Trump failed his own test on good judgment

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Throughout the presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeated a particular line of attack against Hillary Clinton over and over, with great impact. Her decades of experience and grasp of policy nuances were irrelevant; when placed in a position of trust, she had exercised poor judgment and could not be afforded that opportunity again as commander in chief. With the selection of retired Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser, however, Trump showed that he, too, was prone to egregious lapses in judgment. Now, with Flynn resigning in the wake of escalating leaks about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, the country is learning just how bad this judgment call was Trump so early in his presidency.

It’s easy to forget that Flynn once had a laudable and respected military career. Becoming a 3-star general is not an accomplishment for the faint of heart and takes decades of service and persistence to achieve. Flynn played significant roles in the intelligence arena, particularly during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He had seeming bipartisan political approval and served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) under President Obama.

{mosads}That, however, is where things appear to have gone off the rails. Maybe it was “mission fatigue” after three decades of military service. Maybe it was hubris. Maybe it was plain old arrogance. Whatever the reason, Flynn became erratic, struggled to manage the DIA’s sprawling bureaucracy and developed a penchant for relying upon erroneous factual information. He even began brazenly flouting his agency’s own security rules that he personally deemed “stupid” but which he nonetheless continued to impose upon the rest of his employees. He was forced into retirement in 2014.

During the presidential campaign, Flynn hitched his comeback bid to Trump. Flynn and Trump shared a lot of the same “black and white” views of the world, particularly with respect to the threat of jihadist terrorism. They shared the same disdain for what they saw as the Obama administration’s restrained and “politically correct” approach to countering threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria abroad and self-radicalized threats within the United States. They both reveled in the “lock her up” chants directed toward Clinton and her sloppy handling of her email communications while serving as secretary of State.

When Trump was elected, however, it would have been understandable if he had chosen to push Flynn to the bench. Controversies surrounding Flynn’s ties to Russia were already well known. There was video of him in 2015 sitting at a table with Vladimir Putin at a celebration for the Russian president, an event for which Flynn was paid to attend. The private consulting firm he had led after leaving the military had eyebrow-raising ties to the Turkish government. Flynn was a wild card, much like other Trump campaign surrogates that were pushed aside after the campaign, and it would have made sense for Trump to pass on placing Flynn in a sensitive government position. Trump did so anyway, making Flynn his national security adviser — a position that does not require Senate confirmation.

At the time, the choice merely seemed controversial and risky. Now, however, we know that the Trump administration appears to have deliberately kept in a position of authority a man the intelligence community had explicitly warned was compromised by the Russian government. In a bombshell report, The Washington Post has revealed that the White House was warned by the Justice Department that Flynn had misled them, particularly then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence, about the nature of the phone calls Flynn had with the Russian government around the same time that the Obama administration was imposing new sanctions. Flynn had reassured Pence and the transition team that the calls never touched upon the issue of sanctions, something that was restated in public by the Trump transition team repeatedly for weeks leading up to Trump’s inauguration.

The intelligence community knew better and wanted the White House to know about it. Intelligence intercepts picked up the calls Flynn had with the Russians, the contents of which proved Flynn’s claims to be false. The Justice Department notified the White House counsel at the end of January that Flynn had misled the White House and was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail as a result.

Trump now had his moment to exercise the type of judgment he felt Clinton had failed to utilize at State. Two weeks were allowed to pass, however, with no action taken against Flynn. He maintained his access to classified information and remained involved in sensitive national security matters, including coordinating a response to the recent missile test by the North Korean government. The White House continued until just recently to maintain that Flynn’s original story was accurate.

It was only within the last 72 hours, as media leaks exposed what the White House already knew, that Flynn’s job was finally in jeopardy. Flynn offered his resignation and Trump accepted, a choice that was correct to make. It was a choice, however, that Trump should have made two weeks ago. When it comes to exercising good judgment, the president failed his own test miserably.

Bradley P. Moss is a partner at the Washington, D.C., law office of Mark S. Zaid, P.C., where he has represented countless individuals, including whistleblowers, serving within the intelligence community, and the deputy executive director of the James Madison Project, through which he has represented media outlets such as Politico, Gawker, Daily Caller, and the Daily Beast in FOIA lawsuits against the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Mike Pence

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