National security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned his White House post (after improper communications with figures in the Russian government prior to January 20 came to light) specifically regarding economic sanctions placed on Russia. Flynn’s phone calls to Russia, which occurred while he was still a private citizen, apparently violate the Logan Act. When questioned about the calls by vice president Mike Pence, Flynn is alleged to have not fully disclosed the content of his dialogue with the Russians.
As far as scandals go, Flynn’s diplomatic missteps with Moscow are hardly the stuff of tabloid fodder. The former general, who was among the first government bigwigs to openly support Donald Trump during the presidential primaries, was apparently a bit too eager to start throwing his diplomatic weight around. Unfortunately, two factors make Flynn’s faux pas very damaging for the Trump administration: First, it was acting Attorney General Sally Yates who brought up the possibility that Flynn was lying about his Russia phone calls. Second, Russia is perhaps the biggest policy area where president Trump and his Republican colleagues in the Senate disagree.
Sally Yates, who temporarily headed the Justice Department until she was fired by president Trump for refusing to support his controversial immigration/refugee ban from seven Middle Eastern nations, had warned the White House that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail for his improper contacts with the Russian ambassador. Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), had been in contact with Russian leaders since a 2013 visit to Moscow. After Russia’s aggressive interventions in Ukraine during 2014, resulting in Western economic sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s administration, it has become politically toxic to be pro-Russia.
Donald Trump’s controversial support for Vladimir Putin is bad enough, but allegations that one of Trump’s key advisers may have been making secret backroom deals with Moscow, bypassing official diplomacy, could forever taint an administration. It’s no surprise, therefore, that even a wild card like Trump has quietly accepted the conventional wisdom that Flynn should resign quickly.
But even with Flynn gone, the Russia problem remains red hot. Republicans in the U.S. Senate are calling for investigations, including presidential primary opponent Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Having run for president against a rather large group of incumbent Republican Senators (Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham), and ruffled the feathers of even more (John McCain, John Cornyn), Trump’s Russian ties may use up whatever honeymoon period remains between the Republican White House and the Republican-controlled Congress.
The GOP may be getting tired of putting up with Trump’s antics. From unnecessarily controversial cabinet nominees to unprofessional tweets at all hours to the bizarre bromance with Russia, Donald Trump is sorely testing the Republican Party’s patience. Conservatives’ headlong plunge to replace Obamacare, led by Trump and his tough-talking hardliners, is now receiving pushback from moderate Republicans who fear re-election woes if and when healthcare reform hurts. Trump has also wounded moderate GOP legislators in the Senate by forcing them to back controversial cabinet nominees like Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos.
Instead of trying to build up citizens’ support for the political party he has recently come to claim as his own, Donald Trump seems determined to use up any public goodwill that it musters for his own purposes. If Sessions and DeVos were not the last straws, nor was bashing longtime Republican senator John McCain for the umpteenth time, perhaps the Michael Flynn debacle will be the one that breaks the elephant’s back.
And the Flynn resignation is not an internal Republican issue: You can rest assured that Democrats are sensing blood in the water. Having a major Trump appointee resign so early into his administration may reinvigorate liberals to continue making the lives of other Trump appointees, especially Betsy DeVos, very difficult. If past actions could prompt Flynn to resign, perhaps Democrats should redouble their efforts to dredge up dirt on recently-approved nominees like DeVos and Sessions. DeVos, especially, is a good target: Having only been confirmed with an historic tie-breaking vote from vice president Pence, she has little support from congressional Republicans to fight to remain in office if and when any past scandals emerge.
If Democrats can raise fresh doubts about the merit and integrity of Trump’s appointees and advisers, they will likely resign quickly after receiving little support from a Republican Congress that is increasingly displeased with the controversial president. And Trump himself will hardly be in any position to help his beleaguered buddies: Democrats are demanding to know what the president knew, and when, regarding Michael Flynn’s improper communications with Russia. Focused on protecting his own hide, Donald Trump won’t have much ability to shield other figures in his administration. He will likely have consigliere Steve Bannon quietly urge them to resign for that old mainstay: For family and/or health reasons.
Michael Flynn has used up the last Republican goodwill in Trump’s already-small tank, and running on empty will have major ramifications for the Trump White House in the upcoming months.