Russia scandal claims national security chief

There was plenty of smoke during and after the election campaign over the relations between Donald Trump’s team and Russia. Now there is fire.

National Security adviser Mike Flynn — the retired three-star general who was Trump’s biggest-name early military endorser — resigned Monday night. He admitted he gave Vice President Mike Pence “incomplete information” about a phone call with the Russian ambassador before Trump’s inauguration.

Flynn — who while still a private citizen would have been legally barred from conducting diplomacy — said he didn’t discuss President Barack Obama’s sanctions against Russia with the envoy. Pence stood by Flynn’s account on Sunday talk shows.

But last week, Flynn said he wasn’t sure any more. He apologized to Pence, the White House says.

The resignation capped a two-day period in which the Trump White House, where chaos has become a norm, sent out contradictory signals. Within little more than an hour Monday afternoon, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said on MSNBC that Flynn has “the full confidence of the president” and then Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Trump was still “evaluating the situation.”

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Flynn’s departure will likely accelerate the push in Congress and elsewhere for investigations of Trump administration Russia ties.

Blackmail risk?

Adding to the intrigue: The Justice Department warned the White House late last month that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail, according to a report Monday night by The Washington Post.

Routine FBI surveillance of Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s calls found Flynn’s story about his conversation was false — that sanctions were a main topic of the relevant conversation, the Post said.

The warning was conveyed to the White House counsel by acting Attorney General Sally Yates — who was later ousted by Trump for refusing to defend his travel ban in court — and a senior career national security official.

Scramble for successor

Hours before Flynn’s resignation, Politico reported that Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner was involved in a search for a Flynn replacement. Late Monday White House sources were calling Vice Adm. Robert Harward, a former deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, the "front-runner" to succeed Flynn.

The list was said to include retired Gen. David Petraeus, who is scheduled to meet with Trump at the White House this week. Retired Lt. General Joseph Keith Kellogg Jr. was appointed as the interim national security adviser.

Of the Flynn fiasco, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told NBC early Tuesday: "The key here is the misleading of the vice president and others — the incomplete information or the inability to completely recall what did or did not happen as reflected in his debriefing of particular phone calls."

The take-away: Carts before horses

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Here’s a Trump-era trend firmly established just 25 days in: getting way, way ahead of oneself.

There are Democrats talking about impeachment for a crime to be named later. Trump was touting a 2020 election slogan two days before his inauguration. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

World tensions as reality show

News of North Korea’s latest missile test came as Trump and the Japanese prime minister were having dinner at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Club members and guests among the diners Saturday night were witnesses to an unusual floor show, as Trump answered his mobile phone at the table, CNN reports. Advisers and translators shuttled to Trump’s table carrying papers and phones for their bosses.

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The two leaders later huddled on a dimly pit patio, where aides used the lights from their cellphones to help them see documents.

Spicer said Monday that Trump was briefed about the missile launch in a classified setting, and the patio discussion was about logistics for a quickly arranged news conference.

With Canada, keeping it polite

Trump hosted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House, and both downplayed their differences on immigration and trade, while pledging to strengthen their relationship.

Standing alongside Trump at a joint news conference, Trudeau did not directly criticize the U.S. travel ban, instead describing his own country’s “policy of openness ... without compromising safety.”

“The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves,” he said.

Canada has seen an increase of asylum seekers crossing the border from the United States, often at rural, remote locations in brutal winter conditions.

NH: Put up or shut up

New Hampshire’s top elections official said with exasperation that if Trump or his aide Stephen Miller have proof of their claims that busloads of Massachusetts residents illegally voted in the Granite State, they should hand it over.

David Scanlan, a Republican, noted New Hampshire’s anti-fraud measures, including photographing people at poll sites if they can’t show ID.

“I believe most voters in New Hampshire don’t believe those claims,” Scanlan told Mic, a news website. “The problem is perception outside of New Hampshire and how other states view the election process here.”

Puzder puzzler

Is Trump’s nominee for labor secretary in trouble? Four Republicans on the Senate committee considering Andrew Puzder aren’t saying publicly if they will vote for him.

The fast-food CEO revealed last week that he once employed an undocumented immigrant to work as a housekeeper, and then fired her when he learned of her status. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) indicated she is looking at 1980s allegations — later retracted — from Puzder’s ex-wife that he assaulted her.

The confirmation hearing is set for Thursday.

What else is happening

  • Steve Mnuchin, the former Goldman Sachs banker confirmed by the Senate on a 53-47 vote Monday night as treasury secretary, is looking to fill key posts at the department with other Wall Street players who have Goldman and Morgan Stanley on their resumes, Politico reports.
  • The Senate voted unanimously to confirm David Shulkin, who served in the Obama administration, as secretary of veterans affairs.
  • The Trump administration is asking a Seattle federal district judge to “postpone any further proceedings” in the challenge to the travel ban order while a larger panel of judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether to rehear the case, CNN reports.
  • Here’s a federal court decision Trump will like: District Judge James Boasberg turned down Native American tribes seeking to halt completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Trump issued an order in January to move the project ahead.
  • There was relief in Japan with the results of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit with Trump, The New York Times reported. As a candidate, Trump was critical of Japan on trade and defense spending, but he now sounds much more supportive.
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to have a White House lunch with Trump on Tuesday, NJ Advance Media reported.
  • Monday marked the first weekday morning since Trump took office that he didn’t tweet by 8:15 a.m.
  • Dan Scavino, the former Trump golf caddie who now directs White House social media, weighed in to cheer on Trump acolyte Sean Hannity as the Fox News host exchanged nasty tweets with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough. “Hannity owns Jealous Joe,” taunted Scavino.