Note a few things we now know from the follow-on reporting on the Flynn plea agreement.
The senior transition official who Flynn called into to confer on his conversations and negotiations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak was KT McFarland. Flynn conferred with McFarland and McFarland conferred with a group of other senior officials which, as I noted last night on the basis of the contemporaneous pool reports, appears to have been Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Reince Priebus.
McFarland had been tapped to serve as the Deputy National Security Advisor, a position she held until May. Her main qualification for the job was a long stint as a “Fox News National Security Analyst”, a position she had seemingly on the basis of a stint as a speechwriter in the Reagan Pentagon thirty years ago. As I’ve noted before, she is a notorious resume embellisher. More recent McFarland highlights include a failed run against Hillary Clinton during Clinton’s run for a second senate term in 2006. In that race, McFarland distinguished herself by claiming that Clinton saw her as such a threat that she was sending secret helicopters to surveil her estate in the Hamptons. That’s the level of person she is. McFarland was defeated in the GOP primary.
In other words, McFarland is a clown, a product of the New York GOP/Fox News/Roger Ailes ridicu-verse. The larger group she and Flynn were conferring with about carrying on a covert negotiation with the Russian Ambassador were basically people of the same caliber with the exception of Priebus, who is a fairly seasoned political operative but not someone with foreign policy experience. A New York Times story from today shows an extensive series of emails which largely involve the same individuals noted above. Those chains also include Tom Bossert, the current White House Homeland Security Advisor who has a clearer national security background.
The upshot is that other than Flynn, almost no one involved in the extended conversation had any experience that remotely qualified them to be part of the discussion. The point here is not to cut these folks slack because they were somehow naive or ignorant of the issues they were dealing with. It is that again and again in these key moments the decision-makers were people who were inexperienced, had histories of either poor judgment or extremism and were in many cases corrupt. With those qualities, you can expect that a lot of bad things to come.
There is an additional thread the Flynn revelations allow us to stitch together. I’ve noted a number of times Trump’s weekend at his Bedminster resort which immediately preceded his decision to fire James Comey. It was over that weekend that Trump stewed over Comey’s behavior and made the decision to fire him. One key to that weekend is that he spent it surrounded by his most craven, aggressive and enabling aides, the ones with instincts and impulses like the President’s who bring out the worst in him rather than making any effort to reign him in. (Remember that for all his transgressive extremity, even Steve Bannon was among those cautioning Trump against firing Comey.) When they returned to Washington there was that never-explained mystery hour on the tarmac in Air Force One.
As I wrote at the time, given the oddity of that incident and the fact that it immediately preceded Trump’s decision to fire James Comey, it seems highly likely that the two were related and that what kept them on the plan was some discussion about Comey’s fate. It’s well to recall now who was on the plane – Trump, Jared Kushner, Dan Scavino, Hope Hicks, Stephen Miller and KT McFarland.
We already know that Kushner was one of the most vocal advocates of firing Comey. McFarland’s role in that critical weekend is noteworthy since we now know she was tightly connected to one of the central questions Comey was investigating – not only the broader Russia scandal but the specifics of Mike Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak which Trump had already asked Comey to leave alone.
Again, at every stage, when the key decisions get made, Trump is with the worst of his advisors, the least qualified, most aggressive and enabling, the most dishonest and corrupt. It’s a recipe for bad outcomes since Trump is in his element.