How Flynn — and the Russia scandal — landed in the West Wing
Christie and his top aides on the transition brought this list and others in binders to a meeting on the 25th floor of Trump Tower shortly after the election. The goal of the meeting was to begin to review names for top jobs in the administration, according to the two sources familiar with the transition.
Also in attendance were Bannon, Rick Dearborn, Sen. Jeff Sessions, and Trump’s children including Ivanka, Don Jr., Eric, and Jared Kushner. This same group had met every Monday in-person or on a conference call since the transition began in earnest.
Flynn was not on the invitation list but somehow found out about the meeting and crashed it, said two people familiar with the transition.
Ivanka Trump asked Flynn what he would like to do in the administration at the beginning of the session and indicated how grateful she was for Flynn’s help and loyalty to her father. (An administration official clarified that Ivanka Trump wasn’t being serious in asking Flynn which job he would prefer since that was not her role.)
Flynn told the group that he wanted to be secretary of state, secretary of defense, or national security adviser.
By mid-November, the NSA job was officially his.
Some in the administration quickly came to regret Trump’s decision, according to two former White House officials.
Flynn’s starring role on national security and foreign policy in the early days of the White House led to some early missteps with world leaders, including a ham-handed phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in which the two sparred over an agreement for the U.S. to accept hundreds of refugees. Other officials were concerned about an influx of Flynn acolytes into the prominent National Security Council — many of whom have since left the administration.
“First off, his hire made the administration look like it had poor vetting and no judgment for the most sensitive position in government,” said one person close to the transition. “It also colored the president’s early interactions with world leaders, like the call Trump had with Australia. It was nutty stuff that no president should be doing, and there he was listening to Mike Flynn.”
All of this has given Flynn a far longer shelf-life beyond the 24 days he spent in the White House.
Trump and Flynn forged their bond during the campaign, when Flynn — a highly decorated retired general who had served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan — became an early supporter.
Often he briefed the president on foreign and national security policy from the campaign trail, according to the former campaign official, alongside Keith Kellogg, a retired lieutenant general who later became the executive secretary of the National Security Council.
He showed off his high degree of loyalty to Trump by delivering a fiery speech at the Republican National Convention in July 2016, where he chanted along with the crowd about locking up Hillary Clinton. Trump even reportedly considered Flynn for his vice president slot.
But once he was installed as national security adviser, Flynn had a hard time managing and organizing the 400-plus people who work as part of the National Security Council. He frequently gave briefings that were internally viewed as superficial — more akin to campaign talking points than in-depth briefing sessions.
While he brought over some military people into the NSC, his presence did not help to attract top Republican talent for foreign policy and national security jobs, an issue that was already a quandary for the Trump administration.
“This is the weakest and least credentialed senior National Security Council staff in recent memory. It’s a combination of not wanting to work for Trump and early on, not wanting to work for Flynn,” said one former Republican NSC staffer. “Normally, it’s a place where every aspiring and ambitious foreign policy person wants to land because it’s so close to the White House and the president.”
Now Flynn and his future hang over the White House and the Republican Congress.
Recent reports indicate that Mueller may have enough evidence to indict both Flynn and his son; if that is the case, then Flynn would be the first official from the administration to face criminal charges, extending the reaches of Mueller’s probe into the White House and not just the campaign.
“You put someone in charge of coordinating the national security apparatus of the most powerful country in the world — essentially, someone not fit for that job,” said the former transition official. “That’s a job that can get you in trouble in a hurry.”