The White House’s national security adviser resigned Monday night and President Trump tapped retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg Jr. to serve as acting adviser in his place, in the first major shakeup of the still-young administration.
Michael Flynn, the ousted adviser, admitted that he misled Vice President Mike Pence on the contents of phone calls Mr. Flynn placed to the Russian ambassador, in which they apparently discussed sanctions.
At the time, though he was working for the Trump transition team, Mr. Flynn was a private citizen, and such communications to hash out government policy are illegal.
“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology,” Mr. Flynn said in a resignation letter released by the White House.
Top officials, apparently relying on Mr. Flynn’s account of the conversation, issued a public denial of reports that he had discussed the sanctions imposed on the Kremlin by the outgoing Obama administration over Moscow’s efforts to influence the U.S. election in Mr. Trump’s favor.
But Mr. Flynn later told White House officials the issue of sanctions may have come up. That revelation left the position of Mr. Flynn, a retired lieutenant general, untenable
There is speculation the White House may be considering former General David Petraeus for the position, but that would be highly problematic, given his own handling of sensitive information:
In a stunning fall from grace, he resigned his position over an extramarital affair with his biographer. A Justice Department investigation accused Petraeus of sharing classified information with the woman whom he was having an affair with. He pleaded guilty and agreed to serve two years probation and pay $100,000 fine.
Trump reportedly considered him for secretary of state and the vice presidency, but ultimately offered him no role in the administration. If tapped to be national security adviser, he would still be under probation until April.
The Trump adiministration needs to clean this mess up immediately. The nation cannot afford, and the White House cannot endure, disarray in the top ranks of the national security apparatus. And politically, the loss of a Senate-confirmed cabinet member at this point could lead to much tougher scrutiny for future Trump nominees.
As it should. Presidents are allowed to nominate the people they think best to lead the various departments and agencies in the executive branch. But the Senate has a responsibility to make sure those nominees are, indeed, fit for the job. This can sometimes lead to mischief, and Demcorats will undoubtedly use the Flynn example to stonewall Trump nominees at every turn. While this would be a mistake in the broad sense -- "obstructionist" used to be a dirty word in Democratic circles -- that does not mean they can't ask pointed questions, demand real answers, and raise objections in legitimate circumstances.
That is very likely asking for too much from a party that seems to be more about anger than much else. But we should expect Republicans to pick up the slack, and fulifll their advice and consent role to its fullest.
The Flynn episode is the Administration's first, hard lesson in DC politics. They had best take those lessons to heart.