Opinion

Opinion | Richard North Patterson

Michael Flynn takes the fall

President Donald Trump holds a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House Wednesday.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump holds a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House Wednesday.

The merciless logic of events proceeds.

Michael Flynn probably was not fired because he lied to conceal his dealings with Russia from Donald Trump. He likely resigned to conceal Trump’s lies from the American people. Our 45th president has taken but three weeks to infect his White House with deceit, betrayal, and mendacity. Even Richard Nixon took his time.

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The timeline is inexorable, its implications inescapable — a probable cover-up directed by Trump to hide his dealings with the government which roiled our election on his behalf. Flynn is merely a puzzle piece.

Juxtaposing facts known contemporaneously with those emerging now reveals a damning narrative:

During the 2016 campaign, the FBI commenced investigating Russian hacking of the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair order to tilt the election — including repeated contacts between Russian intelligence and people affiliated with Trump’s campaign. Among them was Michael Flynn, a key Trump adviser close to Vladimir Putin

One question was whether Trump’s people and the Russians were colluding. In due course the inquiry captured Flynn’s frequent conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Yet as late as January 11, Trump — evidently unaware of the FBI surveillance — denied that members of his staff had communicated with Russian officials during the campaign.

The inquiry continued after Trump’s victory. Then, in December, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia for its actions. Russia threatened reprisal. A spate of calls ensued between Flynn — now Trump’s national security adviser — and Kislyak in which, it has now emerged, Flynn implied that Trump might reverse the sanctions. Clearly certain that Flynn was speaking for Trump, Russia relented.

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The FBI monitored the calls. On Jan. 12, the Washington Post revealed their existence and asked whether Flynn had discussed sanctions.

A cover-up ensued. Repeatedly, Flynn lied to the press and key members of Trump’s own administration — including Mike Pence, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and Communications Director Sean Spicer. Unwittingly, Pence and Spicer repeated Flynn’s lies, insisting that sanctions were never discussed. Trump said nothing.

Alarmed, the FBI interviewed Flynn shortly after Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20. On Jan. 26, the Justice Department told White House counsel Donald McGahn that Flynn had dissembled and was subject to Russian blackmail. Immediately, McGahn told Trump.

Here Trump’s behavior becomes self-indicting. He did not inform Pence, Priebus, or the public of Flynn’s lies. Nor, it is clear, did he reprimand Flynn. The likely reason — Flynn was lying to conceal Trump’s knowledge of his actions, including from advisers closest to the president. If true, Trump went from passive beneficiary of Flynn’s cover-up to an active participant.

This pathology mushroomed. On Feb. 8, Flynn again denied that he discussed sanctions with Kislyak. When a report in the Washington Post suggested that he was lying, Flynn resorted to weasel words. Yet when queried by reporters on Feb. 10, Trump denied knowledge of that report — and, by implication, the underlying facts — in the apparent hope of concealing what the DOJ had told him.

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While Trump replicates Nixon’s integrity, he lacks his skills. Swiftly, the Post reported the DOJ’s warning about Flynn. Spicer was dispatched to concede that Trump had known of Flynn’s deceptions for two weeks — though not before. Preposterously, Trump then allowed others to characterize Flynn as a rogue operator who he somehow had chosen not to fire.

Suddenly Flynn is gone, the truth plain. Flynn was probably dispatched because Trump could no longer protect himself by protecting Flynn. By resigning, Flynn took on a new and thankless task — perpetuating the cover-up by concealing Trump’s own perfidy.

Richard North Patterson’s column appears regularly in the Globe. His latest book is “Fever Swamp.’’ Follow him on Twitter @RicPatterson.
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