National Security

Trump cuts ties with Flynn Jr.

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Donald Trump’s transition team on Tuesday severed ties with the son of the president-elect’s pick for national security adviser amidst scrutiny of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s habitual promotion of conspiracy theories.

The break, reportedly a direct order from Trump himself, came after Michael Flynn Jr. in a Twitter post on Sunday suggested a made-up story about a child sex ring at a Washington pizzeria was true.

{mosads}Earlier that day, a gunman who believed the hoax had gone to the popular neighborhood restaurant and fired shots.

The incident put a violent twist on the long-simmering debate over the power of fake news — and raised concerns about the man about to take on one of the most powerful positions in the country’s national security apparatus.

Both Flynn and his son have pushed unsubstantiated stories linking Hillary Clinton to underage sex rings, providing no evidence to support their claims.

“U decide – NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary Emails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc…MUST READ!” Flynn tweeted six days before the election, linking to a story that falsely claimed New York police had found evidence linking Clinton and her senior staff to the crimes.

Flynn has retweeted theories that Clinton “waged war” on the Roman Catholic Church and that President Obama “laundered” billions of dollars in cash to terrorists.

Even after the shooting, Flynn Jr. — who at the time had an official transition team email address and was assisting his father in the transition process — continued to promote the “Pizzagate” hoax.

“Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story. The left seems to forget #PodestaEmails and the many “coincidences” tied to it,” he tweeted Sunday night.

A Trump campaign spokesman told reporters Tuesday morning that Flynn Jr. had been helping his father with “administration and scheduling duties early on in the transition process” but that he is no longer involved in the transition effort.

But Flynn remains the president-elect’s pick for national security adviser, where he will act as the primary adviser to the president on defense and foreign policy issues and coordinate the activities of the agencies involved in the national security process.

It is an enormously influential position in the White House: Flynn will effectively act as the filter through which all of the advice from those agencies flows to the president. 

The national security adviser post does not require a Senate confirmation, so there’s little worried lawmakers can do to halt Flynn’s ascendency to the White House.

Republicans have largely stayed silent on Flynn’s taste for conspiracy theories, although some have expressed concerns about Trump’s selection of the tweet-happy former lieutenant general.

“When you get a government position — whether it’s a U.S. congressman, whether it’s national security adviser or anything — you now have a different level of commitment to the truth that you have to hold onto because people are going to take your words and take them literally,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told CNN on Tuesday.

Democrats and some national security council experts are far less tactful.

“It is incumbent on Trump, his nominee for National Security Advisor, General Flynn, and his entire team to disavow these falsehoods and conspiracy theories. They will soon have a country to run, and God help us if they conduct the nation’s affairs like their transition — without the willingness or ability to separate fact from fiction,” Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

Comet Ping Pong, in Northwest D.C., was the subject of dozens of made-up stories alleging that Clinton and former campaign chairman John Podesta ran a child sex trafficking operation out of the back of the restaurant.

As the hoax gained steam prior to the presidential election, the restaurant’s owners and staff received death threats. Then on Sunday, Edgar M. Welch, 28, of Salisbury, N.C., went to the restaurant armed with a rifle to “self-investigate” the claims.

Although the fake child sex ring promoted by Flynn is a separate hoax, critics say it exposes the extent to which the Trump camp at large has benefited from and at times explicitly peddled false information.

As the popular vote tally for Clinton continued to climb after the election, Trump ignited controversy when he erroneously tweeted that “millions” had voted illegally in the Nov. 8 contest.

“From birther claims about President Obama to the blatant falsehood that millions of undocumented immigrants voted in the most recent elections, and outrageous conspiracy theories and fake news like ‘Pizza-gate,’ the President-elect and his transition team have been willing to peddle complete fabrications with little regard for their dangerous consequences,” Schiff said.

For others, Flynn’s Twitter habits aren’t a concern.

“As far as dealing with issues of national security, I’ve always found him to be totally on target and totally correct,” said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on counterterrorism.

But Flynn, who formerly headed the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), has long been known to make dubious assertions that have little basis in documented fact.

Subordinates at the DIA reportedly compiled a list of what they called “Flynn facts” —nuggets of false information that Flynn would present as true.

Scholars of the national security adviser position warn that Flynn’s penchant for false information not only risks funneling inaccurate information to the president, it could create distrust of the administration — by journalists, voters and even other nations.

“This is a man who has now demonstrated repeatedly that he has either bad judgment or dubious motives when it comes to the selection, interpretation and dissemination of information,” said David Rothkopf, a former Bill Clinton administration official and editor of Foreign Policy magazine who has written a book on the national security council.

“I think Flynn’s track record is such that it will be very difficult to trust him or his judgment.”

Tags Adam Schiff Bill Clinton Donald Trump Hillary Clinton

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