terça-feira, 14 de fevereiro de 2017

Trump security adviser Flynn quits after leaks suggest he tried to cover up Russia talks / Mike Flynn might be done – but Trump's nightmare has just begun

Trump security adviser Flynn quits after leaks suggest he tried to cover up Russia talks
The departure of Trump’s national security adviser is the most dramatic development yet to hit the president’s chaotic administration

Julian Borger in Washington
Tuesday 14 February 2017 08.05 GMT

The US national security advisor, Michael Flynn, resigned late on Monday night amid a flow of intelligence leaks that he had secretly discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to Washington and then tried to cover up the conversations.

The resignation, with the Trump era less than four weeks old, is the latest and most dramatic convulsion in the most chaotic start to an administration in modern US history.

It was far from clear whether Flynn’s departure would steady an inexperienced and feuding White House, or resolve the lingering suspicions about the Trump team’s pre-election contacts with the Kremlin.

The White House issued a statement just after 11pm in Washington announcing the resignation, shortly after reports broke that the Trump administration had been warned weeks ago that Flynn might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

The statement also named retired army general Joseph Kellogg, who goes by his middle name Keith, as acting national security advisor, pending the appointment of a permanent successor. It was reported that a third general, former CIA director, David Petraeus, was due to meet Trump on Tuesday.

But Petraeus has legal issues of his own. He is currently nearing the end of two years probation for sharing classified information with his biographer and lover, Paula Broadwell.

In his resignation letter, Flynn claimed he had mistakenly misled vice-president Mike Pence and other Trump officials about the nature of phone calls in December to the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kisilyak. When intelligence leaks about the communications began appearing last month, Pence and other White House officials insisted that the contact had only involved an exchange of Christmas greetings and arrangements for a future phone conversation between Trump and Vladimir Putin.

However, subsequent leaks suggested that they had been more substantial, and concerned sanctions the Obama administration was about to impose on Moscow for interference in the presidential elections. Intelligence officials claimed that Flynn had given the impression the sanctions might be lifted once the Trump administration came to office on 20 January.

“In the course of my duties as the incoming national security advisor, I held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers, and ambassadors,” Flynn said in his resignation letter. “These calls were to facilitate a smooth transition and begin to build the necessary relationships between the president, his advisors and foreign leaders. Such calls are standard practice in any transition of this magnitude.”

“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology.”

Russian politicians offered a fierce defence of Flynn. Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the upper chamber of the parliament, said in a Facebook post that firing a national security adviser for his contacts with Russia is “not just paranoia but something even worse”.

Kosachev’s counterpart at the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, Alexei Pushkov, tweeted shortly after the announcement that “it was not Flynn who was targeted but relations with Russia”.

Flynn is reportedly being investigated by the army for accepting money in late 2015 for a speaking engagement in Moscow. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters
On Monday afternoon, the White House appeared to struggle with how to handle the accusations. A White House statement that the president was “evaluating the situation” conflicted with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway telling reporters that Trump had “full confidence” in Flynn.

Flynn’s – and the Trump administration’s – problems run far deeper than the December phone calls with Kisilyak. The former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) chief is also reportedly being investigated by the army for accepting money in late 2015 for a speaking engagement in Moscow, which could have breached military rules. Furthermore, the repeated and detailed leaks by a disgruntled and alarmed US intelligence community suggested that Flynn’s contacts with Kisilyak dated back to before the election, raising more questions about whether the Trump campaign had any knowledge of the Russian effort to skew the elections.

A handful of intelligence agencies are looking into those suspicions, as are four separate congressional committees. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on one of those panels, the House intelligence committee, demanded to know when contacts with Russian officials started and how far up the Trump chain of command did responsibility for those contact rest.

Schiff said: “The Trump administration has yet to be forthcoming about who was aware of Flynn’s conversations with the ambassador and whether he was acting on the instructions of the president or any other officials, or with their knowledge.”

At the time of his departure, Flynn appeared to have been losing a power struggle inside the White House in which the established institution and processes of the national security council (NSC) were being sidestepped by a small group of Trump advisors, led by Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and former head of Breitbart News, which has been a platform for the far right.

Alongside him are Stephen Miller, another rightwing ideologue, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and advisor. They have set up the Strategic Initiatives Group, a parallel institution to the national security council inside the White House, which produces policies, in the form of quick-fire executive orders and memoranda, without consultation with the staff experts on the National Security Council (NSC).

Ignored at best, berated at worst, the NSC career staff began leaking copiously about Trump’s erratic phone calls with other world leaders and other missteps, infuriating the president, who ordered leak investigations, further deepening the discontent and dysfunction inside the White House. Any successor to Flynn would face the same struggle for influence and the president’s ear as he did.

Mike Flynn might be done – but Trump's nightmare has just begun
Richard Wolffe
This resignation and scandal is not a surprise. After all, we have a president who is too careless to handle a national security incident in a confidential manner

Tuesday 14 February 2017 05.44 GMT

Cast your mind back to four months ago, when Donald Trump was just a long-shot candidate with a hot-headed adviser by the name of Michael Flynn.

It was the homestretch of the presidential election and national security wasn’t some side issue, mentioned in passing. Trump promised he would be a tough national security president with the toughest national security team.

In fact, one of his favorite arguments was that Hillary Clinton couldn’t be trusted with the country’s national security because, he claimed, she couldn’t be trusted with her private email server.

It sounded ridiculous at the time. But after a month of this gonzo president, our memories are already fading. Propaganda will do that to you, as George Orwell warned us all in 1984. Sometimes two and two are four. Sometimes they are five.

Still, it’s true that the Trump campaign seized on the preposterous FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails to issue this press release: “Clinton’s Careless Use of a Secret Server Put National Security At Risk.”

Less than a week later, at their second presidential debate, Trump took the attack one step further, threatening to jail Clinton if he ever took power: “She didn’t know the word – the letter C on a document. Right? She didn’t even know what that word – what that letter meant.”

Let’s just pretend that Trump knew that C means Confidential, not Classified, as he was suggesting. Let’s even play along with the notion that Clinton’s server was a security risk to the country.

Now: what do Michael Flynn and Mar-a-Lago mean for national security?

To the fee-paying members of Trump’s Florida club, it means greater access to watch the president and Japanese prime minister reacting to the news of a North Korean missile launch in real time: huddling over documents and making phone calls on cellphones in public.

Or as one guest, Richard DeAgazio, put it on Facebook: “HOLY MOLY!!! It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan. The Prime Minister Abe of Japan huddles with his staff and the President is on the phone with Washington DC…Wow…the center of the action!!!”

Never mind classified information. Here is a president who is so careless that he can’t handle a national security incident in a confidential manner.

This kind of spectacle does wonders for the fees at Mar-a-Lago, where initiation has just doubled from $100,000 to $200,000 since its owner became president. But it does little for the national security of the country or its allies.

In case you think this is just one small lapse over dinner, Mr DeAgazio also posted to Facebook photos of the military aide carrying the nuclear codes that are frighteningly close to Trump’s trigger-happy mouth.

These are just minor details in the life of a commander-in-chief whose national security adviser was himself a national security risk.

Michael Flynn was so careless about his cellphone conversations, and so mistaken about his foreign policy priorities, that he called the Russian ambassador to the US before taking office.

Clearly clueless about how such conversations are transcribed by all parties, he talked about President Obama’s sanctions against Russia for interfering with the election that ended with Trump in the White House.

Then he denied talking about those sanctions at all, allegedly misleading the vice-president Mike Pence, who in turn misled the American people on national television about the same call.

Based on those reports that he misled the vice-president, Flynn could have been compromised by Russian blackmail. But then again, the Russians might already have enough ammunition against him if he accepted secret payments from the Kremlin when he traveled to Moscow in 2015.

Thank goodness for the independence and counter-intelligence activities of the justice department, who allegedly warned the White House that Flynn was a possible blackmail target several weeks ago.

Why didn’t Trump do to Flynn what he has done to so many reality TV contestants in his only real preparation for his current job? Why didn’t he just fire him instead of allowing him to quit?

After all, that is exactly what he did to the woman who warned him that Flynn was compromised. Acting attorney general Sally Yates was removed from her job for defending the Constitution by refusing to uphold the travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries that remains blocked by several federal courts.

We can’t be sure what’s going on underneath Trump’s coiffured combover. Unless he’s watching cable news and simultaneously tweeting about his thoughts in real time.

Instead we have to rely on his public comments about Vladimir Putin’s Russia and his own United States. Comments like the ones he made barely a week ago, when Bill O’Reilly of Fox News dared to suggest that Putin was a killer. “We’ve got a lot of killers,” said Trump. “What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”

Trump is correct: his version of America is not so innocent. It’s the kind of place where a candidate can accuse his opponent of running a foundation that is “a criminal enterprise” for accepting money from foreign governments. Then, once that candidate becomes president, he can allow foreign governments to give his businesses money in Washington DC and Mar-a-Lago.

Perhaps Trump’s real problem with the Clinton Foundation wasn’t about Hillary’s character. It was just professional jealousy.

The only things protecting Trump from impeachment for his egregious behaviour are his poll numbers and the false sense of security they give to Republicans in Congress.

Sadly for Trump, those numbers are tumbling faster than the ratings of Celebrity Apprentice. In just three weeks, Trump has lost 5 points in his Gallup approval polls to hit 40%.

It took Richard Nixon four years to reach this low point, just a year before he quit the presidency. At this rate, Trump will reach Nixon’s all-time low of 24% approval before the end of April.

We have barely begun to scrape the surface of Trump’s fatal compromises with Russia. It was only last week that US officials say they corroborated some of the communications in the famous British dossier detailing those compromising situations.

Trump can pretend all he likes. He can bluster his way through TV interviews and at the presidential podium about everything from the tiny crowds at his inauguration to supposed illegal voting by non-citizens.

But sooner or later, the presidency – and the constitution it is supposed to defend – catches up with you. A commander-in-chief can’t compromise his own nation’s security and expect to keep his job.

Flynn’s short White House career may be over. But Trump’s nightmare-a-lago has only just begun.

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