The reporting in the Washington Post makes clear that both Trump AND Pence have been aware that Flynn had been compromised by Russian intelligence, and have been aware for some time. We are not sure now how all the investigating into this will go. The press will be focusing on this with extraordinary intensity and with a White House that leaks like no other….and will now begin gushing like the Oroville Dam. Congressional investigations are inevitable. A special prosecutor seems at some point to be likely. And the FBI and CIA and several other agencies have been investigating as well, indeed, Flynn’s resignation seems to be the result of those investigations. And should both Trump and Pence be found to have been party to a conspiracy to hide the fact that Flynn had been potentially turned by Putin, then both Trump and Pence could be forced to resign. None of this is likely, but it is well within the realm of the possible without resorting to paranoid conspiracy thinking. In which case, unless Pence were to go first and a replacement chosen by Trump before Trump resigned, Paul Ryan, as Speaker of the House, will be president. People are no doubt talking to Ryan about this right now, telling him he has to be ready because there is an outside chance that he will constitutionally required to take the path of president. And that is how weird this is getting, and getting there so fast. Because we simply do not know. How much did the president know, I have heard asked several times on television tonight, and when did he know it. If you are old enough to remember the Watergate hearings, Senator Howard Baker’s double question to John Dean will send chills down your spine. It seems so impossibly unlikely that any of this could happen, but then Watergate began as an odd little burglary, and this seems to be so much more.
I am thinking that at least part of the reason that senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham folded on Rex Tillerson is that without Tillerson there is no State Department presence in the White House. Foreign policy would be controlled by ultra-nationaliist Stephen Bannon, who wrote Trump’s extremist inauguration address, and National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who is under investigation for his contacts with Russia and whom much of the intelligence community (both in the US and internationally) assume is a Russian intelligence asset. Keep in mind that both McCain and Graham, as senators, have been briefed on the investigation into Flynn and know much, much more than either the press or public. The notion that they have to approve a nominee for secretary of state who is also close to Vladimir Putin must turn their stomachs, but intelligence probably shows that, unlike Flynn, there is no evidence that Tillerson is actively colluding with the Russian government. And Tillerson, at least, judging by his answers to the senators during his hearing, might provide a moderating hand. Right now we look to a general named Mad Dog Mattis, as secretary of defense, to be the sole moderating force in the Trump administration’s foreign policy.