Flynn scandal: Does Moscow's influence extend to the White House?
The scandal over alleged connections between Trump and Russia is growing. Former national security advisor Michael Flynn has had to resign for reportedly talking with the Russian ambassador about lifting the sanctions against Russia before taking office and then lying about the discussions. And according to media reports Trump's campaign team was in regular contact with Russian intelligence agencies. What do these accusations mean for Trump's presidency?
Moscow's meddling has backfired
The Financial Times sees the scandal as proof that seeking to influence elections in the West does Russia more harm than good:
“Moscow should be careful what it wishes for. It may seem attractive to have its favoured candidates in positions of power. ... Yet a candidate might not behave as Russia hopes once he or she reaches office. Indeed, popular perceptions that a political leader has been helped into power by Moscow - especially a nationalist supposedly committed to strengthening their state's political sovereignty - can be counterproductive. They could encourage new leaders to keep their distance from the Kremlin. Russian interference in foreign elections can create chaos but not necessarily influence.”
The establishment on the offensive
Trump's government is a populist rebellion against the Washington establishment - and the latter is now defending itself tooth and nail, Lidové noviny observes:
“The establishment can't depose Trump and his vice-president Pence because they received their mandate through the people's vote. So it is attacking individual members of the government team instead. If this really is the case, there will soon be fresh attacks. If Flynn's phone conversations with the Russian ambassador were illegal and beyond his area of competence he can consider himself lucky that it all ended with his resignation rather than criminal charges. Flynn's departure is bad news for Putin and good news for those who advocate a hard line against Russia. And Trump now faces the task of selecting someone who is unassailable as his next national security adviser.”
White House reeks of another Watergate
The scandal threatens to bring down the US president like Watergate did with Nixon in the 1970s, De Volkskrant believes:
“The Republicans can hardly oppose a thorough investigation now. Many Republicans shudder at the thought of a repetition of the Watergate hearings which kept Americans locked to their TV screens for days on end. … In the end - that much is clear - it will all come down to one crucial question: was Trump himself involved, or did he know about the inappropriate contacts with the Russians? … How much trouble the investigation will cause for Trump is unclear at this point. But one thing is for sure: Trump's first months in the White house will be like Nixon's last: a desperate fight against leaks and revelations with the odd attempt to govern the country squeezed in between.”
Just who is up to what here?
How much trust can be placed in the US under President Donald Trump, Sydsvenskan wonders:
“According to the New York Times, lists of telephone calls and taped discussions show that members of Trump's campaign team had numerous contacts with high officials of the Russian secret service in the year before the election. ... Suspicions that people in Trump's entourage are under Russian influence seem to have been confirmed. ... For Sweden and Europe, the US Administration's attitude to Nato is no doubt the most crucial question. The problem is that Trump's attitude to Nato changes with his mood. ... Meanwhile chief strategist Steve Bannon has been firming up the new Administration's policy guidelines. Just who is the most powerful man in the world? Is it really Trump? Or is it Bannon, who once said that he wanted to 'destroy all of today's establishment'?”
US a ticking time bomb under Trump
The Flynn case is worrying testimony to Trump's chaotic style of leadership, Jutarnji list writes:
“Trump has demonstrated gross incompetence. Right from the start Michael Flynn was a dubious appointment, and everyone knew about his contacts with Russia. ... Trump has made a series of political blunders in the first three weeks, but Flynn's case is the most compromising. It shows that the president is not at all interested in the actions taken by those people on whose decisions the country's security depends. He doesn't care because he makes his decisions on his own anyway, with no regard for the laws or the consequences they may have for the country and the population. This chaos suits Trump, it corresponds to his style of leadership, but it is gradually getting out of control. A world power is without leadership - the bomb is ticking.”
Was Flynn acting on behalf of his boss?
The affair is about far more than just a change of White House personnel, Hospodářské noviny believes:
“Was Flynn following Trump's orders when he spoke with the Russian ambassador? Did Trump know all the details from the word go, and did his chaotic style prevent him from stopping Flynn from being so insolent towards Vice-President Pence [by denying that he had discussed sanctions with the ambassador]? In other words: is Trump in any way indebted to Putin? For example because of the 'email help' in the election campaign? Did he really want to repeal not just Obama's decision to expel Russian diplomats but also the economic sanctions imposed in response to Russia's brutal approach in Ukraine? That is the crux of the matter. Ultimately this case also affects us in Central Eastern Europe. An agreement between Trump and Putin would no doubt also mean an extension of Russia's influence in our part of Europe. And that is exactly what the Kremlin is after.”
Not immune to public pressure after all
Flynn's resignation is good news, Die Welt believes:
“Flynn was a problematic choice from the start. Those who heard his speech at the Republican national convention were horrified at the black-and-white image of the world that he sketched out. ... Trump would have liked to keep Flynn, whose views are very similar to his own. But the intelligence agencies' doubts, in addition to public and political pressure, made that impossible. ... The political price of keeping Flynn seemed too high, because Trump has become vulnerable on too many other fronts. It just goes to show that Trump is indeed susceptible to public pressure. He is no longer the Teflon-candidate, impervious to all scandals and accusations. It's good for America and for a world that is unsettled over the new president to see Trump cut down to normal size.”
Media refused to be cowed
With their research into the Flynn case journalists of the Washington Post and other media have shown that they continue to exercise their vital controlling function, The Independent writes approvingly:
“The resignation of Michael Flynn as President Trump's National Security Adviser is welcome evidence that the new administration is not - contrary to what it might have liked to believe - immune to the effects of intense media scrutiny. For once, Mr Trump has not - at least, not yet - cried 'fake news'. ... The persistence of the American news media, then, has paid dividends and should be applauded. Journalists refused to be cowed by the bullying attitude of President Trump and his henchmen and instead redoubled their efforts to get to the true nature of Mr Flynn's conversation with Mr Kisylak. ... There are lessons here for journalists across the world.”
End of the romance with Moscow
Russian politicians see Michael Flynn's resignation as a bad omen for bilateral relations. La Repubblica also believes that the flirting between Washington and Moscow is over for the time being:
“The general's fall opens a fresh wound in the idyllic relations between Trump and Putin. ... The national security advisor's resignation won't be enough to calm the troubled waters. Not only the Democrats but also the Republicans want to get to the bottom of the Flynn affair. ... What's more, the speed of the accusations is forcing the White House to rethink its plans for a détente with Moscow. Out of the blue, the president's Press Secretary Sean Spicer yesterday agreed with Obama's position on Ukraine and Crimea. Washington expects the Russian government to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine and return Crimea, he said. During his election campaign Trump's stance on the annexation was more indulgent.”