The sacking of Michael Flynn as national security adviser has intensified the frenzy over possible Russian interference in the election. The New York Times published an editorialcomparing the Flynn imbroglio to Watergate, expressing “shock and incredulity” that Trump campaign officials were in contact with Russian intelligence officials, demanding a congressional investigation of “whether people at the highest levels of the United States government have aided and abetted the interests of a nation that has tried to thwart American foreign policy since the Cold War.” President Trump, of course, scorns the charges as “a ruse” and “ridiculous.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called an emergency meeting of Democrats to plan how to spotlight the issue.
When Washington heads into one of these feeding frenzies, judgment is often the first casualty. It’s worth remembering what is at stake.
After the election, we learned that the CIA and the FBI — with the more tentative agreement of other intelligence agencies — concluded that Russian intelligence officials ran a covert operation that hacked into and leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, with the purpose of hurting Clinton. Upon reviewing the still-secret report, President Obama, after affirming the results of the election, punished the Russians,expelling 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other restrictions.
To date, the evidence released publicly for this explosive charge — in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s Jan. 6 report — is so threadbare that the Times conceded that it “contained no information about how the agencies had collected their data or had come to their conclusions.” Clearly, an independent commission should be created to report on what was done and what should be done to protect against it in the future. It is shameful that Republicans in the Congress have chosen to block this effort.
The sacking of Flynn also raises fundamental concerns.
According to intelligence agency leaks, intercepted conversations between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Flynn, then the incoming national security adviser for President-elect Trump, suggest that Flynn may have urged the Russians not to overreact to the Obama sanctions. Putin chose not to respond in a traditional tit for tat. According to the leaks, intelligence agencies went to acting attorney general Sally Q.Yates with concerns that Flynn might be subject to Russian blackmail. She took those concerns to Trump. Weeks later, Flynn was fired for misleading Vice President Pence, among others, about the substance of his conversations.
(CONT) WASHINGTON POST