It’s good to be an insider. You’re safe. No one can touch you. You’re “in like Flynn” – that’s how people put it. That, however, is an odd way to put it:
The rhyming phrase became associated with actor Errol Flynn, who had a reputation for womanizing, consumption of alcohol and brawling. His freewheeling, hedonistic lifestyle caught up with him in November 1942 when two under-age girls, Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee, accused him of statutory rape. A group was organized to support Flynn, named the American Boys’ Club for the Defense of Errol Flynn (ABCDEF); its members included William F. Buckley, Jr.
Let that sink in. Modern conservatism in the fifties was defined, if not established, by William F. Buckley, who cast out the John Birchers and the other conspiracy nuts. It was time to get serious. Conservatism was about free-markets and small government – the less government the better. It was a bit racist – Buckley vigorously argued for segregation – but that was a matter of states’ rights to him, and of traditions that should not be abandoned lightly. Barry Goldwater was aboard. He lost. Ronald Reagan was aboard. He won – and William F. Buckley was there to explain it all. Buckley was erudite – reporters had to look up those odd words he used – but he was the voice of the movement. He founded the National Review, and the Weekly Standard followed, to compete with it, to say the same things even better. Much of it was cold-blooded and nasty, but was said with elegance, and then the think-tanks sprang up – the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, and at Stanford, the Hoover Institute. Herbert Hoover was the good guy. Franklin Roosevelt was the bad guy – he had created a culture of dependency, on government. So that was settled. Agree with it or not, Americans finally understood our sort of conservatism – from a guy who started out scoffing at the idea of statutory rape. Go figure.
That okay, because many others scoffed too:
The trial took place in January and February 1943, and Flynn was cleared of the charges. According to etymologist Michael Quinion, the incident served to increase Flynn’s reputation as a ladies’ man, which influenced the connotations of the phrase “in like Flynn”. Columnist Cecil Adams also examined the term’s origins and its relationship to Flynn. Many early sources, attesting the phrase, say it emerged as war slang during World War II.
Betty and Peggy were out of luck. Now Roman Polanski is out of luck – but that’s another story – but there’s also that other origin story:
In addition to the Errol Flynn origin theory, etymologist Eric Partridge presents evidence that it refers to Edward J. Flynn, a New York City political boss who became a campaign manager for the Democratic Party during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency.
That works too. Boss Flynn’s Democratic Party machine exercised absolute political control over the Bronx – so the candidates he backed were almost automatically “in” no matter how hapless or sleazy they were.
It’s good to be an insider. Be as hapless or sleazy as you’d like. Knock yourself out. You’re safe, and as the Daily Beast reports, now it’s good to be Michael Flynn:
President Donald Trump pressured a “reluctant” Michael Flynn into accepting a job as the White House’s top national security official even after Flynn warned the president that he was under investigation over undisclosed lobbying on behalf of a foreign government, The Daily Beast has learned.
The president’s continued loyalty to his ousted former aide is so strong, in fact, that the two have remained in touch despite the potential that their communication could be portrayed as White House interference in a federal investigation.
Flynn is certainly “in” with Trump:
“He did not want to be national security adviser,” Michael Ledeen, a friend of the retired Army general, told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “He didn’t want to be in the government. He wanted to go back to private life.”
“But Trump insisted on it,” said historian Ledeen, co-author of Flynn’s 2016 book The Field of Fight, their manifesto for defeating Islamic militancy. “He likes him, he trusted him, he was comfortable with him,” he said.
Flynn was “reluctant but honored” when offered the post, according to a senior Trump administration official, and only accepted it at the president’s urging.
A third source with direct knowledge of Trump transition team discussions confirmed that Flynn did not want the national security adviser post, though he claimed Flynn was instead hoping for a position in the intelligence community, preferably director of national intelligence or the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Nope, he got the top job, as being hapless and sleazy didn’t matter:
Trump’s pressuring of Flynn to take the job came even though Flynn had informed the Trump transition team that he was under active FBI investigation over undisclosed lobbying on behalf of a Dutch company – lobbying that, Flynn now admits, may have advanced the interests of the Turkish government.
Trump’s affinity for Flynn apparently led the president to urge former FBI director James Comey, before his firing last week, to drop or ease a federal investigation of Flynn, according to Comey’s written account of a meeting with the president.
That doesn’t matter either:
Trump doesn’t just hope that Flynn will beat the rap. Several sources close to Flynn and to the administration tell The Daily Beast that Trump has expressed his hopes that a resolution of the FBI’s investigation in Flynn’s favor might allow Flynn to rejoin the White House in some capacity – a scenario some of Trump’s closest advisers in and outside the West Wing have assured him absolutely should not happen.
Trump doesn’t care, but perhaps he should:
After less than a month on the job, Flynn resigned when it was revealed that he had failed to disclose conversations with the Russian ambassador to Washington regarding U.S. sanctions against the country. Those conversations could feature prominently in ongoing FBI and congressional investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Those investigations were why Trump’s White House attorneys warned him repeatedly against communicating with Flynn after his firing… Apparently, the president didn’t listen to his own lawyers.
The two have stayed in touch, according to a Yahoo News report Thursday, confirmed by multiple White House and administration sources.
That is a bit odd:
News that they remained in touch flatly contradicts repeated and adamant White House denials last week that Trump and his former national security adviser had been communicating since Flynn’s ouster. Multiple White House officials claimed to The Daily Beast that no such communication had occurred due to the intervention of White House attorneys.
Multiple White House officials were blindsided again, but Trump likes to live dangerously:
Trump’s apparent plea for the FBI to step back from its probe of Flynn set off allegations by congressional Democrats of potential obstruction of justice. Revelations that Trump has been in contact with Flynn – and openly mused about a new job for him – could add more heft to those allegations.
“The last thing [the White House] would want is an allegation of conspiracy, witness tampering, or coordination,” national security attorney Mark Zaid told The Daily Beast last week. “If Flynn is going to be indicted, or certainly under investigation, then I would want the president to be as far away from him as possible.”
Such conversations would create “huge issues,” according to Zaid’s law partner, Brad Moss. “Talking with witnesses got Nixon in trouble.”
The legal advice here is both sound and obvious. Don’t talk to this guy – not now. He’s that famous tar baby. The tar will stick to you, and of course things were getting worse for Flynn:
One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against the Islamic State was made by Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired – and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests, unbeknownst to anyone in Washington, he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent.
The decision came 10 days before Donald Trump had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, who had explained the Pentagon’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces that the Pentagon considered the U.S.’s most effective military partners. Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president.
Flynn didn’t hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months.
It looks of if Turkey got its money’s worth:
If Flynn explained his answer, that’s not recorded, and it’s not known whether he consulted anyone else on the transition team before rendering his verdict. But his position was consistent with the wishes of Turkey, which had long opposed the United States partnering with the Kurdish forces – and which was his undeclared client.
Trump eventually would approve the Raqqa plan, but not until weeks after Flynn had been fired.
That hardly matters now:
Now members of Congress, musing about the tangle of legal difficulties Flynn faces, cite that exchange with Rice as perhaps the most serious: acting on behalf of a foreign nation – from which he had received considerable cash – when making a military decision. Some members of Congress, in private conversations, have even used the word “treason” to describe Flynn’s intervention, though experts doubt that his actions qualify.
Okay, his actions only come close to treason:
Flynn’s connections to Russia have been widely discussed. In 2015, he was paid more than $33,000 to speak at a gala dinner in Moscow where he was seated next to President Vladimir Putin. That alone may have exposed him to criminal charges: As a retired U.S. military officer, Flynn was required to seek permission to travel and to receive payment from a foreign entity, something the State Department and the Pentagon have told Congress he did not do.
But it is his paid work on Turkey’s behalf that offers the clearest evidence of his role as a foreign agent – and of his legal problems, since he did not declare his foreign agent status till weeks after he’d left the Trump administration. It was a fact Flynn disclosed himself in a declaration to the Foreign Agent Registration Unit of the Justice Department in early March. According to Flynn’s paperwork, he was paid $530,000 for work that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”
Someone needs to explain all of this to Donald Trump, very slowly and very carefully, so Trump gets it, and also explain, very slowly and very carefully, the matter of Fethullah Gulen, that elderly Turkish cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania:
Erdogan’s government suspects Gulen and his followers of masterminding a failed coup attempt last July. In the September meeting with Turkish officials, they discussed with Flynn how to remove Gulen without going through the extradition process, according to former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey. The idea was “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away,” Woolsey told The Wall Street Journal.
In the disclosures filed by Flynn, the meeting was “for the purpose of understanding better the political climate in Turkey at the time.”
He lied, but he’s that kind of guy:
Flynn also wrote an opinion piece in The Hill on Election Day titled “Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support,” slamming the Obama administration for not taking Turkey’s Gulen concerns seriously. He described Gulen as a “shady Islamic mullah” he compared to Osama bin Laden.
Nope, he’s an old man living in the middle of nowhere – that big empty space between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – who hasn’t been back to Turkey in many decades and makes no comments on what has been going on there at all. Flynn was just earning his keep.
This is an odd situation. As a young lad, William F. Buckley was defending Errol Flynn on that matter of statutory rape – it was “fake news” – it never happened – Betty and Peggy made it all up. As a seventy-year-old man, Donald Trump is defending Michael Flynn on the same grounds. None of this ever happened either.
Sure, but Kevin Drum offers this timeline:
August 9: Flynn is hired by the Turkey-U.S. Business Council for $600,000 to help repair Turkey’s image in the US. However, Flynn chooses not to register as a foreign agent on the pretext that he’s just lobbying for a business group that has nothing to do with the Turkish government.
November 18: Trump names Flynn as his National Security Advisor.
November 30: The Justice Department opens an investigation into Flynn’s lobbying activities. Flynn keeps this news to himself for over a month.
December: Flynn has repeated contacts with various Russian officials but doesn’t tell anybody.
January 4: Flynn tells the incoming White House counsel that he is under investigation. Nothing happens.
January 10: In a meeting with Susan Rice, Flynn puts the kibosh on an Obama plan to use Kurdish help to take the ISIS-occupied town of Raqqa – something that his erstwhile client Turkey is opposed to.
January 26: Acting attorney general Sally Yates warns the White House that Flynn has lied about his contacts with Russian officials, which may have compromised him. Still nothing happens.
February 9: The Washington Post reveals Flynn’s lies about his Russian contacts. Everything is now public.
February 13: Finally something happens. Trump fires Flynn.
February 14: Trump meets with FBI director James Comey and asks him to kill the investigation into Flynn.
March-April: Comey continues the investigation.
May 9: Trump fires Comey.
One thing leads to another, but Zack Beauchamp offers another timeline:
Trump has loved Flynn for a long time. In November, he loved Flynn enough to appoint him to be his national security adviser despite knowing that Russia had paid Flynn $45,000 to attend a dinner with Vladimir Putin. Trump loved him enough to keep him on despite, as the New York Times reported late on Wednesday, Flynn informing the Trump transition in early January that he was under FBI investigation for secretly lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government.
Trump loves Flynn enough to stick with him even after acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the administration, on January 26, that Flynn had lied to the vice president about his interactions with the Russian ambassador and could potentially be blackmailed by the Kremlin. Trump loves Flynn so much that even after he was finally forced to fire him for said lies on February 14, he defended the man’s integrity in a press conference.
“Michael Flynn – General Flynn – is a wonderful man,” the president said in a press conference on February 15. “I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media.”
Trump loves Flynn so much that the same day of that press conference, he ordered everyone out of the room after a top-level meeting on counterterrorism – except FBI Director James Comey. Trump then asked Comey, pretty bluntly, to drop the Flynn investigation.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey, according a Times piece published on Tuesday. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Despite the trouble all of this has caused him – despite the fact that his intervention with Comey is causing talk of impeachment from a handful of House Republicans – Trump still loves Flynn. It’s apparently one of the reasons his relationship with current National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has been a bit sour.
“Trump, who still openly laments having to dismiss Mr. Flynn, has complained that General McMaster talks too much in meetings,” the Times’s Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush reported this week.
There’s just something about Flynn…
And that something is dangerous:
Think about the huge problems overwhelming the Trump administration right now. Roughly, there are two categories: the threat of impeachment over the Comey firing and the broader Russia investigation into whether Trump aides colluded with Russia during the campaign.
The first, of course, is directly a result of his intervention with Comey on Flynn’s behalf. Jimmy Gurulé, a law professor at Notre Dame who was as assistant attorney general under George H. W. Bush, told my colleague Dylan Matthews that Trump potentially committed a crime punishable by two decades of jail time.
And that’s not all:
This allegation of criminal conduct on Flynn’s behalf is breaking the firewall of Republican support for Trump. Two Republican Congress members – Reps. Justin Amash and Carlos Curbelo – suggested that the president would have committed an impeachable offense if the account of Trump’s actions detailed in Comey’s memo is borne out. House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz, previously an incredibly reliable pro-Trump legislator, has asked for the FBI to turn over all of Comey’s memos about his meetings with Trump by May 24.
And that’s not all either:
The second issue – probes by the FBI and both houses of Congress into shady, undisclosed, and potentially illegal coordination by the Trump campaign with Russian intelligence – centers on Flynn as well.
Flynn is, by all accounts, one of the key sources of suspicion about the Trump administration and Russia. Flynn’s ties to Russia are longstanding and, according to a new Reuters report, persisted throughout the campaign. The FBI has records of 18 calls between the Trump camp and Russian state interests; Flynn called the Russian ambassador six times during the transition alone.
The FBI investigation into Flynn is gathering steam. CNN reported on May 9 that “federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election.” It’s clear that Flynn’s personal conduct is a key reason this investigation, so painful for the Trump administration, has become such a big deal.
Trump loves him some Flynn anyway, and Beauchamp offers one explanation for all this:
“Trump doesn’t like firing people, and never has, and has said so many times, mainly because in his mind dismissing somebody he has hired is an admission he made a mistake,” Michael Kruse writes at Politico. “This is why he so conspicuously dragged his feet before the firings of people like Corey Lewandowski and Flynn.”
This tic of Trump’s feels a bit Mafia-like: a sort of “keep it in the family” mentality, which in Trump’s case is often literal. He elevates his own children over more qualified people, in part, because he can be pretty sure that he can trust them to be loyal.
Flynn, for his part, appears to have earned this level of trust from the president. During the campaign, a time when virtually everyone in the national security community was shunning Trump, Flynn publicly and vocally allied himself with him. He did TV hit after TV hit defending Trump’s cozying up to Russia and hyper-aggressive stance on ISIS. He even ginned up “lock her up” chants during his speech at the Republican National Convention, putting whatever reputation for integrity he had on the line.
That’ll do. Flynn is in like Flynn, even if this makes no sense:
There is no rational, self-interested reason that Trump would stick with Flynn like this. It doesn’t look like Flynn had any damning information on Trump that an FBI investigation would uncover. As far as we can tell, no one has accepted Flynn’s offer to testify in exchange for immunity – which strongly indicates that he’s got nothing.
The only real explanation here is that Trump felt he was protecting a trusted ally. He felt like he owed Flynn his loyalty, and so asked Comey to lay off him and continued to support Flynn emotionally behind the scenes. It’s likely that Trump didn’t even understand what he was doing was dangerous – or, in the case of Comey, potentially illegal and impeachable. He just thought it was the protection he owed to a friend and royal subject.
This impulse – a kind of Trumpian noblesse oblige – is, viewed in a certain light, kind of admirable. Yet it may end up bringing Trump down.
That may be where this is headed. In February 1943, Errol Flynn was cleared of all charges – there had been no statutory rape. Donald Trump might not be so lucky. Someone was raped here. It was us.