As many who lived through the investigation of the Watergate Committee clearly recall, this was the definitive question asked of nearly every witness who testified. Gradually, the layers of “I do not recall at this time” and “I can’t remember” were stripped away until it became clear that not only was Richard Nixon aware of the crime, but he was actively involved in the cover up.
It was the cover up, not the crime, that proved his downfall.
America is now faced with a similar, though not identical, dilemma. General Michael Flynn, who resigned last night among growing reports of his involvement with the Russian government, will no doubt be asked the same question. In fact, there are Democrats in Congress who are already demanding answers to that question.
The main controversy revolves around telephone calls General Flynn made to the Russian ambassador in the United States BEFORE Trump became President and some made prior to the election itself. The most suspicious one was made on December 29, 2016, the day that President Obama ejected some 35 Russian diplomats as reprisal for alleged Russian activities in the November 8th election.
When it became know that General Flynn had made not one, but five phone calls to the Russian ambassador on the same day, the Trump transition team put forth the explanation that General Flynn had simply called to with the ambassador a “Merry Christmas.” Perhaps no one on Team Trump knew that Russia celebrates Christmas in January.
Further explanations were submitted that the telephone calls were to arrange a telephone call between Trump and the Ambassador. It now appears that Flynn lied to Vice President Pence about the true nature of the calls, leading Pence to publicly support Flynn’s claims.
Flynn vehemently denied the telephone calls had anything to do with the sanctions, although the first phone call was placed an hour BEFORE Obama announced the sanctions.
The very next day, December 30th, President-elect Donald Trump sent out the following message on Twitter:
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016
What did the President know, and when did he know it?
How likely is it that Trump’s nominee to head the Defense Intelligence Agency would go “rogue” on him, especially with the Russian government? In light of the tweet that Trump sent out immediately after Flynn’s calls, how likely is it that Trump was not aware of the true nature of the calls?
Trump is known for his loyalty to his supporters – until he isn’t. Remember Corey Lewandowski or Chris Christie? Did General Flynn “fall on his sword” to protect the President from further scandal? Perhaps. Will it quell the questions about the Trump Administrations questionable relationship with Vladimir Putin? Doubtful.
On day 24 of his Administration, Trump is already is damage-control mode. We do not know yet the full extent of Russian ties to his leading advisors. We do not know yet Trump’s financial obligations to Russian oligarchs because of his refusal to release his tax returns.
We do know that reports are surfacing from the DoD and other intelligence gathering agencies that they are fearful of sharing sensitive intelligence with the President of the United States because they believe any such information will go directly to Putin and his government. We do that our most trusted allies have expressed similar concerns.
If Trump and his advisors think that Flynn’s resignation is going to stop the growing suspicions they are gravely mistaken. General Flynn may very well prove to be the first slice in the “death of a thousand cuts” that will bring down the Trump regime.
Just like the Nixon administration in the 1970s, they underestimate the American public as well as Congress. If the Democrats regain control of the House in 2018, and if Trump is still the President, his tax returns will be revealed, and hearings into his conduct will be undertaken.
Trump has never before been held accountable to public scrutiny for his actions. He is in for a rude awakening.