As Biden talks to foreign leaders, GOP tries to create a controversy

Why pretend there's some similarity between Joe Biden's routine diplomacy and Michael Flynn's suspected felonies?
Image: Elliot Abrams Testifies Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee On Venezuela
Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., questions witnesses during a hearing about Venezuela in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Aug. 04, 2020.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser under President Barack Obama, appeared on MSNBC yesterday and made a routine observation: President-Elect Joe Biden has spoken with several foreign leaders ahead of his inauguration.

It didn't seem especially notable. During transition periods, it's common for incoming American leaders to connect with foreign heads of state, who are usually eager to extend their well-wishes to the incoming Leader of the Free World.

What I didn't realize was that Republicans would soon try to characterize this as controversial.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for example, tried to compare Biden's calls this week to Michael Flynn's calls to Russia during Donald Trump's 2016 transition period.

Around the same, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tried to pitch a similar line via Twitter:

"I remember when Democrats [and] some in the media demanded the indictment of people in the incoming Trump administration for 'having phone calls' with foreign leaders to discuss upcoming changes in U.S. foreign policy."

This is one of those instances in which I don't understand what it is that Republicans don't understand.

In December 2016, after the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia in response to its attack on our elections, Flynn specifically discussed sanctions policy with the then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, and undermined existing U.S. foreign policy.

Soon after, Flynn -- who worked as a foreign agent while advising the Trump campaign -- lied to the FBI about his Russian conversations.

Flynn did not have benign chats with foreign officials, and it was federal law enforcement, not Democrats and journalists, who indicted him. Flynn later admitted he lied, and twice pleaded guilty, under oath and in open court.

To see this as comparable to the president-elect having perfunctory chats with foreign leaders is hopelessly bonkers. Indeed, at some level, folks like Marco Rubio must know this -- since he is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

So why play dumb? Why pretend there's some similarity between Biden's routine diplomacy and Flynn's suspected felonies?