By Ernest A. Canning
“Sadly, the only plausible explanation of Trump’s indifference to Flynn’s being compromised by Russia is that Trump was himself a traitor” – Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe
Consider the source. Laurence Tribe is regarded as this nation’s “preeminent constitutional scholar.”
Then consider the context…
The Steele Dossier
A controversial dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele alleges that for at least 5-years the Kremlin has sought to cultivate Trump as an intelligence asset via financial entanglements and the President’s “personal obsessions and sexual perversions.” Steele cites an unnamed former top Russian official as claiming that, as a result of Trump’s “activities in Moscow,” Russia has information sufficient “to blackmail him.” (Certainly if Trump and his minions were co-conspirators in a Russian plot to subvert the electoral process, that fact, in and of itself, would provide the Kremlin with the leverage needed to turn the President into a Russian intelligence asset).
“Some of the dossier’s claims — many of which align with events during the campaign — are slowly being corroborated,” according to Business Insider. And while a number of the dossier’s allegations have yet to be verified, the FBI has treated the Steele dossier as a “roadmap” for its counterintelligence investigation, Business Insider reports.
The significance of the Steele dossier is reflected by the fact that, on January 6, 2017, when then President-elect Donald J. Trump was briefed by the directors of the intelligence community and by FBI Director James Comey about the evidence of Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election, “Comey was tasked by his fellow intelligence directors to also pull Mr. Trump aside and inform him about a secret dossier suggesting that Russia might have collected compromising information about him,” according to The New York Times.
There can be little question but that the U.S. government would deny a security clearance to a private citizen if the government received this type of potentially damning information — at least until the information could be thoroughly examined and debunked.
Under established procedures, the U.S. government should reject a security clearance application once informed of “conduct which may make the individual vulnerable to coercion, exploitation, or pressure by a foreign government” and “indications that representatives or nationals from a foreign country are acting to increase the vulnerability of the individual to possible future exploitation, coercion or pressure.” (Emphasis added).
Unfortunately, a U.S. President “is not subject to a security screening and does not hold a security clearance.” And surely the 2016 election did not serve as a means by which the American people were positioned to determine whether or not candidate Trump posed a threat to our nation’s security.
Much ado was made of what Bernie Sanders described as Hillary’s “damn e-mails.” But the electorate was not informed of the FBI’s counterintelligence/criminal investigation into possible links between Trump and the alleged Russian interference with the 2016 election. The potentially damning allegations set forth in the Steele dossier to the effect that Trump may have been so compromised by Russian intelligence that he could potentially be “blackmailed” did not enter the public record until the dossier was published by BuzzFeed on Jan. 10, 2017.
On Dec. 29, 2016 General Michael Flynn met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak “shortly after Mr. Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed that, in retaliation for Russian election meddling, the United States was expelling 35 people suspected of being Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other sanctions,” according to The New York Times. Over the next 36 hours, there were six calls between Kislyak and Flynn.
The former general, who would soon become Trump’s National Security Adviser, “urged” the Russian ambassador not to respond to the Obama administration’s sanctions because relations would improve once Trump became President. Those calls were the subject of a routine intelligence agency wiretap, the Times reported, adding that “current and former American officials have said that Mr. Flynn had contacts with Mr. Kislyak during the campaign.”
On January 6 the CIA, NSA and FBI released an Intelligence Report, which addressed Russian interference in the 2016 election but did not allege that there had been collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
On Wednesday, Jan. 25, the FBI interviewed Flynn at the White House, according to the May 8 testimony of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.
Yates’s testimony reveals that, on Thursday morning, Jan. 26, she made a fateful decision. Up to that point, White House personnel, including Vice President Pence, had publicly disseminated information about Flynn’s interactions with Ambassador Kislyak that the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) knew to be false. She “presumed that the White House was being truthful, which meant that Flynn was misleading them.” (Emphasis added).
The former Acting Attorney General weighed her agency’s need to preserve the integrity of the investigation against the risk that Flynn, who by then was serving as the National Security Advisor to the President and had access to this nation’s most sensitive secrets, had been so compromised by his interactions with Russia that he was vulnerable to “blackmail.” Given that the FBI had already interviewed Flynn, she believed that the potential harm to the investigation had been minimized. She called White House Counsel Donald McGahn, explained that she had information that was too sensitive to discuss over the phone and arranged a meeting at the White House.
There was one significant problem with that reasoning. If she had erred in “presuming” she was dealing with an innocent White House, if in reality the President himself was both compromised and complicit in the 2016 Russian attack on the election, then the investigation-sensitive information she intended to convey to McGahn had the potential trigger a cover-up by the targets of the investigation.
On Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon, Jan. 26 and Jan. 27, Yates met with McGahn. They specifically discuss the applicability of federal criminal statutes during the second meeting.
On the evening of January 27, Trump had a private dinner at the White House with Comey.
According to unnamed associates of Comey cited by the Times, the FBI Director attended the dinner at the President’s request (Trump claims it was Comey who sought the meeting) and asked Comey, several times, whether he could count on his “loyalty”. Comey demurred, according to the sources. Trump denies having sought any such pledge of personal fealty.
The FBI Director “wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on,” Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt. “At that time he told me that I was not under investigation, which I knew anyway.” When pressed, the President admitted that during the dinner he inquired about the investigation. “I said, if it’s possible would you let me know am I under investigation? He said you are not under investigation.”
The President disputes that version. Trump believes it was Comey who had asked for the dinner. The FBI Director “wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on,”Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt. “At that time he told me that I was not under investigation, which I knew anyway.” When pressed, the President admitted that during the dinner he inquired about the investigation. “I said, if it’s possible would you let me know am I under investigation? He said you are not under investigation.”
According to Professor Tribe, by seeking assurance that he was not the subject of the investigation at the same time the President says Comey was seeking to retain his job, Trump had deployed “essentially the language of bribery, of the underworld, of racketeering.”
On Monday, Jan. 30 Trump fired Sally Yates, ostensibly because she refused to allow DOJ attorneys to defend his unconstitutional Muslim ban.
On Feb. 13, a full 18 days after Yates first urgently revealed to McGahn that the National Security Adviser had opened himself up to potentially being “compromised” by the Russians — Flynn was finally forced to resign.
On March 20 Comey appeared before the House Intelligence Committee. For the first time, he publicly revealed that the FBI’s counterintelligence/criminal investigation included the question as to whether there had been collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign with respect to Russia’s attack on the 2016 election.
Just one day after firing Comey, on May 10 Trump met inside the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak. The only press allowed was a photographer from Russia’s state-owned news agency TAAS. Politico reports the meeting was granted at the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The sequence of events that ensued following Yates fateful Jan. 26 decision to tell-all about Flynn to the White House suggests that Yates made an honest but grievous error in assuming that Pence and others inside the Trump White House were the innocent victims of Flynn’s lies. Indeed, those ensuing events reveal that it is highly likely that the identity of those who had been “compromised” by their Russian entanglements went all the way to the top. There is no other plausible explanation for what ensued.
The message Yates conveyed to McGahn was both urgent and chilling. The President’s top advisor on national security was “compromised with respect to the Russians,” according to Yates’s testimony. The need to immediately remove a dire threat to national security should have been obvious. Yet, instead of immediately taking steps to eliminate that threat, on Jan. 27 — the very same day in which Yates and McGahn discussed applicable criminal statutes — the President’s first reaction was to dine with the Director of the FBI.
Regardless of whether one accepts the claim that Trump asked Comey to swear personal loyalty or the President’s more self-damning claim that he directly asked whether he was a target of a criminal investigation, it is clear that on Jan. 27 Trump’s primary concern was self-preservation, national security be damned.
Indeed, Trump’s utter disregard, if not contempt, for national security is reflected by the fact that, over a period of 18 days, Flynn had direct access to the President and to this nation’s most sensitive secrets. Flynn was even a party to a conference call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is also likely that, during those 18 days, Trump operated upon the mistaken assumption that he had ended an existential threat via the firing of Sally Yates.
As suggested by Professor Tribe, the only plausible reason the President did not immediately fire Flynn is because Trump himself is “compromised.” This conclusion is in no way inconsistent with the fact that Flynn was eventually forced to resign. In all likelihood, this belated removal occurred not because Flynn posed a threat to national security but because he’d been outed by the Washington Post.
Like the resignations of H. R. Halderman and John Ehrlichman during the Watergate scandal, Flynn’s forced resignation can be seen as part of a damage-control strategy in which Trump would insist that the National Security Adviser’s only sin was having misled Pence.
It’s a scary thought, but one we now have to seriously consider. If the extent of the compromise extends beyond Flynn and all the way to the top, the President of the United States may now be what Hillary Clinton suggested in jest: “Putin’s puppet.”
The May 10 meeting that took place inside the Oval Office at Putin’s request should give pause for careful thought. While Donald Trump may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, surely even he understands the public relations disaster brought on by a TAAS-supplied photo in which the President appeared, all smiles, together with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, the central figure of what had been, until May 9, a Comey-led, FBI counterintelligence/criminal investigation. In what may have been a Russian in-your-face moment, Putin pulled the strings, and Trump the puppet complied, complete with the exclusion of our own media.
It is this component that makes “Russia-gate” infinitely more dangerous than Watergate. One of the first steps Nixon and his minions took to cover-up that earlier scandal was the amassing of the “hush money” needed to buy the silence of the original seven (7) Watergate burglars. But if it turns out that Trump was a co-conspirator in Russia’s covert effort to secure his election, no amount of money can buy Vladimir Putin’s silence.
The investigations now pending will no doubt be complex, long and drawn-out. But when it comes to the central question posed by this analysis, the answer is relatively simple and straight-forward. Unless and until he is exonerated or removed from office, Donald J. Trump is and will remain a clear and present danger to the national security of these United States.
UPDATE: In this breaking story, The New York Times reported: “President Trump boasted about highly classified intelligence in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week, providing details that could expose the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected,” a current and a former American government official said Monday.” Although a President can “declassify almost anything,” in this instance the information entailed information shared with the U.S. by an ally that was “so sensitive that American officials did not share it widely within the United States government or pass it on to other allies,” the Times reported, yet Trump passed it on to Lavrov and Kidslyak “without the express permission of the ally.”
This new information, if accurate, reveals that Trump is not only a threat to our nation’s national security but to the security of our allies.