Flynn’s White House influence is outliving his short tenure – Politico

He’s been out of the White House for 84 days, but President Donald Trump can’t stop thinking about former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The president, who fired Flynn in February, nevertheless remains deeply loyal to him. Since Flynn’s highly public dismissal, the president has praised him as a “wonderful man”—and tweeted in his defense hours before former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified on Capitol Hill Monday that she’d warned people in the White House that she believed Flynn had been “compromised” by the Russian government.

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Trump’s continuing loyalty has given Flynn a lingering influence over policy in the White House, where staffers initially hired by Flynn, including his deputy K.T. McFarland, remain on the National Security Council and in other positions. Senior administration officials, including chief strategist Steve Bannon, also remain loyal to Flynn and have worked to undermine his successor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, according to several people familiar with the situation.

Flynn, a three-star general who was dismissed from his post as Defense Intelligence Agency chief under President Barack Obama in 2014, backed Trump early, campaigned alongside him, and developed a close and trusted relationship with the candidate and his senior aides at a time when few serious Republicans would agree to advise him. “Flynn was by far the most accomplished of all of them and, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” said a former George W. Bush national security official.

Trump’s refusal to disavow Flynn has drawn the administration further into a controversy that began with allegations that Trump campaign aides had inappropriate contacts with Russian government officials. Those claims remain under investigation by congressional committees as well as the FBI.

Flynn’s failure to disclose his contacts with officials and payments received from Russian government-related entities has deepened the appearance of scandal around the administration. On Monday, NBC News reported that Flynn failed to disclose to the DIA when it renewed his security clearance last year that he received a check totaling nearly $34,000 from a Russian propaganda network.

Yates told lawmakers on Monday afternoon that she warned the Trump administration that Flynn was susceptible to blackmail, though she declined to say why. She echoed the concerns of former President Barack Obama – who fired Flynn as head of the DIA in 2014 – and who warned Trump against hiring him when the two sat down after Trump’s victory in November.

A National Security Council spokesman declined to comment.

The relationship Flynn enjoyed with the president differs markedly from that of his successor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who has clashed with the president repeatedly since joining the administration.

Trump pushed back against McMaster’s attempt to replace McFarland – who is set to become ambassador to Singapore. Over the weekend, it was McFarland, not McMaster, who accompanied the president over the weekend to a meeting with the Australian prime minister, and the two kept reporters waiting on the tarmac for 40 minutes as they talked inside the plane at Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday night, after the president spent the weekend golfing at his club in New Jersey.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus earlier this month prevented McMaster from bringing on Brigadier General Ricky Waddell as his deputy, and though McFarland was supposed to depart for Singapore in mid-May, she has been telling associates in recent weeks that she’s not leaving her NSC post any time soon.

McMaster has worked to reshape the organization in the wake of Flynn’s departure, removing chief strategist Steve Bannon from the NSC’s Principals Committee and eliminating a handful of positions created by Flynn.

Executive officer John Reed, a Flynn hire, was reassigned to the Coast Guard last week, and Adam Lovinger, a longtime national security official dispatched to the NSC from the Pentagon at Flynn’s request, had his security clearance revoked by Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s chief of staff, Kevin Sweeney.

Lovinger, according to internal communications reviewed by POLITICO, had also clashed in recent months with his boss at the Pentagon over the types of issues the office focuses on, urging more attention be given to the threat of Iran and Islamic extremism – two issues on which Flynn was outspoken and controversial both in his career at the Defense Intelligence Agency and on the campaign trail with Trump. In response to questions about Lovinger’s status, the Pentagon declined to comment on a personnel issue.

But the president overrode McMaster’s decision to reassign the NSC’s senior director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, after Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has taken an increasingly prominent role in foreign affairs, made the case that he should remain in his post.

A senior administration official rejected the notion that McMaster is working to rid the NSC of Flynn aides, pointing to over a dozen Flynn hires who McMaster has kept on board, including Matt Pottinger, the Council’s senior director for Asia, who received an award at an all-hands meeting last Thursday.

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