If retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn were a rank-and-file intelligence analyst, military officer or congressional aide, his career would be in smoldering ruins. But instead, he’s getting a big-league promotion.
President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming White House national security adviser is on the hot seat once again after The Washington Post reported Wednesday on a secret military investigation that concluded that Flynn “inappropriately shared” classified information with foreign military officers but did not act “knowingly” and did no damage to national security.
The report also disclosed that Flynn mentioned sensitive information to Pakistan about secret U.S. intelligence capabilities being used to monitor the Haqqani network, an insurgent group responsible for repeated attacks on American forces in Afghanistan. (Some Pakistani intelligence officials have been accused of actively aiding the network.)
But these are just two of the security breaches that Flynn has been involved with. In fact, his career has involved multiple violations of rules intended to protect national security—exposing both his own hypocrisy and the double standards of a system which overlooks security breaches for high-ranking officials while punishing everyday workers.
Susan Hennessey, a former National Security Agency lawyer who specialized in cybersecurity, told The Daily Beast that Flynn’s career shows “a pattern of egregious, unjustified security breaches during his career, for which he was never apparently held accountable. Pairing that with his rhetoric on the campaign trail about Hillary Clinton’s email server… leading chants of ‘lock her up' is of such rank hypocrisy it’s hard to even put it into words. His behavior is by an exponential degree more severe.”
For example, Flynn continued to run a company that was lobbying on behalf of foreign clients, even as he received classified intelligence briefings during the presidential campaign. It’s an action that could have left him susceptible to foreign influence as he was being provided secret information.
“Once he was receiving classified information again, by not cutting off ties to his company or disclosing these ties in the first place, he was exposing himself impermissible levels of foreign influence and raising doubts about his candor and trustworthiness,” said Bradley Moss, an attorney who specializes in national security law.
In another incident, Flynn had technicians install an internet connection in his office at the Department of Defense, even though this was prohibited.
“I’ve never seen a more egregious or consequential security violation short of actual espionage,” Hennessey said.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Flynn’s campaign-trail rhetoric emphasized that Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival, should face criminal consequences for her use of a private email server while Secretary of State.
“Lock her up. Lock her up,” Flynn cheered as the crowds chanted at the Republican National Convention this past July. “Damn right; exactly right. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
But among those who worked for Clinton, there is a sense of irony that one of their main antagonists is now the subject of news reporting alleging his involvement in numerous security violations.
“The depressing part about this is how unsurprising it is… There is literally nothing [Trump] lashed out at us for that he and his team didn’t do, actually, a thousand times over,” a senior Clinton aide told The Daily Beast.
Quipped another, “we can only assume he will be leading ‘lock ME up’ chants at the president-elect’s next rally.”
Indeed, many national security experts view Flynn’s actions—which include sharing sensitive information with foreign officials—as orders of magnitude worse than Clinton’s choice to use unsecure email.
“Flynn’s issues are arguably more egregious—I don’t think there was anything that showed she was sharing [classified information]. It just seems that the issues that they were [criticizing] Hillary for did not involve sharing information with foreign governments,” said national security lawyer John Berry. “I don’t understand how he could have acted unknowingly.”
“His behavior is by an exponential degree more severe,” added Hennessey.
In the world of national security and secret information, Flynn’s actions are even more outrageous than they may appear to the public. Something as seemingly trivial as numerous traffic tickets can cause a problem for an individual’s security clearance because it shows a propensity for not following the law.
The hypocrisy is heightened by Flynn’s own claims that if he were in Clinton’s situation, he would have received greater punishment and scrutiny.
“If I, a guy who knows this business—if I did a tenth of what she did, I’d be in jail today,” Flynn said at the GOP convention.
But Flynn himself is a case study in avoiding punishment for security breaches. After the secret military investigation that concluded he inappropriately shared information with foreign officials, he was promoted—and now that Donald Trump is about to be president of the United States, he’ll be promoted once again, this time to one of the most consequential national security positions in the country and world.
“At the same time Flynn was getting slapped on the wrist for [sharing sensitive information to foreign officials], I was representing an official at the Defense Department who was facing a loss of clearance facing a similar situation,” said Moss. “My client, a more rank and file member, has to spend thousands of dollars and threatened with the loss of his job and reputation. It’s nice to be king.”