President Trump can safely assume Michael Flynn will cause him trouble for some time yet.
The testimony of Sally Yates appears to show that the White House would liked to have kept Flynn, had it not been for the media coverage of his conflicting statements. No, President Trump will not be able to escape Michael Flynn for a long time.
It quite obviously bothers him, firstly through his constant tweeting, secondly from the interrogation of former United States Deputy Attorney General Yates. But also, during his prime-time viewing, obviously watching cable, particularly CNN, Trump is dismissing the reports of interactions between his staff and Russia as made-up stories and “fake news.”
During her testimony in the Senate, Yates said that she immediately contacted the White House when the Justice Department realized that the president and vice president said things about former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn that Yates knew were incorrect. She realized that she had a responsibility to inform the White House, where she spoke to Trump’s adviser Don McGahn, since Flynn, according to her judgment, could be subjected to blackmail by Russia, and she felt that the president should know.
Just like during the interrogation in the Senate, which included FBI Director James Comey, it was obvious that the relationship between Trump’s staff members and Russian officials had not exactly been treated as issues of national interest, but rather as political party concerns. The Republicans in the Senate focused primarily on how Yates had received the information about Flynn, and how it had made its way to The Washington Post, which published the first articles around Flynn’s controversial statements and Yates’ warnings. Flynn was fired shortly after the articles were published.
The Republicans wanted to know how Yates got the information about Flynn’s identity, and who leaked information about him to the press, looking to punish that person if possible. Several of them saw Yates as a political tool hired by Obama.
The Democrats, on the other hand, were focusing on the details of what happened in the meetings between Flynn and the Russian representatives, and what, if anything, Trump knew of this.
Trump's courting of the Russian president has ceased in the last few weeks, and U.S.- Russian relations have become more like what we are used to (more suspicion than flattery). However, many questions remain, both around what was discussed in the meetings, and the White House’s view of the relations. Yates’ testimony suggests that the White House was not particularly concerned about the meetings until they were made public.
That is also why the mechanism that made the U.S.-Russian relationship known publicly has caught the interest of Trump and his party colleagues. Trump’s supporters appear to view the issue similar to the way Trump does. I have met many who believe that the Russia business is nonsense.
The parts of the investigation discussed in the open hearings taking place in Congress are made up of only a small part of the information collected. A substantial part of it is classified and known only to a select few.
It doesn’t hurt that Flynn was an infamously problematic person, but not because of Russia. Poor leadership led him to lose his job in 2014. Former President Barack Obama specifically warned Trump against giving Flynn a senior position, advice Trump ignored.
Regardless of the exact details surrounding Flynn’s meetings with Russian diplomats, there are still underlying concerns. One concerns Russian activities around the election, the level of involvement and how deliberate they were. Former United States Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who testified on Monday, expressed great concern over Russia’s considerable involvement in U.S. elections. Attempts to disrupt U.S. elections have been going on since the 1960s, according to Clapper, and he went on to say, “If there has ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action against a threat to the very foundations of our democratic political system, this episode is it.” Clapper’s plea to put party politics aside appears to have fallen on deaf ears, however.
Another concern is Trump’s view of conflicts of interest and what contacts are suitable for an elected official. The Trump family has, so far, not felt there is an issue with combining business and politics, and have positioned Trump’s actions in a way as to avoid obvious conflicts that are most likely to face criticism — not, however, because Trump feels any explanation is necessary. The same mindset was apparent when Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, recently appeared at a meeting in China with the aim of attracting investors to a real estate project owned by the Kushner family firm. This story has received lots of attention in American media in the last few days.
During his short time in the White House, Trump has changed his mind on several important issues. Perhaps this is another area where his attitude will change. But so far, the insensitivity to what is acceptable makes Trump, and the U.S., more vulnerable.