Trump starts on a bumpy note

Less than a month into his presidency, Donald Trump has suffered some sort of a political setback. His National Security Adviser (NSA), Michael Flynn, has been forced to resign for violating the law and misleading Vice President Michael Pence on the nature of his discussions with Russian officials. Flynn is reported to have discussed with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador in Washington, sanctions that President Barack Obama was developing to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. This discussion took place weeks before Trump took charge as president, which means that Flynn was still a private citizen then. An 18th century US law, the Logan Act, bars private citizens from conducting foreign policy without authorisation from the government. Flynn, thus, violated the law. Additionally, he misled the US vice president by not disclosing the true nature of his discussions with the Russian ambassador.

Flynn’s resignation is unlikely to put a lid on the issue. Questions are being raised over Trump’s involvement. Was it on Trump’s direction or was Trump aware that Flynn briefed the Russians about the planned sanctions? How far up the chain of command does this scandal go? Reports suggest that Trump has been aware of the matter for “weeks”. Why, then, did he not fire his NSA? He was perhaps expecting the issue to blow over. Congressional Democrats — and some Republicans — are expected to push for an investigation into it. It could trigger renewed interest and probes into the alleged Russian role in the US presidential election. One needs to wait and see if this issue has the potential to disrupt the Trump administration’s plans to reset relations with Russia too.

Only last week, a federal judge gave a stay, pending a wider legal review, on the president’s executive order halting admission of refugees. This may be a temporary block; still it is an embarrassing moment for Trump from the judiciary. He has no one to blame but himself for these setbacks. He has, after all, refused to heed cautionary counsel from others. Take his appointments to top posts in his administration. Flynn, despite his controversial past, was appointed as the NSA. A couple of other appointments too were not well-recei­ved. Trump is paying now for those poor decisions. Among the frontrunners to succeed Flynn is former CIA director David Petraeus, who was forced to step down after he was found to have shared classified information with his mistress and biographer. The NSA’s post is one which ca­rries enormous responsibility. Unfortunately, Trump does not seem to have learned lessons from the Flynn fiasco.

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