When it comes to summarizing the tale of General Michael Flynn—who, you’ll remember, was ousted for lying about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, a potentially illegal act—it’s as simple as “Who vetted this S.O.B.?” How you get there is anything but a simple story, which is not an uncommon occurrence when dealing with President Donald Trump. Many of the GOP’s major decision makers kept their distance from Trump during the presidential race, afraid his perceived stench would taint them. After he won, though, many saw the error of their ways and now play bit parts in Trump’s Firebrand Theater.
But during the transition from Holy Shit, we really won this thing—now what? to taking over the federal government’s executive branch, chaos ruled. Fences had to mend. And Trump needed to hire a boatload of people rather quickly. This is not an uncommon challenge for a new president in his first term.
Trump’s transition in particular was hampered by his own actions on the campaign trail, not to mention a number of heavy weights in his own party who detested him. The Democrats were also in a position to actively cheer every misstep of his new administration. After all, there was a time when even the staunchest Democrats cheered Trump’s victories against the GOP elite because they thought Trump to be their easiest opponent to defeat among a sea of Republican incompetents. That smugness cost them dearly. That’s not a shock occurrence in a political party where the term to “swift boat” is a cautionary tale never fully taken to heart. (Either that or they simply like losing.) Now, all they could hope for was some consolation prize in the form of early failure.
And so the perfect storm brewed. Arrogance, surprise, politics, fear, loathing, greed and perhaps a Russian or two got mixed up in the process of quickly finding suitable candidates for the necessary government slots. Flynn, with his background as the 18th director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, seemed to be a perfect match for the job of National Security Advisor.
Trump’s closest advisers must have looked at Flynn’s resume and saw a man who already had clearance and, according to press secretary Sean Spicer, had a background check as recently as 2016. Someone probably said, “Well, if you can’t trust this guy, who the hell can you trust?” Someone else grunted, some agreed and everyone shrugged their shoulders and went on to the next job to fill.
Spicer has said the incoming administration did no special vetting of Flynn. Who had time? They probably didn’t do anything illegal—just incredibly stupid. (Someone once said you should never attribute to conspiracy what you can otherwise explain by incompetency. The conspiracy comes in trying to explain the incompetency.) Seriously though, who among us would suspect Flynn would be lying? If nothing else, as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he had to have a pretty good idea his secret would come out.
Instead, Flynn is now grist for the mill and another comical example of why people with intelligence question the existence of military intelligence. More important for the Trump administration, its inability to head this story off continues to drive its coverage. Perhaps this is all part of the president’s insidious attempt to control the media. Or it could merely be incompetency.
We still don’t know how Flynn slipped through the vetting process or if we should be asking, “Why didn’t someone investigate Flynn?” Sure, you’re harried, but a few of the top jobs seem to call for a little more than your average vetting. National security advisor would seem to be one of them. And being compromised by a foreign power would seem to be among the first things you’d want to determine. Unless…