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What we don’t know about Flynn

So some people are still asking what’s the big deal about Flynn talking to the Russians after the election but before the inauguration. There are essentially three reasons why this matters. The first is the “one President at a time” norm that has been broadly observed up until now. The second is that it was not cleared. And the third is that it could indicated that Flynn – and possibly others – have been compromised.  We need a full investigation.

The Constitution places responsibility for managing the United States diplomatic efforts with the President of the United States alone. The Founders thought long and hard about the challenges of a country made up of many States all speaking with multiple, contradictory voices, so they were very clear about this in the Constitution. And up until now it has been the norm that the sitting President runs foreign policy up until the swearing in of the new president. And generally up until now the new President has attempted to maintain a general sense of continuity in foreign policy even if he has a radically different set of ideas for a domestic agenda. Consistency helps to reassure allies and strengthens the United States position in the world.

The second reason why it matters is because Flynn did not clear his contacts in advance with any of the federal agencies he ought to have contacted. It has previously happened that representative of the incoming administration have reached out to start to build contacts with foreign leaders before the inauguration. But generally if they have contacted hostile powers they have been smart enough to notify the relevant authorities of their intent, and further to be careful so as not to interfere with the foreign policy of the sitting administration. Flynn did neither. Not only did he not notify any of the agencies that he ought to have known would be monitoring his conversations, but he directly sought to undermine the sitting President of the United States with his messages. Whether this is technically illegal is a matter for debate. But it is a massive breach of protocol.

The third reason why Flynn’s actions matter is that Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador in December 2016 was not the only, or even the first contact between members of Trump’s campaign the Russian government, or even Flynn’s first contact (In 2015 Flynn was paid to attend a dinner hosted by the Russian international propaganda service and sat next to Putin).

So what is going on? The big issue issue is how much we (the people, the intelligence services, the Congress) don’t know. We don’t know may be trivial. But what we don’t know may also be the single greatest scandal in the history of the United States. We don’t know. Is Trump an agent of the Russian government? Are any of Trump’s senior advisors agents of the Russian government? We don’t know. But there is already relatively strong circumstantial evidence that they might be. And nothing is more important for the health of the Republic than to find out for sure whether the President has been compromised by the 21st century version of the KGB. A reminder for those who don’t know this: Putin is a former KGB agent, and Putin’s government represents an intelligence-service takeover of his own country. We need hearings and a full investigation.

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