By all accounts, Donald Trump places an enormous premium on loyalty. And that’s a good thing. But Trump is a pragmatist. And that’s another good thing.
Trump’s original campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was a zealot -- a brash acolyte who egged on his bombastic boss and was unafraid to confront the media and stomp on the toes of the Republican Establishment. Without the sometimes manic Lewandowski, the Trump candidacy might have faltered.
But when it was time for Lewandowski to go, Trump cut him loose. And when Paul Manafort, Lewandowski’s successor as chief campaign guru became a liability because of his foreign entanglements, Trump reportedly listened to the advice of his children and financial backer Rebekah Mercer and brought in Kellyanne Conway to assist Manafort. In short order, Manafort was eased out and replaced by the duo of Conway and Steve Bannon.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of the 16 primary rivals vanquished by Trump, became an early endorser and coat-holder who almost openly salivated at the prospect of being picked as the GOP nominee’s vice president. When that didn’t happen, he settled for chief of the transition team. But after Christie’s aides were convicted in the Bridgegate scandal and the governor left them hanging out to dry, he also became a liability and was ousted, it is said, byTrump son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Now Trump is faced with another loyalist who must be marched out of the Tower: former Army General Mike Flynn. The trouble with dispatching Flynn is that he has already been named National Security Adviser. But that’s the trouble with keeping him, too.
Flynn might have skated into the West Wing (and he still might) were it not for a nutbag from North Carolina who believed fake news stories that said children were being held as sex slaves at Washington pizza restaurant Comet Ping Pong – part of a ring led by Hillary Clinton – and rushed in to investigate on Sunday, assault rifle in hand.
The white knight responding to the fabrication called Pizzagate was arrested, and the incident might simply have been added to the incalculably long list of bizarre election-related moments were it not for the explosion of outrage over the proliferation of fake news and the fact that among those dumping this garbage can of lies on America’s head was ex-General Flynn.
The New York Times said on Tuesday that less than a week before the election, Flynn posted a fake news story on Twitter claiming that New York cops and prosecutors were investigating Clinton and top members of her campaign for “pedophilia, money laundering, perjury and other major felonies.”
That wasn’t a one-off. Flynn and his 33-year-old son Michael G. Flynn, who has served as chief of staff at the consulting firm his father founded when he left the military, Flynn Intel Group, have a history of disseminating fake news and what The Times calls “unsubstantiated claims.”
A Politico story on Monday accused General Flynn of “pushing dubious factoids” – including the one about Clinton and child sex trafficking -- at least 16 times since August 9. In July, he retweeted a post that on its face seemed anti-Semitic.
Even after the incident at Comet Ping Pong, Michael G. Flynn tweeted: “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it'll remain a story. The left seems to forget #PodestaEmails and the many ‘coincidences’ tied to it.”
On Monday morning, Veep-to-be Mike Pence said on the MSNBC show Morning Joe that General Flynn’s son had no role on the transition team. That statement was contradicted later in the morning by Trump spokesperson Jason Miller who said the younger Flynn had been helping his father but was “no longer involved with transition efforts.”
Removing the son from involvement in the transition was the easy part. It’s the father that presents Trump with a conundrum.
After introducing his choice for Defense Secretary, former Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, at a “thank you” rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on Tuesday, Trump said, “I believe we are in the process of putting together one of the all-time great Cabinets that has ever been assembled in our nation’s history.”
Mattis is certainly a step in the right direction – a smart appointment that will reassure the global community. A second similar step would be to name Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China, as Secretary of State.
But Trump cannot afford to undermine his effort to build a credible team by retaining General Flynn as his National Security Adviser.
Yes, it will be embarrassing to replace Flynn, who was as loyal a campaign stalwart as Christie or former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another problematic supporter looking for a job, but the general has tweeted away any benefit of the doubt about his judgment.
Before General Flynn was dismissed by President Obama, he was chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and earlier he directed intelligence operations in Afghanistan, where he was credited with being expert at unraveling complicated terrorist organizations.
Flynn was also a proponent of “open-source intelligence” – relying on information available in the Internet Age enhanced by traditional, clandestine collection methods. He wrote an influential white paper, “Fixing Intelligence,” and has been described as “an innovator who sought to update intelligence collection and dissemination practices to comport with modern technology.”
Still, he was either unable to distinguish between the truth and fake news or he chose to spread heinous falsehoods. How can Trump – or the public – have any confidence that he will be able to offer the high-value, credible advice that the president should expect when he has demonstrated such a cavalier attitude toward the facts?
General Flynn admirably served his country. He can admirably serve it again by stepping aside as National Security Adviser and walking out of Trump Tower with his head held high.