Trump’s tumultuous opening chapter

The resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn has capped one of the most tumultuous opening chapters in recent White House history.


Security adviser Michael Flynn: gone after just 23 days
(Image credit: 2016 Getty Images)

The resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn on Monday, after just 23 days in the job, "capped one of the most tumultuous opening chapters" for a White House in recent history, says Gerald Seib in The Wall Street Journal. Flynn's resignation was triggered by conversations he had last December with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, during which he appears to have discussed the economic sanctions that Obama imposed on Russia over its alleged meddling in the 2016 election.

A promise that the new administration would reverse those sanctions would have been a violation of the 1799 Logan Act, continues Seib. It forbids private citizens from conducting US diplomacy with foreign powers. Flynn initially denied discussing the sanctions, but said in his resignation letter that he "inadvertently" supplied "incomplete information" about what was discussed. The "key to hisdownfall" was misleading vice-president Mike Pence, who then relayed incorrect information on national television.

Obama's advisers grew suspicious of a "secret deal between the incoming team and Moscow", reports The New York Times, after Putin refused to retaliate against the sanctions or engage in any tit-for-tat expulsion of American diplomats (35 Russian diplomats had been expelled from the US). As Trump was tweeting praise for Putin "Great move on delay (by V Putin). I always knew he was very smart!" the FBI was telling Obama's advisers about the conversations between Flynn and Kislyak, whose calls were "routinely monitored" by American intelligence agencies.

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The Flynn episode has certainly lent fresh intensity to the "long-simmering questions about Trump and Russia", say Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger in The Washington Post. Trump, who now faces a congressional investigation over his links to the Kremlin, has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin, while his son Donald Jr. told a real estate conference in 2008 that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of our assets".

Two of his former campaign advisers, Paul Manafort and Carter Page, left his presidential campaign amid questions about their connections to Moscow. Flynn, previously a regular commentator on Russia Today, the Russia-funded TV news network, had been "particularly vocal" about Russia's potential to be a "stronger ally against terrorism". As late as Friday, Trump was denying awareness of the flaws in Flynn's story, although it has since been confirmed that concerns were raised with him on 26 January.

So far Trump's response to the Flynn resignation has been to tweet, "The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N Korea etc?" He has a point, says The Wall Street Journal. "Readers should understand how rare it is for electronic intercepts of a private US citizen to be leaked to the press." If these leaks are "retribution" by an intelligence community "aggrieved by Mr Trump's negative comments during the campaign", then the White House has a bigger problem: a "bureaucratic insurrection that can do great damage with other leaks that may or may not include accurate information". It should also "worry civil libertarians who claim to be worried about the surveillance state".

Emily Hohler

Emily has worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and was formerly Assistant Editor of MoneyWeek, which she helped launch in 2000. Prior to this, she was Deputy Features Editor of The Times and a Commissioning Editor for The Independent on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph. She has written for most of the national newspapers including The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail, She interviewed celebrities weekly for The Sunday Telegraph and wrote a regular column for The Evening Standard. As Political Editor of MoneyWeek, Emily has covered subjects from Brexit to the Gaza war.

Aside from her writing, Emily trained as Nutritional Therapist following her son's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2011 and now works as a practitioner for Nature Doc, offering one-to-one consultations and running workshops in Oxfordshire.