Law

Juan Williams: More questions than answers on Flynn

Juan Williams

Editor's note: The following column originally appeared in The Hill newspaper and on TheHill.com.

Last week James Comey testified that while he was FBI director, he felt pressured by President Trump to drop an investigation into one man.

Also last week, U.S. allies went to war to oust Islamic State terrorists from their command center in Raqqa, Syria, a sharp shift from the orders once given by the very same man.

The man at the center of both stories is Trump’s former national security advisor.

Yes, Michael Flynn had an even worse week than Trump.

Comey told Congress the president pushed him to “let this go,” referring to the FBI investigation into Flynn, who has financial ties to Russia and Turkey. Flynn took money from both nations before the election without proper disclosure.

But despite Flynn’s central role in the growing scandal, last week’s media spotlight locked in on personalities: Comey versus Trump.

The headlines focused on Comey calling the president a liar and whether his testimony was strong enough to build a case for an obstruction of justice charge against Trump.

That is a strangely narrow view of the damage coming from the possible corruption in the White House.

The scandal being overlooked is that the president for some reason made America’s national security secondary to his allegiance to Flynn.

As he took office, Trump knew he was allowing a man to become his national security advisor who broke the law by failing to disclose that he took money from companies tied to foreign powers. In the case of Turkey, he took money to represent its interests in Washington.

Most alarming, in the days before Trump became president, the Obama administration advised Flynn that they planned to take the fight against the terrorists to Raqqa. Susan Rice, then the national security advisor to President Obama, spoke to Flynn because the fight was certain to continue under the Trump administration.

And what did Flynn tell Rice?

The Washington Post reported Flynn said bluntly: “Don’t approve it.” The attack was delayed from January until last week.

Why did Flynn and the incoming Trump team delay the offensive?

As Vera Bergengruen reported for McClatchy newspapers last month, Flynn’s stand-down order to Rice and the Pentagon was “consistent with the wishes of Turkey, which had long opposed the United States partnering with Kurdish forces — and which was his undeclared client.”

Turkey’s president, Recep Erdogan, was concerned that close ties between the U.S. and Kurdish forces trained to lead the fight might result in the U.S. eventually supporting independence for Kurdish majority areas of Turkey.

The Justice Department was alarmed about Flynn and Turkey in part because of an opinion article Flynn wrote in The Hill on Election Day. After the article appeared, officials at Justice were worried about “potential ties between Lt. Gen. Flynn and others who might be acting on behalf of the government of Turkey,” according to records released to The Daily Caller.

In addition, before becoming the national security advisor, Flynn also appears to have held conversations with the Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions against Russia.

And Flynn also then lied about those conversations to Vice President Pence.

When the president was told that the Russians potentially could blackmail his national security adviser with that information, he did nothing for more than two weeks.

Well, he did something. He soon fired the acting attorney general who told the White House about the damning conflict of interest. It took a lot longer for him to fire Flynn — and that happened only after news reports that the Justice Department had told the White House about Flynn’s conflicts.

On Friday, Trump denied asking Comey for an end to the investigation into Flynn.

That leads to the question of why Comey would perjure himself before Congress. 

Trump, on the other hand, has a clear distaste for the House and Senate investigations into his campaign’s ties to Russia.

And once again that centers on protecting Flynn.

In late April, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, released documents showing that after Flynn was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he was explicitly informed it was illegal for him to accept money tied to any foreign government without “advance approval” by Pentagon officials.

But despite the warning, Flynn, by his own later admission, took money from firms tied to foreign governments, specifically Turkey and Russia. And Pentagon officials said they had “no records of …Flynn requesting permission from the Army for foreign employment.”

Cummings told reporters he wanted to know why Flynn took the risk of secretly accepting money tied to governments in Turkey and Russia when he knew he was breaking the law.

“Our next step,” in the Congressional inquiry, Cummings explained to the reporters, “is to get the documents we are seeking from the White House so we can complete our investigation.” 

The White House immediately shut that down. They said documents related to Flynn’s security clearance would be kept from Congress because they include classified information. 

Even before he testified, public opinion was on Comey’s side in his battle with the administration.

According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, 61 percent of Americans believe Trump fired Comey to protect himself. The same poll found that 56 percent believe Trump is trying to interfere in the Russia investigation.

It is clear that Trump’s team thinks they can weather the storm if this remains a clash between two political personalities — Trump and Comey.

But others in the Trump campaign — especially Flynn — are part of the rising swamp threatening the Trump White House. 

Juan Williams currently serves as a co-host of FOX News Channel's (FNC) "The Five" (weekdays, 9-10PM/ET) and also appears as a political analyst on "FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace" and "Special Report with Bret Baier."