Michael Flynn, retired General and former National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He has also agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential Election. The development likely means President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and other top Trump advisers did try to work with Russian officials before the President took office. Lying to investigators is, of course, a crime. Speaking to foreign officials is not necessarily a crime or improper, but the entire situation given the Ukraine Crisis, US Sanctions, and Russia’s attempts to influence US election raises far too many concerns to be ignored.
Michael Flynn’s guilty plea is disconcerting beyond the political implications to the Trump Administration. First of all, Flynn is a General who served in the US Army for 33 years in the areas of intelligence and counterinsurgency. The fact a top military officer, who retired in 2014, failed to heed the inherent, and obvious, ethical issues surrounding a former intelligence officer working as a foreign agent for US adversary Russia reflects properly on military leadership. It raises concerns about the loyalties of America’s other military leaders. The fact he seems to have casually lied to investigators to avoid political and personal culpability also reflects poorly on the leadership culture of the military. It raises questions about the credibility of military leadership.
Furthermore, it is easy to thoughtlessly condemn Donald Trump and his allies, such as his son-in-law as well as his son Donald Trump Jr., for their efforts to enlist Russian help in their campaign efforts. The Trump’s may be new to politics, which their naivety does somewhat absolve them of some culpability when it comes to legal wrongdoings, but they are as opportunistic as all other politicians. Donald Trump is a single-minded opportunist who will pursue an objective at all costs. Because victory against Hillary Clinton was his sole concern, it did not matter who was helping him win. Russia offered his team help to defeat Hillary Clinton and they took it without a second thought.
Foreign influence in US elections is a problem. Collusion with foreign actors to manipulate US elections is a bigger problem, but the Trump team’s actions are not the most troubling aspect. If Trump and his inner circle had experience as public officials, they may have understood the legal implications of working with Russian officials. If Trump and his inner circle had greater political experience, they might have understood the conflicts of interests and taboo that comes from working with foreign officials, especially Russian officials. What makes the action of the Trump team so troubling is that most politicians are just like the Trumps. Politicians do not consider, or care about, the consequences of their actions as long as they are able to beat their opponents.
There are many obvious issues surrounding Russia’s hacking of the 2016 US Presidential Election. Many of these issues are being investigated. Much of the scrutiny falls on members of the Trump team, but there are also not-so-obvious issues at play. Culture is one aspect that is not being considered. The culture of US military and political leadership needs to be scrutinized. Flynn may be one man, but election hacking is just one issue that has forced the professional behavior of a retired General into the spotlight. Donald Trump might be new to politics, but that simply means he lacks the training needed to avoid scrutiny for his improper behavior. Moreover, there needs to be a greater focus on the cultural issues surrounding election Flynn’s guilty plea.
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