Last December, Michael Flynn spoke with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and discussed U.S. sanctions against that country in retaliation for its successful hacking of Democratic Party emails. While not illegal, the discussion was highly irregular, given that Flynn’s candidate was elected in part due to the hacking, and incoming administrations are not supposed to undermine the policies of the sitting president. The chronology of the events makes it appear as though Trump was aware of and even authorized Flynn’s discussion: Russia repeatedly threatened retaliatory action, and then quickly decided not to, after which Trump praised Russia’s decision and called Vladimir Putin “smart.” If Trump was not aware of the conversation, then Flynn would have been vulnerable to blackmail — a fact Trump’s acting attorney general made clear to him last month.
So which is it? Did Trump know about Flynn’s undermining of U.S. diplomacy, but tell the public he didn’t? Or did he allow an official he knew to be vulnerable to Russian blackmail to have access to the highest levels of American intelligence?
Republicans so far have expressed no interest in discovering the answer. The party’s responses have fallen into three overlapping categories.
1. Move on. When asked about Flynn keeping his role despite being vulnerable to blackmail, Kellyanne Conway blandly replied, “that’s one characterization … we’re moving on,” touting some of the exciting candidates who might replace Flynn. Representative Chris Collins repeated the phrase “move on” four times in a short CNN interview.
2. What about the leaks? The issue Republicans want to investigate isn’t what we know, but why. Which intelligence officials are leaking the administration’s lies?
House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes told reporters he wants an investigation of … the FBI. Breitbart solemnly notes, “the more serious question is whether our nation’s intelligence services were involved in what amounts to political espionage against the newly-elected government.”
3. Leave Trump alooooone. Republicans insist they do not support any probe of Flynn’s actions or what Trump may have known. “It’s taking care of itself,” insists House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz.
What about House Speaker Paul Ryan? Ryan is known for his fanatical belief in informational security. The Speaker once held such strong views on classified information that he demanded Hillary Clinton be denied access to classified briefings during the campaign because she had shown, by using a private email server, she could not be trusted with the nation’s secrets. “The consequences for the safety of our nation are grave,” he wrote solemnly. “Clinton’s actions may have allowed our enemies to access intelligence vital to our national security.” Ryan has learned from that episode to be far less judgmental. And now today, even the prospect that Trump allowed intelligence to be exposed to a staffer whom he knew to be potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail strikes him as unworthy of investigation.
Today, Ryan said, “I’m not going to prejudge the circumstances surrounding this.” And since Ryan is not forcing an investigation, he won’t post-judge, either. No prejudging, no post-judging, no judging of any kind, just moving on.