Guest Opinion: Leaks are not the biggest problem

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Feb. 16
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It’s not about the leaks.

No matter how President Donald Trump and some congressional Republicans tried to spin it on Wednesday, the scandal behind Michael T. Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser is this: According to The New York Times, key advisers to Trump, including Flynn, were in regular contact with Russian intelligence officers during the 2016 presidential campaign. Contacts continued until at least three weeks before Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20.

Flynn is not the victim here, nor is Trump, much as he embraces that role. On Monday, he determined (after knowing about it for weeks) that Flynn had misled him. On Wednesday, he defended Flynn as a “wonderful man” who had been mistreated by the “fake media.”

No, they are real media and this is a real problem and it’s not about leaks. U.S. intelligence officials, rightfully concerned at Russia’s meddling in the election and Trump’s cavalier attitude about it, took their concerns to the Times and The Washington Post. On Wednesday, at a joint appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump donned his familiar air of grievance.

“From intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked,” Trump said. “It’s a criminal action, criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time before me, but now it’s really going on. And people are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.”

Nonsense. This is about the secret relationships between a foreign power and the man who is now president of the United States. This is about Russian attempts to sway an election. This is information the American public deserves to know.

The Times interviewed four current and former U.S. intelligence officers who said that in addition to Flynn, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former campaign aides Carter Page and Roger Stone “had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.”

No evidence has surfaced that Trump’s people colluded with Russian intelligence on the cyberattacks on Democratic National Committee computers. They said the FBI continues probing the findings of a controversial dossier compiled by a well-regarded former British intelligence agent who reported Moscow holds personally compromising information about Trump.

House and Senate intelligence committees have begun looking into the cyberattacks. Some Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the intelligence committee, have said it is likely that Flynn will be called to testify. It is legislators’ job to pursue this story fearlessly, wherever it leads and without partisan favoritism.

This is not about leaks, nor about Trump’s fragile ego. It’s about America’s security. Republicans would do well to remember the motto of Sen. John McCain’s 2008 GOP presidential campaign: “Country first.”