It hasn't even been four weeks yet, and the first top aide to President Donald Trump has been forced to resign. This must be some kind of historical record, folks. The exit of Michael Flynn was no real surprise -- he's been relieved of high-level duties before, for what would be described on an elementary school report card as: "does not play well with others." But the speed of his departure and the fact that he was the first out the door was a bit surprising, since Flynn has been loyal to Trump for some time now, and Trump values such loyalty above all else.
To restate the obvious: Flynn is merely the first out the door -- there will doubtless be others following on the same walk of shame. This, in and of itself, isn't all that unusual. All presidents usually wind up having to fire top aides at times, sometimes forcing them to fall on their swords to protect the president and sometimes for screwing up so badly it simply can't be ignored or swept under the carpet. But the exit of Flynn before even one month had passed seems to signify that this sort of thing might become a lot more usual in the Trump administration. The pace Trump has set may mean that the scandals happen a lot faster and more often, but only time will tell if this will be the case (to be fair).
Of course, Flynn's ouster was greeted with unrestrained glee by Democrats. That's to be expected. But even some Republicans are getting worried, and calls for congressional oversight are even beginning to come from Trump's own party. It's not just the Flynn scandal, either -- it's the sheer volume of incompetence that is getting even some conservative columnists concerned. From Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post this morning:
In just 3½ weeks President Trump has waged war against the media, seen his travel ban go down the tubes, gotten into embarrassing spats with foreign allies, had to boot his national security adviser, become infamous for his inability to deal with reality, given conflicting signals on health-care reform and sparked a backlash among anti-Trump forces who have taken to the streets and to Republican lawmakers‚ town halls. To paraphrase Stephen Miller, in 3½ weeks Trump has had more scandals and screw-ups than many presidents have in their entire term.
That's from a conservative, mind you, and one who sledgehammered the whole Benghazi "scandal" so much people in the comments began calling her "Jenghazi." Some people have even started calling the current scandal "Flynnghazi," which is some sort of poetic justice (CBS went with "Out Like Flynn" to label the scandal, which also is rather amusing).
Watching Sean Spicer's press conference today was pretty enjoyable, in a schadenfreude kind of way, as well. Spicer can try to spin the facts all he wants, but a few things are becoming rather painfully obvious. The first and most obvious of these is the heavy irony for someone to be fired by Trump for lying. Seriously, if all liars were on the chopping block in the West Wing, then there'd be nobody left to turn out the lights after the purge.
Humor aside, though, one very serious point stands out that is worth examining, because of the stunning implications for national security. According to the official version of the scandal, Trump was informed immediately after the acting attorney general brought it to the White House's attention, on January 26. The White House quickly investigated itself, and declared that no laws had been violated and indeed there was nothing wrong at all with Flynn's phone call. That's according to them, but fortunately they're not the final arbiters of what laws or ethical rules have been broken. But the obvious thing about the timeline is that Trump wasn't going to do anything about it until the story broke in the press.
Today, Spicer tried to tell all the reporters what story to write (for a moment there, I could see Melissa McCarthy uttering these lines, but I digress). The real story, according to Spicer, was all the scandalous leaks coming out of his own White House. Not sure how that's any better a story for reporters to write, from the White House's point of view, but whatever. Whether it's a story or not, however, if the media hadn't uncovered the scandal (or been force-fed it by disgruntled national security employees disgusted with their leaders) then nothing would have happened. The lies Flynn told to Vice President Pence and Spicer himself would never have been exposed, and he would have continued in his job. Even though the Justice Department was warning that he might have laid himself open to Russian blackmail. That's pretty astounding when you think about it. Trump was content to have a national security advisor who could be blackmailed by Russia, as long as nobody figured it out.
That's assuming, of course, that Trump ever even heard about the whole scandal before the story blew up in the media a few days ago. He certainly didn't look like he knew what the reporter was talking about when asked about the story on Air Force One a few days ago, that's for sure. Today, Spicer insisted not only that Trump "immediately" heard about it, but also that he "instinctively" knew that no laws had been broken. Just take his word for it!
The other person who comes out of this scandal in a very diminished position is Kellyanne Conway, who finally spun something the wrong way at the wrong time. That was always going to be fairly inevitable, given her loose acquaintance with the truth. But still, she got thrown under the bus pretty quickly yesterday, after assuring a reporter that Flynn still had the full confidence of President Trump. Within an hour, Spicer had released a statement contradicting Conway, which is also somewhat of a first (until now, Conway's flights of fancy have usually been backed up by the White House).
Now, to be fair to her (something she really doesn't deserve, but I do have my own ethics to think of), the line she trotted out is the standard thing any presidential spokesperson is supposed to say -- right up to the point where the aide in question is fired. This "full faith and confidence" endorsement was noticeable in its absence on the Sunday morning political shows, though, so Conway was trying her best to dampen down all the speculation about Flynn's future. But she really should have checked with someone before saying it, even though it is the standard position to take in such situations. Because by the time she uttered it, Flynn was already doomed.
You can posit that Conway just got a little overeager in her defense of Flynn. You can argue that she just wasn't in the loop of the decision to oust Flynn. Or you could even get downright Machiavellian -- perhaps someone told Conway to go say that to the cameras knowing full well what an idiot she'd look like later that evening. When you take into consideration the rumors of battling power cliques in the White House, this last one doesn't seem all that far-fetched, really.
The fallout from Flynn being handed his walking papers certainly isn't over yet. And it is undoubtedly a big black eye for the Trump administration to have to fire someone after only three weeks. But we should all keep our eyes on the most disturbing aspect of the whole scandal -- that Donald Trump was just fine (if he even knew, that is) with a national security advisor who could be blackmailed by the Russians at any time. That's downright scary, when you think about it. Ronald Reagan isn't just turning over in his grave, he's spinning so fast you can't even count the RPMs anymore.
As for Flynn himself, I think the most appropriate quote to sum the entire matter up comes from lyrics by Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
Just a song before I go
A lesson to be learned
Travelling twice the speed of sound
It's easy to get burned
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant