Op-ed: How much do you tip the spy?

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, February 18, 2017 10:02pm
  • Opinion

You’ve got to eat at the terrace dining room at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. Not only does it have a wine menu, a food menu and a dessert menu, but you also can get a Situation Room menu. On a Saturday night, the resort’s restaurant was offering up Korean selections, North Korean actually, options that President Donald Trump was pondering after he and his dinner guest, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, learned that Kim Jong-un had just fired off a missile test.

That’s extremely spicy fare, burning hot and a threat to the planet and certainly to Japan. In the old days (meaning, a month ago), the president and his national-security advisers would convene to discuss reactions far away from any prying eyes and ears, in super-secret facilities. There would be consultations with other world leaders like Abe, only they would take place over secure phone lines, their confidentiality protected by the latest high-tech scrambling.

That was then. Whatever his many faults, apparently this president believes in open government, really open government, where nothing is too classified to let it all hang out. Either that or you can chalk it up as another fault, and decide that Donald Trump is one super-careless president. At his bizarro press conference, Trump described his new administration as a “well-oiled machine.”

They were apparently well-fed as they confronted a major crisis at the restaurant while the world watched. There they were, Abe and his aides huddled around a computer to get the latest intelligence. Trump was engrossed in a telephone conversation. Meanwhile, the other diners were witnessing everything up close, even taking pictures. The membership fee is really steep, but apparently along with the club facilities and golf course privileges, Mar-a-Lago members get access to the nation’s secrets.

It was quite a show. One can only assume that nothing takes these heads of state away from their supper. Only after they were done did they retire to another room — not for cocktails, but for a news conference.

Among those who were in the Trump entourage was Michael Flynn, who was the president’s national-security adviser at the time. Now he has been fired, not for his conversation with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington in which he discussed sanctions against Russia imposed by then President Barack Obama, and not for possibly breaking the law by doing so, but for lying about it. If you believe Vice President Mike Pence, Flynn categorically denied to Pence that sanctions had been discussed at all with Russia’s ambassador. Pence then went on national television and stated emphatically that there had been no conversations about sanctions.

It’s not nice to embarrass the vice president. When it came out that Flynn and the ambassador had in fact talked at length about sanctions, and that Flynn had not told the truth about it, he was toast.

One has to wonder why his falsehoods are any worse than all the other ones from President Trump — there are so many of them that his chief dissemblers sometimes can’t get their stories straight. In the case of Mike Flynn, Sean Spicer had to go out and make sure the world knew that Flynn was in deep doo-doo after Kellyanne Conway had told the TV audiences that Flynn had the “full confidence” of the president. In Kellyanne’s case, she’s gotten such a bad reputation of being out of the loop that some of the cable news networks won’t book her anymore. And understand, the cable news networks will book just about anyone. Did I mention that I’m on a lot? I rest my case.

As for Flynn, we probably don’t need to worry about him. With his various Russian connections, he probably can get a new job in the Kremlin. If not, he can always get a job at the Mar-a-Lago terrace lounge. As careless as President Trump’s people were with highly classified material there, maybe Flynn can work for both a Moscow restaurant and the one at Trump’s resort. He could be a double waiter.

Bob Franken is a long time broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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