Carter Page. Paul Manafort. Now National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. One Trump confidant resigning over intimate links with Putin is unfortunate. Two is suspicious. Three is bound to raise the question in the title.
After all, as Col. Putin was doubtless taught at the KGB academy, when coincidences number more than two, they aren’t coincidences.
My money is on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, proud possessor of Russia’s Order of Friendship personally presented by Putin. Said friendship was annealed during Tillerson’s tenure as head of Exxon, in which capacity he did billions’ worth of business in Russia.
Mr Tillerson leads the race to the next Russia-related scandal. If Michael Flynn had to resign over the possibility of being blackmailed by the Russians, Tillerson has a blackmail target painted over his whole body.
There’s this minor detail that, as a current holder of $151 million in Exxon shares, whose value would skyrocket if sanctions against Russia were lifted, Mr Tillerson has what in some quarters may be described as a conflict of interest.
Yet that detail is indeed minor, in that it’s common knowledge and, as such, can’t expose the Secretary to blackmail. Other things could, those we don’t know about but could confidently surmise.
I have yet to hear of a single massive deal involving Russia in whose consummation some backhanders didn’t change hands. If all those mega deals that earned Mr Tillerson Russia’s highest award for foreigners were pristinely clean, I doff my hat and bow to him in reverential admiration.
However, for the time being my hat remains firmly in place: I know how big business is transacted in Russia. A bribe is seen as a de rigueur courtesy there, a bit of grease on the wheels of private enterprise. Left unlubricated, the wheels will grind to a screeching halt, which Exxon’s manifestly didn’t.
Hence, if news broke tomorrow of Mr Tillerson resigning over malicious allegations involving his friend Putin, I’d be appalled but not surprised. As I’m not surprised about the news of Gen. Flynn’s resignation.
Late last year Gen. Flynn, then strictly a private citizen, had a series of conversations with Russian ambassador Sergei Kysliak, and by all accounts they weren’t just comparing the weather in Moscow and Washington D.C.
The subject of sanctions came up, or rather the promise to repeal them after Trump’s inauguration. In proffering that promise, or indeed discussing any foreign policy issues with an agent of a foreign government, Gen. Flynn might have broken the US law that allows only diplomats to be engaged in diplomacy.
Even worse, he was stupid enough not to realise that foreign diplomats’ phones are routinely tapped by US intelligence services. Those services immediately vindicated Luke 8:17, which says “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest”.
The president-elect and his VP-to-be Mike Pence (who had vouched for Flynn) were informed. Mr Pence immediately reiterated that no member of Trump’s team had had any contact with Russia during the campaign.
To suggest otherwise, he added with righteous indignation, was “to give credence to some of these bizarre rumours that have swirled around the candidacy”. Yesterday President Trump confirmed he had “complete confidence” in Gen. Flynn. Translated from political into English, this was as good as a sacking notice.
A few hours later so it proved, with Gen. Flynn resigning, no doubt voluntarily. His parting words showed that he too is fluent in political. He had, admitted Gen. Flynn, “inadvertently briefed the vice-president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador”.
Yet again my translation is called for. In plain English this statement means “I lied through my teeth.” Yet it’s likely that this lie is a double bluff.
Gen. Flynn’s love affair with the Russians goes back quite a bit further than last December. On December 10, 2015, Flynn sat next to Putin at a gala reception for the 10th anniversary of RT, the Russian propaganda channel.
He then made a series of paid appearances on RT, each time advocating closer cooperation with Russia. If we employ the trick of moral equivalence so beloved of the left, that’s akin to, say, Cordell Hull preaching friendship with Nazi Germany on a Goebbels radio channel in 1937.
In a Washington Post interview, Gen. Flynn was brought to task. “Why would you go on RT, they’re state run?” asked the interviewer. “Well, what’s CNN?” replied Flynn, displaying an ignorance astounding in someone Trump then considered as a possible running mate and later appointed National Security Adviser.
CNN, General, is a division of Time Warner Inc., not of the US government. But even if it were a state network, like PBS, it would be run by a broadly civilised government, not the KGB/FSB.
But never mind Flynn’s ignorance of Time Warner’s corporate charter. Let’s also forget about US laws Flynn might or might not have broken. Instead let’s get back to the issue of double bluff.
Flynn had to be authorised even to talk sanctions with the Russian ambassador and certainly to promise that they would be lifted. Did he do so on his own behalf?
Believing that stretches my credulity even further, and it’s already at breaking point over Tillerson’s dealings with Russia. This brings us back to the question in the title.
Anyone who cherishes the West’s security, understands the critical role America plays in it and knows that Putin’s Russia endangers it should pray that the answer isn’t Trump.