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HomeCharles KrauthammerThe Coverup in Search of a Crime

The Coverup in Search of a Crime

It’s a Watergate-era cliche that the coverup is always worse than the crime. In the Mike Flynn affair, we have the first recorded instance of a coverup
in the absence of
a crime.

Being covered up were the Dec. 29 phone calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to Washington. The presumed violation was Flynn negotiating with a foreign adversary while the Obama administration was still in office and, even worse, discussing with Sergey Kislyak the sanctions then being imposed on Russia (for meddling in the 2016 elections).

What’s wrong with that? It is risible to invoke the Logan Act, passed during the John Adams administration, under which not a single American has been prosecuted in the intervening 218 years. It prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign powers. Flynn was hardly a private citizen. As Donald Trump’s publicly designated incoming national security adviser, it was perfectly reasonable for him to be talking to foreign actors in preparation for assuming office within a month.

Worst case: He was telling Kislyak that the Trump administration might lift sanctions and therefore, comrade, no need for a spiral of retaliations. How different is this from Barack Obama telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, on an inadvertently open mic, during his 2012 reelection campaign, “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”

Flynn would have been giving the Russians useful information that might well have contributed to Russia’s decision not to retaliate. I’m no Russophile. But again: What’s wrong with that? Turns out, the Trump administration has not lifted those sanctions. It’s all a tempest in an empty teapot.

The accusations of misbehavior by Flynn carry a subliminal echo of a long-standing charge against Richard Nixon that he interfered in the Paris peace talks in October 1968 to prevent his Democratic opponent from claiming a major foreign policy success on the eve of the presidential election.

But that kind of alleged diplomatic freelancing would have prolonged a war in which Americans were dying daily. The Flynn conversation was nothing remotely of the sort. Where’s the harm?

The harm was not the calls but Flynn’s lying about them. And most especially lying to the vice president, who then went out and told the world Flynn had never discussed sanctions. You can’t leave your vice president undercut and exposed. Flynn had to go.

Up to this point, the story makes sense. Except for one thing: Why the coverup if there is no crime? Why lie about talking about sanctions? It’s inexplicable. Did Flynn want to head off lines of inquiry about other contacts with Russians that might not have been so innocent? Massive new leaks suggest numerous contacts during the campaign between Trump associates and Russian officials, some of whom were intelligence agents. Up till now, however, reports the New York Times, there is “no evidence” of any Trump campaign collusion or cooperation with Russian hacking and other interference in the U.S. elections.

Thus far. Which is why there will be investigations. Speculation ranges from the wildly malevolent to the rather loopily innocent.

At one end of the spectrum is the scenario wherein these campaign officials — including perhaps Flynn, perhaps even Trump — are compromised because of tainted business or political activities known to the Russians, to whom they are now captive. A fevered conspiracy in my view, but there are non-certifiable people who consider it possible.

At the benign end of the spectrum is that the easily flattered Trump imagines himself the great dealmaker who overnight becomes a great statesman by charming Vladimir Putin into a Nixon-to-China grand bargain — we jointly call off the new Cold War, join forces to destroy the Islamic State and reach a new accommodation for Europe that relieves us of some of the burden of parasitic allies.

To me, the idea is nuts, a narcissistic fantasy grounded in neither strategy nor history. But that doesn’t mean Trump might not imagine it — after all, he maintains that if we had only stayed in Iraq to steal its oil, we wouldn’t have the Islamic State. And if this has indeed been his thinking about Russia, it would make sense to surround himself with advisers who had extensive dealings there.

I believe neither of these scenarios but I’m hard put to come up with alternatives. The puzzle remains. Why did Flynn lie? Until we answer that, the case of the coverup in search of a crime remains unsolved.

© 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Charles Krauthammer
Charles Krauthammer writes a weekly political column that runs on Fridays. He is also a Fox News commentator and appears nightly on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
  • Jerryb53

    Why the cover up and lies? I voted for Trump so we’d have a supposedly honest at least Executive Branch. Not even 1 month into Trump’s Administration and it seems like 1 year. Whatever he is trying to accomplished is getting lost in all this nonsense. Advice for Trump, stay off twitter. They, the left and GOP know how to rattle your cage and your falling for the bait.

    • scruffyleon

      I know you and you have always been against Trump. And you have always lied in your posts. Shame on you.

    • kay jay

      Yes jerry, in all the nonsense the left is laying out for him to distract and derail the every step of the man.EASY for me to see.

  • conworld

    Krauthammer spins a web of theories, resting on one premise: That General Flynn lied, and apparently lied not about having the phone call, but that sanctions were discussed. Discussed, or just mentioned in passing? Perhaps in such a trivial way that it was easily forgotten or so superficial it wasn’t worth mentioning, when Flynn talked to Pence. This seems to me to be a much more likely solution to the Krauthammer’s mystery than any of the extremes he comes up with. If this were indeed the case, then the characterization of “lies’ and “coverup” are quite out of place. By dumping Flynn, the Trump Administration dug a hole for itself and is about to jump in. Reminds me of Casey Stengel’s remark about the Mets, “Doesn’t anybody around here know how to play baseball?”

    • Excellent comment and general thesis. Krauthammer can’t seem to help himself on some matters. He has to undermine just as many others have done and still do. They do not realize they are lending credence to the real criminals within ! Pathetic, especially for a supposed educated and smart guy ? But how many times have we all been fooled by supposed educated and smart guys in the last 10 years or more ? And thy all have those initials behind their names for their proof ! I think the jig is up finally and the elites at every level are exposed with their false paradigm of knowledge or some such thing.

      He does go to considerable of effort to try and disguise his undermining. Megan Kelly did as well as others at FOX and many other outlets. To be fair, FOX is still the only one that is even close to any form of truth and they have a long way to go. They would do well to put some of their people out to pasture and reconsider some of their left leaning control freaks and racial partisans like Juan Williams. He is a complete and obvious BHO shill and a reverse racist.

  • scruffyleon

    I used to be impressed with your mental prowess but no longer, Mr Kraut.
    Why have you not considered that Flynn might be a Trump ‘plant’ used to draw out the CIA long knives? That makes more sense than any of your theories.

  • loki999494

    Well, rather than all these Krauthammer Machiavellian machinations, it seems much more likely that Flynn thought it of such small import that not mentioning it would simply derail the predicted Democrat lies, smearing and over-the-top reactions that was sure to come. Then came the FBI with their illegal wiretap and the rest is history…

    • Agree, so why are Krauthammer and others not focusing on the underlying actual crimes committed by our own government agencies ? Is he actually being honest, fair and factual given all the circumstances ?

      I simply think he is past his time for thinking and speaking/writing. He is from a by gone era that does not exist any longer when we may have had some ethics or something that at lest resembled ethics and has morphed into what we call the status quo these days. He has also been deeply entrenched in the system of politico pundits in DC for a very long time and that has a tendency to suck the brains and common sense out of anybodies head given enough time. He is not alone though, by far in this dilemma.

  • Firewagon

    No mystery. Until “The Swamp is Drained,” ANY method to gum up this Trumpian administration will be the ONLY process allowed by those having lost! “A house divided can not stand,” and until that snake infested swamp is cleaned out, look to civil war.

  • kayjay

    I have read the lib press and the right wing press and they all BS! I am surprised at Krauthammer. Now we have Obama could come back to office on the email medium. Before it was Obama will have a third term. And I read Trump is screwed. Who is Machiavellian and who is not remains to be seen. One thing is for sure and that is the left is planting the seeds of ‘Trump is a traitor’ and has used a foreign entity and one that is a arch enemy to win the election. And I personally believe they are the TRAITORS!

    • Jerryb53

      Your correct in your assessment but they ALL are traitors except a handful. Cruz is one who is not.

  • QuietDanTN

    Because Flynn became a distraction, and a club for the Dems and the media to beat the Administration over the head with. At some point, when the circus act comes to a conclusion, you might see Flynn return, in his former job, or another one. Trump is conducting The Apprentice: National Edition. Pop some popcorn. It’ll win Emmies, perhaps for the next four to eight years.

  • mikinzla

    What no one is observing:. Flynn is a general. He is an expert at tactics and strategy. He knows chain of command. He has spent ALL of his adult life living by and with these parameters. Only an inexcusable betrayal of the values would allow him to behave the way he did. He had to go, not for the transgression, but for betraying himself.

  • unadorned

    When I started reading this article I knew that Krauthammer pretending to be fair-minded didn’t pass the smell test. And sure enough…

    Krauthammer, the real story here is, as Pat Buchanan says, not that the incoming national security adviser spoke with a Russian diplomat seeking guidance on the future president’s thinking. The real crime is the criminal conspiracy inside the Deep State to transcribe the private conversation of a U.S. citizen and leak it to press collaborators to destroy a political career.

    As Eli Lake wrote in his Bloomberg article, “The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn”:

    “Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity.
    This is what police states do. “

  • Herb1949

    Leave it Krauthammer to only look at the worst case scenarios, especially when it comes to the Trump administration.

    Every time I read his column I get the impression that he is working as hard to undermine Trump as obummer and his minions are.

  • jfl

    We think Russia meddled in the 2016 elections and we want to impose sanctions.

    Considering all the elections the US has meddled in and the governments we’ve toppled, it would be smarter if we just kept our mouth shut!