“OK, I’m glad Hillary lost,” I wrote on Facebook last week. “She and her sleazy little friends deserved to eat shit. There’s still plenty more to write about them but fuck it, it’s time to move on and sharpen the knife for Trump & Co. The honeymoon’s over.”
So while you are out having fun this weekend and enjoying the delightful weather, I spent the past few days (other than seeing a movie, reading a book, going out for drinks and watching about 8 hours of football) diligently pursuing stories about Donald Trump and his incoming administration.
I encountered a few problems. For example, one Democratic source who is normally a trove of anti-Trump information disconsolately told me that every good, legitimate story he knew had already been published. Journalists expected Trump to lose so they dumped everything in their notebooks already — and a lot of it was garbage, in my view — and there’s just not a lot left.
On a cheerier note, this source predicted that after taking office Trump will, upon facing his first national security crisis — say a terrorist attack or nuclear threat — declare martial law, arrest thousands of people, and clamp down on the press. That would definitely be a great story but we’ll just have to wait and see; for now it’s pure speculation.
Another problem in finding good stories now is that Trump doesn’t take office for another two months and he hasn’t named most of his cabinet and other top administration picks. It’s impossible to know who’ll get the key positions, despite a raft of media stories confidently predicting who’ll end up in his administration. Who’s going to be secretary of state, Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney, to name just two of a multitude of candidates who’ve been raised so far? (I’m not a fan of either but, in the current environment, Romney would be a blessing.)
The truth is that no one knows, especially when Trump, who is completely unpredictable, is the decision maker. Trump officials are floating names as trial balloons and desperate candidates are putting out rumors that they’re in the running for in the hope that it will help them get picked. (For example, I’m told, that National Security Agency director Admiral Mike Rogers was the source for media stories saying Trump was considering him for the job of national intelligence director.)
But of the people picked so far, incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn is pretty freaking scary. There’s a lot of alarming news that’s been reported about Flynn, but here are a few questions I’d like to see answered.
Why exactly did he get fired from the DIA? So far we don’t have the full story. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get fired from a job at a U.S. intelligence agency? 9/11 took place on George Tenet’s watch and he ended up getting a “Medal of Freedom” from George W. Bush.
And since Trump claims he wants no influence peddling in his administration, can we get a full list of Flynn’s clients at his consulting and lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc., which he founded after getting shit-canned at the DIA? From what I hear he’s got a number of disturbing, undisclosed Israeli clients, for example.
Speaking of disturbing clients and influence peddling, what exactly is the relationship between Flynn and the Turkish regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who used a still murky attempted Army coup against his government last July to justify an ongoing campaign to crush democracy and lock up his opponents? And by the way, a former senior counter-terrorism official in Turkey has recently claimed that Erdogan has directly sponsored ISIS.
Flynn’s firm lobbies for Turkish businessman, Ekim Alptekin, who heads the Turkish-American Business Council. Alptekin told the Wall Street Journal that he hired Flynn’s firm “to help pursue the interests of his client, a non-Turkish energy company considering exports to Turkey,” and “more broadly to improve U.S.-Turkish relations.” He said he had no relationship with Erdogan’s regime.
This, in a word, is bullshit. At minimum, Alptekin heads an energy company seeking to expand business in Turkey and needs the good will of the Erdogan regime. Beyond that, the idea that a prominent Turkish businessman who heads a business group promoting trade and investment in Turkey has no relationship with Erdogan’s government is ludicrous.
Meanwhile Flynn wrote — or put his name on — an op-ed that ran in The Hill on election day under the headline of “Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support.” This hysterical piece of terror-porn called for full-fledged U.S. support for Erdogan and effectively called on the Obama administration to extradite Fethullah Gülen, “a shady Islamic mullah residing in Pennsylvania,” who Flynn claimed was running a “vast global network has all the right markings to fit the description of a dangerous sleeper terror network.” From Turkey’s point of view, he wrote, “Washington is harboring Turkey’s Osama bin Laden.”
I’m not defending Gülen — take a look at this New Republic story if you want to know more about him — but Flynn’s ghostwritten, hysterical op-ed was almost certainly written to advance his clients’ interests, among them Alptekin. There’s no evidence that Gülen is running a global terror network or that he’s the puppeteer of the July coup attempt, as Flynn suggests.
What’s also curious is that Flynn is a notorious Islamophobe and “Erdogan has for years embraced Islamist-rooted politics,” according to the BBC. “When he became mayor of Istanbul in 1994 he stood as candidate for the pro-Islamist Welfare Party. He went to jail for four months in 1999 for religious incitement after he publicly read a nationalist poem including the lines: ‘The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers’.”
“How at this time can anyone write an op-ed supporting Erdogan?” a former intelligence officer familiar with Turkey told me. “You don’t do that without getting cash in your pocket from someone. And Flynn claims to be anti-Islamist, but it looks like he’s just a classic Washington opportunist when it comes to making money.”
The whole thing is reminiscent of another op-ed written for the New York Times by former CIA director Michael Morell, which Washington Babylon has written about previously. As that article said, “Between now and election day, voters are going to be bombarded with a media Shock and Awe campaign led by operatives working for clients that want to drop real bombs on real people.”
Flynn’s op-ed was the last strike of the election campaign, but the Op-Ed Industrial Complex is still working away full-time during the transition.
(Note: I did a get a few tips on long term Trump stories that I’ll be looking into. If you’ve got any ideas, for short or long term stories, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)