Commentary: Why a White House family crisis is everyone’s crisis

  • Rich Oppel
  • Special to the American-Statesman
2:31 p.m Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 Opinion
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner arrives in West Palm Beach, Fla., with his wife, Ivanka Trump, and their three children in March.

Reports that former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn’s son may be brought up on corruption charges demonstrate how President Trump has brought this nation to the brink of a constitutional crisis.

Michael G. Flynn, 34, joined his father on a 2015 trip to Moscow, where the elder Flynn sat next to Vladimir Putin at a dinner to celebrate Russian’s state-funded media network.

Now, the younger Flynn is a subject of the criminal and counterintelligence investigation being conducted by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, according to an NBC report.

POLITICS: Trump says he believes Putin’s denials over election meddling.

The two Flynns mirror a predicament that Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, 36, a real estate developer now serving as senior advisor to the president, could quickly find themselves in.

What is a father to do if his son or son-in-law faces conviction and imprisonment? Most fathers would do anything legal to prevent this.

In the elder Flynn’s case, he could protect his son by cooperating with Mueller, who wants to know whether Trump’s people and the Russians colluded to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Trump. Few can speak to that better than Gen. Flynn, a lynchpin of the Trump campaign who served 24 days as national security adviser.

If Flynn presents a grave risk to Trump, Kushner represents an even greater risk. He advocated and was involved in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating Trump-Russia ties. Kushner saw the firing as a good idea politically. Little did he know that others would see it as obstruction of justice and result in the appointment of a special counsel. Kushner earlier this month turned over documents to that same special counsel.

If Trump were a reader of history, he would find stories to guide him away from appointing relatives to key jobs. The stories of presidents who did – and didn’t – are instructive.

UPDATE: Sessions mulling second special counsel to investigate Republican concerns, letter shows.

President Bill Clinton appointed Hillary to head a health care panel that was a total failure, isolating her from serious policy issues for years and setting back health care reform a decade.

President John F. Kennedy appointed his brother Robert as attorney general, which led to the roughest of transitions when JFK was assassinated and Lyndon B. Johnson – a foe of RFK – stepped into the presidency.

President Dwight Eisenhower fired chief of staff Sherman Adams, who accepted gifts from a favor-seeker. President Richard Nixon canned John Ehrlichman, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, John Dean and Atty. Gen. Richard Kleindienst in a failed effort to distance himself from Watergate.

This Russian scandal may overshadow Watergate, which was nothing but a burglary until the White House worked to cover up its involvement.

So, the noose tightens.

With Mueller going after Flynn’s son, there is little doubt he will go after Kushner. No one person would bring the special counsel closer to the Oval Office.

And then a father-in-law is left with a blood-is-thicker-than-water situation. Does he talk?

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Other fathers have limited means to save a son or son-in-law. The president has the power to fire the special counsel or to pardon his son-in-law. If he did, we could see impeachment and a leaderless nation descending into paralysis. The shadow of Nixon looms. Yet, Nixon was smart enough to keep relatives out of the White House.

This president decides by impulse, not by careful calculation. When he installed Kushner and his daughter Ivanka in the White House, Trump could not perceive of the perils of this rather extraordinary act of nepotism.

This is how a family crisis becomes a national crisis. It is always best to separate the West Wing from the East Wing.

Oppel is a former editor of the American-Statesman.