In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has come under intense scrutiny with his cabinet picks, including Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education and Michael Flynn, the now ousted, former National Security Advisor. Flynn was a controversial choice, due to his history in the Obama Administration, but his nomination turned out to be a larger controversy than expected. As President Trump’s cabinet begins to form, all eyes are watching who he is choosing for these positions.
The National Security Advisor, a senior aide to a President, is responsible for briefing and advising the President on all issues involving our national security. This position culminates to one of the most important cabinet positions in today’s government, and one that is very important for the people of the United States. Everyone worries about national security. With ISIS at its strongest, the national security advisor needs to be someone Americans can trust — someone who knows what they are doing. This is especially important because the position does not require Senate confirmation. Enter Michael Flynn.
“Throughout his short two years at the DIA, his management style was heavily criticized, and it was said that he did not treat employees well.”
Michael Flynn is a retired three-star lieutenant general, who served in the Army for 33 years. Flynn’s career included a position as director of intelligence for Joint Special Operations Command and in 2012, he was nominated by President Barack Obama to be director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Throughout his short two years at the DIA, his management style was heavily criticized, and it was said that he did not treat employees well. His time in the position also had other challenges, including the leaking of classified files by Edward Snowden. In 2014, Flynn resigned from the DIA after reportedly being pushed out for his stance against certain policies. His tenure was supposed to last another year. Once he left the DIA, Flynn became outspoken in his disapproval of President Obama. In 2014, after departing the DIA, Flynn began the Flynn Intel Group, an international consulting firm.
The Flynn Intel Group presents itself as an international lobbying firm, working for foreign clients. One of those clients is Turkish businessman Kamil Alptekin, who is reportedly a close ally of Turkey’s president. Flynn started receiving national security intelligence briefings in the summer of 2016, and it remains unclear if he disclosed his potential conflicts at that time. Whether Flynn used any of this information to benefit is firm is unknown, but it certainly did not look good.
Prior to President Trump being sworn in, there were already a myriad of concerns about his personal relations with Russia. During the last presidential election, Russia was accused of hacking and leaking emails related to Hillary Clinton in order to influence the election. White House officials stated that the leaked information was an attempt to undermine the democratic process and influence election results. During his term, however, President Obama struck back by hitting the Russians with sanctions, which included an order for 35 Russian diplomats to leave the United States and for two embassies to close.
“In January, rumors began to surface that Sergery Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the United States, had conversations with Flynn in December 2016.”
Flynn became involved in the Republican primary pretty early on, eventually landing a position as an advisor to the now-President. There were early concerns expressed by Congress. According to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Flynn could be violating the “Trump for America” code of ethical conduct due to a conflict of interest with his international consulting firm, and the potential issues of him having access to national security information.
In January, rumors began to surface that Sergery Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the United States, had conversations with Flynn in December 2016. It was alleged that in these conversations, Flynn tried to keep Russia from retaliating against the sanctions imposed on them by the United States. In addition to the rumors, there was also a fear by the Justice Department that Flynn might be vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians. Flynn outwardly denied all rumors of communicating with Russians. Vice President Mike Pence also repeated this denial. Ultimately, it was determined that Flynn had lied.
“…because of the “fast pace of events,” he “inadvertently” gave Pence and others “incomplete information” about his call with the Russian ambassador.”
The discovery was made thanks to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The content of Flynn’s conversations with Russian ambassador Kislyak and a discussion of sanctions, emerged during the FBI’s ongoing investigation into communications between former and current Trump aides and Russian government officials. Only two days after Flynn denied the accusation, Flynn resigned. Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that President Trump asked Flynn to step down. Flynn’s departure marks the first high-profile resignation of the Trump administration. In his resignation letter, Flynn said that, because of the “fast pace of events,” he “inadvertently” gave Pence and others “incomplete information” about his call with the Russian ambassador. “I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology,” Flynn wrote.
Flynn’s resignation came before members of Congress could start their investigation into his ties with Russian officials. Members of Congress, including some Republicans, said Flynn’s departure underscores concerns about the Trump administration, the Russians, and Russian President Vladimir Putin— potential ties that are already the subject of an FBI investigation. Senator John McCain stated that Flynn’s forced resignation “is a troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus” and “also raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia.”
President Trump announced Flynn’s replacement to be Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster. A retired army general, McMaster has over thirty years of experience and is currently the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center. Unlike Flynn, General McMaster had no previous links to President Trump. Prior to the announcement of McMaster’s appointment, Admiral Robert Harward was offered the position, but he turned it down. Although McMaster does not raise concerns in the way Flynn did, his first task will be to provide proof that he is worthy of the position, and to do so without scandal.