If the late, great Donald Westlake had written spy thrillers instead of crime capers, they'd read a lot like the opening weeks of the Trump administration. My favorite Westlake novel is "Bank Shot," in which a gang conspires to steal a temporary bank building by towing it off with a truck, only to confront the reality — oops! — that Long Island is indeed an island, and they can't haul the thing to the upstate boondocks without encountering police road blocks.
That's when things get complicated.
Well, things have suddenly gotten complicated for the Trump White House and its timid enablers among congressional Republicans.
Let's put it this way: The simplest explanation that fits the facts could be that President Trump encouraged national security adviser Michael Flynn to sweet-talk the Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions imposed by President Obama for interfering in our presidential election, and then urged him to brazen it out when word of their improper conversations leaked to the press.
Trump, see, would likely have been ignorant of the fact — as he's ignorant of so much — that the National Security Agency would monitor the calls and that their contents would alarm intelligence professionals. Assuming minimal competence, Gen. Flynn — the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency — surely knew that the Russian ambassador's phone conversations were intercepted. But he may have assumed that the president could protect him. Indeed, until the Washington Post put well-sourced accounts of those conversations on the front page, it appeared that the White House would brazen it out.
Minimal competence is probably all that should ever have been expected of Flynn, who was sacked from the DIA job due to managerial bungling and a fondness for conspiracy theories.
Seriously, didn't it make you a little uneasy to know that the genius advising our impulsive commander-in-chief subscribed to the "Comet Pizza" conspiracy — the idea that Hillary Clinton ran pedophile orgies in the basement of a Washington pizza joint?
"Lock her up!" the general chanted at Trump rallies.
Seriously. I wouldn't trust the guy to walk my dogs. But that's just me.
A Democratic president that appointed an aide whose previous job was starring on a Russian propaganda TV network ...
Republicans would squawk like a tree full of screech owls.
Meanwhile, Flynn's not the first, and he'll surely be far from the last, to learn that Trump's insistence upon personal loyalty is a one-way street. The president appears to recognize little difference between running the White House and running scams in the cutthroat New York real estate game.
But this ain't real estate or reality TV. Trump's foolhardy bravado is catching up with him fast. Maybe he and Flynn also assumed that if push came to shove, Vice President Mike Pence could be rolled.
And maybe he could have been. That is, until then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates told the White House that she feared that "Flynn had put himself in a compromising position" and that Pence had a right to know that he had been misled.
The vice president would be an odd politician indeed if the phrase "President Mike Pence" didn't occur to him then. Yates, along with director of national intelligence James Clapper and CIA director John Brennan, warned that Flynn had exposed himself to Kremlin blackmail.
On CNN, the ubiquitous David Gergen, who has worked for four presidents, said, "It's unimaginable that the White House general counsel would sit on it [and] not tell anybody else in the White House. In every White House I've ever been in, this would go to the president like that," he said, snapping his fingers.
Meanwhile, Trump fired not Flynn, but Sally Yates.
On Feb. 13, Kellyanne Conway told reporters Gen. Flynn had the president's complete confidence. Early on Feb. 14 news shows, she clung fiercely to the fiction that the White House had been kept in the dark. By noon, White House spokesman Sean Spicer assured reporters that Trump had been all over the situation for weeks, and had demanded Flynn's resignation.
The collective incompetence is a wonder to behold.
Leave it to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to describe the "troubling ... dysfunction of the current national security apparatus." He added that the whole farcical episode "raises further questions about the Trump administration's intentions toward Vladimir Putin's Russia, including statements by the president suggesting moral equivalence between the United States and Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, threats to our NATO allies, and attempted interference in American elections."
In terms our Queens president would understand, Trump appears to have put his withered testicles right into Vladimir Putin's muscular hand. Also into FBI director James Comey's, who may feel the need to regain his forfeited honor.
Do you suppose Flynn told FBI investigators the truth about his Russian contacts while he was lying to the vice president? And if not, then what?