Trump's feud with intel community
Demetri Sevastopulo looks at the resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser and examines President Trump's continuing woes over his administration's alleged links to Russia.
Michael Flynn apparently discussed the issue of US sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador while he was still a private citizen. The Obama administration in December slapped new sanctions on Russia in retaliation for the Russian cyber attacks on the Democratic National party and Hillary Clinton's campaign last year. At that time, Michael Flynn's talking to the Russian ambassador. He appears to talk about the sanctions issue.
Michael Flynn should have known that the American intelligence agencies monitor the phone calls of all foreign diplomats, particularly if they're not from allies. So the Russian ambassador's calls are always being listened to. The reason the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, went to the White House a few weeks ago and said General Flynn has publicly said he didn't discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador. However, we have seen-- we've heard his phone calls, and we think he's not telling the truth. That set off a huge firestorm.
Now Donald Trump claims that he fired Michael Flynn because Michael Flynn didn't tell Mike Pence, the vice president, the truth about what was happening. On the other hand, we learned yesterday that Michael Pence didn't even know that Michael Flynn was misleading him until the Washington Post wrote a story last week.
It's certainly in crisis mode. They are desperately trying to fend off all of these questions. I mean, Donald Trump has gone on the offensive in the last 24 hours, trying to blame the intelligence community. His spokesman, Sean Spicer, claimed that Donald Trump has been very tough on Russia, and that he was tougher on Russia than Barack Obama. Now frankly, that's something that people just laugh at. There is zero evidence that he has been. Republicans on Capitol Hill are increasingly nervous because you have a lot of Russia hawks who are-- they may like Donald Trump, but they're very worried about what they're seeing.
There are a lot of people right now who are posturing, and it's easy to go out and give a statement and say Russia is a menace. The key is whether Republicans who are not hard-line on Russia-- so you know, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, two senators that are very hard on Russia, they're not going to change their tune. But if you have Republicans who have been less tough on Russia who all of a sudden come out and say, "This is a really worrying situation. We need to have an independent investigation or even a special prosecutor, special counsel, to look into this," then you're going to see a completely different situation. It'll be very hard for the Trump administration to close something like that down.
At this stage, it's difficult to know. I mean, one of the interesting things to bear in mind here is that, during the Obama administration, President Obama was very aggressive about clamping down and indicting and prosecuting people who revealed classified information. So we've had leaks over the last eight years, but the number of leaks we've had in the last month have been incredible. And a lot of the leaks that are coming out are coming from people who, if it was known that they had given this stuff to a journalist, they could potentially go to gaol.
I think what's happening is that Michael Flynn in particular has a really difficult relationship with the intelligence community. He was the head of the Defence Intelligence Agency under President Obama. He was fired because of his management style. But he had people who worked for him, intelligence professionals, who said that he used to create what they call "Flynn facts" to back up theories that weren't supported by actual intelligence.
When he got into the White House, there were a lot of people in the CIA-- to a lesser extent, in the National Security Agency-- who were concerned about him in that position. They think that he is volatile. They don't think that he is balanced. And he had a very contentious relationship with intelligence officials. For example, the CIA refused to give clearance to the person that Michael Flynn had selected to be his Africa director at the National Security Council.
So there was already a lot of tensions. But I think more broadly, you know, the relations between the US and Russia have been very tense for a number of years. If you're in the intelligence community and you think the national security adviser is potentially breaking the law in discussions with the Russian ambassador, and then lying about it to the vice president, I think even if you are a supporter of Donald Trump, you would have to be very concerned about that. And I think that's why these people, officials, are coming out and talking to journalists-- and taking a risk, frankly, in doing it.