Among the first set of advices President-elect Donald Trump received from Barack Obama was to not appoint Gen (retd) Michael Flynn, according to aides of the former president, but Trump chose to ignore it. How could he not? Flynn was among his most loyal aides and they had bonded over sports and movies during long hours on the campaign trail.
Flynn became Trump’s first appointment as his national security adviser, a key position in the White House overseeing the administration’s foreign and defence policies. He remained on the job, overseeing several key developments, despite specific and official warnings from the justice department about his contacts with Russia that had left him vulnerable to blackmail.
“We wanted to tell the White House as quickly as possible,” then acting attorney general Sally Q Yates, an Obama-appointee said at a Senate hearing Monday. “To state the obvious — you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”
These warnings, she told Senators, were conveyed over two days — January 26 and 27 — to the White House counsel. But Trump kept Flynn on for another 18 days, and has continued to defend him since, calling him a good man wrongly targeted by the press. Trump has even supported the fired general’s plea for immunity from charges in return for cooperating with the three ongoing investigations — one by the FBI and the others by the two chambers of congress.
Flynn had discussed US sanctions against Russia with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in phone conversations on the day they were announced by President Obama last December, for alleged meddling in US elections. He denied bringing up sanctions, but transcripts of the conversation from the tap on Kislyak’s phone, a routine counter-intelligence measure deployed by most host governments against foreign missions, showed otherwise.
The Trump administration kept him on for another 18 days despite being handed proof that he had lied to vice president Mike Pence. Yates, on the other hand, was fired just days after by Trump for directing justice department lawyers to not defend Trump’s January 26 executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from travelling to the United States.
Yates’ much-awaited testimony brought fresh attention to this administration’s Russia problem, which the White House has struggled to resolve by trying, among other things, to blame it on Obama, by citing the security clearance the general had had continued to enjoy despite being dismissed as head of US military’s intelligence agency, in 2014.
Trump tried that once against Monday, writing on Twitter: “General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama Administration - but the Fake News seldom likes talking about that.”
Out of patience with Trump’s unceasing attacks on Obama, the former President’s hit back this time, telling multiple media outlets that Obama told the president-elect to not hire Flynn during their first one-on-one meeting on November 10, which had lasted 90 minutes.
Back on the defensive, the White House pushed back. “President Obama made it known that he wasn’t exactly a fan of Gen Flynn’s,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, adding, “which… frankly, shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that given that Gen Flynn had worked for President Obama, was an outspoken critic of President Obama’s shortcomings, specifically as it related to his lack of strategy confronting ISIS and other threats around... that were facing America.”