In fact, it would be laughable if Trump officials had not known, since a simple Google search could have tipped them off. On Election Day, Flynn published an op-ed in The Hill floridly praising Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a crucial ally against ISIS and calling for the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish religious leader and former Erdogan ally who lives in the U.S., and whom Erdogan blamed for instigating a failed 2016 coup. Flynn complained that Barack Obama had kept Erdogan at arm’s length.
Flynn’s take was particularly surprising because he had cheered the coup on earlier in the year. “That is worth clapping for,” he said in Cleveland, adding that Erdogan “is actually very close to President Obama.” He had also complained to Seymour Hersh that Turkey hadn’t done enough to stop the flow of arms to ISIS.
Several days after the op-ed was published, The Daily Caller reported that Flynn had been hired as a lobbyist Inovo BV, a Dutch firm founded by a Turkish businessman close to Erdogan. Other outlets soon confirmed the story. Six days after the Caller’s report, Trump announced that he was naming Flynn as national security adviser.
During Friday’s White House briefing, Spicer downplayed the matter, arguing that Flynn’s decision to file (or not) was a matter for a private citizen and not the White House’s business. Each time a reporter asked whether this should have raised a red flag about Flynn’s selection to lead the National Security Council, Spicer insisted that all that mattered was whether Flynn personally followed the law, not how the handling reflected on the White House.
The fluctuating story this week raise several questions. Was Trump content hiring as his top national-security aide a man who had up until that moment been under contract to lobby for a foreign government—especially one so intermeshed with U.S. decision-making in the Middle East? Was the president personally aware of the lobbying, and if not, why did no one tell him? And why did Spicer say on Thursday that the administration had not known? Was he lying, or was he left twisting in the wind by White House officials who didn’t keep him informed? (Given the factional infighting in the White House and the administration’s penchant for needless lies, both are distinct possibilities.)
The broader question, and one that Spicer repeatedly tried to dismiss on Friday is about the president’s judgment: How on earth was Flynn ever appointed national security adviser?
Flynn’s lobbying on behalf of Turkey was not the only potentially disqualifying problem. For example, the retired general had shared bogus news items on several occasions, and his son was fired from the Trump transition effort for pumping a preposterous conspiracy theory about Clinton aides running a child-prostitution ring out of a D.C. pizzeria.