on all the facts or what they mean, but litigating it publicly beats the shadow game currently being played by anonymous sources. The leaks may make for fascinating reading, but they aren’t how a great republic should conduct its business or pursue the truth.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected]. © 2017 King Features Syndicate