President Trump has a class five hurricane on his hands. Some of it is of his own making because of foolish statements about Russia, and because he unwisely picked fights with the intelligence community (IC). Now, that, press hysteria and hyper-partisanship has combined to form a bureaucracy in full revolt.
Marc Ambinder's must-read piece demonstrates just how far the IC went in the ouster of Lieutenant General Flynn. Quoting liberally:
"I]f the [NSA] analyst listening to Kislyak’s call hears someone identify himself as an agent of the U.S. government — “Hi! It’s Mike Flynn” certainly qualifies — a number of things have to happen, according to the government’s own rules.
At this stage, the actual audio of the call and any transcript would be considered “Raw FISA-acquired information,” and its distribution would be highly restricted. At the NSA, not more than 40 or so analysts or senior managers would be read into the classification sub-sub compartment that contains it, called RAGTIME-A,B,C D or P, where each letter stands for one of five different categories of foreign intelligence.
...[T]he head of the National Security Division would be notified, and he or she would bring the raw FISA transcript to FBI Director James Comey or his deputy. Then, the director and his deputy would determine whether to keep the part of the communication that contained Flynn’s words."
In other words, if a U.S. person comes up in our signals intelligence activities (SIGINT), it triggers necessarily onerous procedures. Should those procedures indicate criminal activity, the FBI can pursue it through Title III of the U.S. Code
But that did not happen. Ambinder continues:
Instead of doing its job, the press has acted as a repeater station for this nonsense. Just one example: Tuesday's New York Times' fact-light article suggesting that the Trump administration is full of Russian traitors.
The press insinuates treason on a whim. Even Edward Snowden did not merit that treatment.
This mess is now a self-licking ice cream cone. The IC leaks stuff, usually thin gruel; the press sensationalizes it; the public demands more. The administration needs to interrupt that do-loop.
LTG Flynn fell on his sword. Do not squander that. Release the transcripts of his conversations with the Russian ambassador, warts and all. De-weaponize the information. If Flynn betrayed his country, which I doubt he did, then he will get what he deserves. But if the transcripts show he did not, then it clarifies things.
The administration started this fight; now they have to finish it.
So far as I understand it, the idea of another Russian reset was predicated upon the notion that it would push the Russia narrative aside, and the administration could focus on other more pressing policy issues. Trump was elected to tear up the Iran deal, implement a strategy to defeat radical Islam, and repeal Obamacare, among other things. How's that working out for ya?
But more to the point, if the administration defangs the Russia angle, it takes away the IC’s narrative. That is important for the third point. The administration started this fight; now they have to finish it. The last president who kicked up an information war was George W. Bush. He tried to negotiate a settlement. His second term was a result. "Bush lied people died," Valerie Plame, and all that.
Trump was not elected to fight with spies. The national discussion is not about China, Iran or any of that. Instead, we're talking about nutty conspiracy theories about LTG Flynn being a Russian spy. Sure, it is truly entertaining to watch Obama’s Russia advisors discover that Russia is a threat, and it is curious to watch the IC go into a frenzy because Trump seems to be suggesting what Obama actually did with his reset policy. But that pales in comparison to the fact that the administration risks losing the initiative on a long list of conservative policies that Trump's base expects. How patient do you think they will be?
This bureaucratic fight risks becoming a constitutional crisis. It is getting worse, not better, and it stands in the way of an increasingly restless conservative constituency.
Kristofer L. Harrison was a Defense and State Department official in the George W. Bush administration and is a foreign policy adviser to Senator Ted Cruz. His views here are his own. View his LinkedIn profile.