Trump can't waft away stench of Flynn scandal

What did Mike Pence know about Flynn?
What did Mike Pence know about Flynn?

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Frida Ghitis is a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, and a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. She is a former CNN producer and correspondent. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

(CNN)The more we learn about the story of Michael Flynn's dealings with foreign powers, the more it smells of hypocrisy and betrayal -- and the more the stench sticks to the Trump administration.

Within the avalanche of damning new revelations stands out one piece of information that should make Americans more than mildly nauseous, to paraphrase James Comey, the FBI director fired by President Donald Trump not long after the President asked him to end to the FBI investigation of Flynn's ties to Russia.
It is Flynn's ties to Turkey that are emerging as the most immediate concern, with new evidence, first uncovered by McClatchy News and largely confirmed by CNN, that Flynn blocked a plan to launch a military assault against Raqqa, the capital of ISIS, by arming Kurdish fighters, the most effective, proven fighting force in the war against ISIS.
    The plan was sure to anger Turkey, which views the Kurds in Syria as mortal enemies. We now know that Flynn had been secretly working for Turkey until a few weeks before he made that decision.
    Flynn's moves to stop the plan fits neatly with the views of his Turkish paymasters.
    Turkey's opposition to the anti-ISIS operation was so predictable that the Obama administration, despite knowing it would be implemented during the Trump administration, offered to put it into place before he took office, precisely so that it could take the heat from Ankara, sparing Trump the diplomatic fallout.
    Early last March, just after being forced to resign as Trump's national security adviser for concealing his meetings with Russian officials, Flynn officially acknowledged his ties to Turkey. He registered as a "Foreign Agent," acknowledging he was paid $530,000 to advance the interests of the Turkish government. By law, he should have registered much sooner. Incredibly, the Trump transition team knew Flynn was working for the Turks before he was appointed to serve in the White House.
    Flynn was working to help Turkey simultaneously with his work as Trump's top foreign affairs adviser. The contract with the Turkish-owned, Netherlands-based firm, which has clearly worked on behalf Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was terminated a week after the November election.
    The irony that former-general Flynn stood in the way of wresting Raqqa from the hands of ISIS is a bitter one. Flynn made his name and secured Trump's admiration by speaking implacably not only against ISIS and the need to defeat terrorists, but against Islam in its entirety. But when the time came to take on ISIS on the battlefield, he slammed the brakes on a plan that military strategists had spent months devising.
    NYT: Trump team knew about Flynn investigation
    NYT: Trump team knew about Flynn investigation

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    Today, Raqqa remains in ISIS hands, its people, including Yazidis kidnapped and taken as slaves, still live under the oppressive, deadly regime of one of the world's most brutal terrorist groups.
    There is no guarantee that a different decision by Flynn would have freed them by now, but according to McClatchy, timelines circulated in Congress suggest Flynn's move may have delayed action for months.
    Did Flynn reject the Raqqa plan because of the money he received to support Turkey's interests? We cannot be sure. But that very fact is one of the reasons why conflicts of interest are so pernicious. And no administration in recent memory has been as plagued by conflicts of interests from the day it took office as has Donald Trump's.
    The growing list of scandals surround Flynn raises an increasingly troubling question: Why is Trump so determined to defend his disgraced former adviser?
    Trump, who demands absolute loyalty from his aides, has shown no compunction about leaving any of his lieutenants out in the cold when it is convenient for him. He has repeatedly sent out administration officials to explain his controversial moves, only to contradict them and let them look like liars, their reputations tarnished.
    But when it comes to Flynn, Trump is showing uncharacteristic loyalty. He stuck with him after Obama, who fired Flynn, warned Trump against hiring him. And even after he removed Flynn from office amid a piercing national security scandal, Trump called him a "wonderful man" who had been "treated unfairly."
    He claimed he fired Flynn only because he lied to Vice President Mike Pence. Trump put his presidency at risk to help Flynn, asking the FBI director, according to Comey's memo, to end the Flynn investigation. That request, according to experts, could amount to obstruction of justice, potentially an impeachable offense.
    Trump stuck with Flynn even after acting Attorney General Sally Yates urgently warned the White House that Flynn could be blackmailed by Russia. And we now know that the White House knew Flynn was under FBI investigation well before the inauguration. Still he was appointed to one of the most sensitive security jobs in the entire government, with access to the most classified information and input into all the major national security decisions.
    What happened after Flynn left the administration with respect to ISIS policy is also thick with irony. Who can forget Trump's "secret plan" to defeat ISIS, and his claims that "I know better than the generals" when it comes to taking on the terrorist group?
    Flynn's refusal to approve the Obama-era plan to take Raqqa from ISIS came 10 days before Trump's inauguration, but he lasted only three weeks as national security adviser. Once he was gone, it became clear to Trump's new security aides that the plan was a sound one.
    A few days ago, the Trump administration announced plans to arm the Kurds in preparation for the battle of Raqqa. That battle could have started months ago.
    According to McClatchy, some in Congress privately called Flynn's intervention "treason." Perhaps. It also smells of betrayal and hypocrisy. And not only by Flynn.