Michael Flynn, the man who holds the 24-day record for the shortest tenure as national security adviser, continues to tarnish the reputation of the Trump administration even after his very public retirement from the position. The former three-star Army general was forced to resign by President Trump for allegedly lying to Vice President Pence about his discussions with the Russian ambassador.
In the latest development, the inspector general of the Department of Defense released documents responding to congressional subpoenas revealing that Flynn allegedly received payments from entities tied directly to foreign governments after his retirement from the military, without properly notifying and receiving permission from both the Defense and State Department. So far, the conduct does not appear criminal in nature, but could force Flynn to forfeit part of his military pension.
The revelation that Gen. Flynn appeared to be receiving such payments without following proper reporting protocols is downright bizarre, given the fact that he had previously requested a Defense Department ethics opinion about the propriety of accepting payments.
The 2014 response to Flynn, issued by the Office of General Counsel at The Defense Intelligence Agency, explicitly warned that US government ethical standards require "... approval from the relevant service secretary and the Secretary of State before accepting employment, consulting fees, gifts, travel expenses, honoraria or salary from a foreign government..."
The man who was selected by President Trump as his chief personal adviser on matters relating to national security matters then allegedly proceeded to ignore the ethics opinion and take the money ... in this case a hefty speaking fee from the Russians without following required reporting protocols.
He wasn't quiet about his Russian connections either, sharing a very public table at a very public event, the 10th anniversary celebration of the Russian owned media outlet, RT, with the never camera-shy Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Flynn's lawyer has said that he briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency on his trip to Russia.
While Gen. Flynn may survive this Defense Department inspector general investigation with a relatively minor blow to his military pension, he faces future legal battlefields of greater danger and consequence.
Two congressional committees are investigating the Russian hacking of the American presidential election, not to mention an ongoing FBI probe. As a Trump campaign operative who later rose to a position of immense importance in the White House, Flynn would be one of the most important witnesses in these investigations.
The real question is will any of the three probes result in criminal charges?
So far, no evidence has emerged linking Flynn to criminality of any kind but given his role in the campaign, his belated registration as an agent of a foreign power and now the inspector general's assertion of possible ethical issues, the retired general will face close prosecutorial scrutiny in the months ahead.
Just last month, Flynn's well known Washington lawyer, Robert Kelner, issued a statement suggesting that the general was shopping an immunity deal for the "story" he had to tell. The details and marketability of the story remains unknown, though it is rare that high-ranking federal government officials seek immunity unless they are worried about pending criminal and/or congressional investigations. Flynn himself has stated that, "when you are requesting immunity, you have probably committed a crime."
Notwithstanding Flynn's own words, criminal lawyers sometimes do seek immunity deals to protect an innocent client from unwarranted charges asserted by a ruthless prosecutor. More often, though, they seek immunity for a client who has potential criminal exposure and needs an immunity shield. We must await future developments to fairly analyze the true reason for Flynn's immunity request.
The President, however, rarely awaits future clarifying developments before weighing in on matters like Flynn's immunity request. In March, without pausing to express the slightest hint embarrassment about why Gen. Flynn might need immunity, the President swiftly supported Flynn's immunity fishing trip posting to his beloved Twitter account:
"Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!"
On Friday, President Trump sought to offload some blame on to the Obama administration by opining:
"I do feel badly for [Flynn]. He served the country. He was a general. But just remember, he was approved by the Obama administration at the highest leve l... and when they say we didn't vet, well Obama I guess didn't vet, because he was approved at the highest level of security by the Obama administration. So when he came into our administration, for a short period of time, he came in, he was already approved by the Obama administration
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Harry Truman's famous Oval Office sign stating "The Buck Stops Here!" has apparently been removed from Mr Trump's White House desk.
This sorry development in the saga of Gen. Flynn's rise and fall comes as President Trump seeks to convince the American public that his first 100 days in office have been a whirlwind of enormous accomplishments. The President, who rarely misses an opportunity to trumpet success, failed to list one of his most important: the firing of Gen. Flynn.
We can all breathe a sigh of relief that the national security adviser sitting next to the President when North Korea launches a missile -- or possibly tests a nuclear weapon -- will not be the ethically challenged and intensely investigated Gen. Flynn. Given the mortal danger presented by the North Korean threat, the firing may prove to be the greatest accomplishment in the first 100 days.