Richard Nixon’s tenure as President unraveled in 1974 in part because of an 18-minute gap he couldn’t explain. That was the time a portion of the Watergate tapes recorded in the Oval Office was erased – for reasons Nixon would never explain.
Now Trump has to explain the 18-day gap. That is the number of days from when Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed the Trump Administration that National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn, had lied about his ties to Russia and may have placed himself and the nation in jeopardy by giving the Russians leverage, until the President finally fired him.
At an informative hearing in Washington, D.C. today where Yates testified before a Senate Committee investigating the Russian connection to the 2016 Presidential campaign alongside former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Senator Al Franken (D-MIN) zeroed in on exactly why there was an 18-day gap.
The one-time comedian has a great sense of absurdity, and it clearly seemed absurd to him Trump would risk his administration and reputation without a reason.
“Okay,” said Franken, “I don’t understand why he didn’t understand that. General Flynn after that for 18-days stayed [at the White House]. There are policies that deal with who gets clearance, security clearance and not.”
If there is “a credible allegation that raises concern about someone’s fitness to access classified information,” noted Franken, “that person’s clearance should be suspended pending investigation.”
But that didn’t happen with Flynn, so Franken used his time to ask questions to figure out what was so important to Trump that he would take such a huge risk?
Trump had been informed by Yates, and possibly others, so he was aware Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence, and still, said Franken, “he lets him be in all these classified meetings.”
Franken’s take is that Trump didn’t fire Flynn immediately because the President knew his National Security Advisor was only one of many people in and around his administration with dubious ties to Russia.
“I mean, isn’t it possible the reason – because you ask yourselves, why wouldn’t you fire a guy who did this? – and all I can think of is that he would say, ‘Well, we’ve got all these other people in the administration who have had contacts…who coordinated, who were talking?”
Franken was referring to Trump campaign and administration officials linked to Russia or known to have had contact with high-level Russians, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, his former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his campaign aide Carter Page, among others.
“We’re trying to put a puzzle together here, everybody,” continued Franken. “And maybe, just maybe, he didn’t get rid of a guy who lied to the vice president, who got paid by the Russians, who went on Russia Today because there are other people in his administration who met secretly with Russians and didn’t reveal it until later – until they were caught.”
“That may be why it took him 18 days – until it came public – to get rid of Mike Flynn,” concluded Franken, “who was a danger to this republic.”
After he had finished sharing his theory, Franken asked Yates if she would “care to comment?”
She replied: “I don’t think I’m going to touch that, Senator.”
However, what Franken was saying made sense.
So now we have to wonder if, in the same way the 18-minute gap marked the beginning of the end of the Nixon presidency, will the 18-day gap lead to questions that will terminate the Trump presidency?
It is too early to tell but at a hearing where most Republican Senators seemed more interested in trying to defend Trump than getting to the truth, Franken deserves credit for making an important point.
It is a question that Trump at some time may well have to answer. When he does, Franken may well be proved right.
In this case, an 18-day gap may be as big an issue for our 45th president as an 18-minute gap was 45 years ago. It all makes sense.
Thanks, Senator Franken, for showing us the path that this investigation needs to take.