The long goodbye
Donald Trump knew more than two weeks ago about red flags raised by the Justice Department over Michael Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador and his failure to tell the full truth about them, reports Newsday’s Emily Ngo.
So why did it take until Monday night for the president to ask for his resignation?
Press Secretary Sean Spicer said it was a process. An internal White House review of whether Flynn had acted illegally determined he had not, but ultimately Trump decided he had to go because of his “eroding level of trust” in his national security adviser.
Yet a tweet from Trump hints the ground under Flynn didn’t start to cave in until the story went public. A Washington Post report Thursday said intelligence-agency monitoring of Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s calls showed Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia.
“The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?” Trump tweeted.
It also wasn’t until Thursday that Vice President Mike Pence — who had vouched on Sunday talk shows for Flynn’s denials of a sanctions conversation — learned he had been misled, the Post reports.
CNN and others reported Tuesday night investigators found a high volume of contacts between Trump advisers and suspected Russian operatives during the campaign but haven’t drawn conclusions about them.
Case not closed
Republican and Democratic senators alike called for expanding investigations of Russian meddling in the election to include the Flynn affair.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who has been supportive of Trump, said the president “should be asked” if he directed Flynn to talk with Russian officials, CNN reported.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it’s “highly likely” the Senate intelligence committee will investigate Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador. The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, said Flynn should be called to testify.
Flynn was interviewed by the FBI days after Trump took office and investigators believed Flynn was not entirely forthcoming, officials told The New York Times. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said if there is a criminal probe, Attorney General Jeff Sessions should step aside and allow an “independent investigation.”
A spokesman for Putin denied reports about intercepted phone calls, saying they "are not based on any facts, do not point to actual facts."
Mostly but not completely in harmony with the Russian leader, Trump erupted on Twitter:
"The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred. @MSNBC & @CNN are unwatchable. @foxandfriends is great!"
"Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?).Just like Russia"
And there were others, along the same lines.
From Russia without love
And so it was on Valentine's Day that the White House tried to shoot an arrow through the well-established history of Trump’s overtures to Russia and his bromance with Vladimir Putin.
“The irony of this entire situation is that the president has been incredibly tough on Russia,” Spicer said at the briefing.
Trump has often praised Putin and has never criticized him. He has spoken often of wanting friendlier relations. That goal may run up against growing challenges aside from the Flynn fiasco.
Russia secretly deployed a new cruise missile despite U.S. complaints that it violates an arms control treaty, administration officials told The New York Times.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, said Russian military aircraft buzzed a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea last week in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner.
The take-away: Silver lining?
From what we know so far, Flynn’s ouster could turn out to be a blessing for Trump, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison — his transgression had little practical impact and some other White House players were happy to see him go.
It’s what we don’t yet know about Russian connections with Trump, his business and his campaign could that cause the scandal to grow.
Horror scene gets four stars
The swirl of chaos from the Trump White House is shaking some of the steadiest, steeliest hands. Here’s what Gen. Tony Thomas, head of the nation’s Special Operations Command, told a military conference Tuesday:
“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war,” said Thomas, a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Asked about his comments by The New York Times, the four-star general said, “As a commander, I’m concerned our government be as stable as possible.”
Netanyahu is coming
Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday is expected to begin a reset in U.S.-Israel relations, but Trump’s shifting views on crucial issues leave unclear where they are going, reports Newsday’s Tom Brune.
Among the questions: Do the United States and Israel still accept the goal of a two-state solution with the Palestinians? Will Trump’s newly voiced reservations on Israel’s settlement policy lead to pressure? How about his promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem?
The two leaders will also consult about threats posed by Iran and its proxies, the crisis in Syria and countering ISIS and other terrorist groups, Spicer said.
Is Priebus going?
Who’s drawing a target on Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ back? A story by Breitbart News — former home to Trump political strategist Steve Bannon — says Priebus is being blamed for assorted missteps and could be on his way out.
A tweet from Roger Stone, an outside Trump confidant, blames Priebus for a “purge” that forced out Flynn, calling it “a ‘Pearl Harbor’ for Trump loyalists:” and adding “Hope the midget is ready to rumble.”
What else is happening:
- The Office of Government Ethics recommended that the White House take disciplinary action against Kellyanne Conway for endorsing Ivanka Trump’s products in a TV interview. The office, with no enforcement power, asked for a reply by Feb. 28.
- Conway, who coined “alternative facts,” is now a voice for short-shelf-life statements. On Monday, she said Flynn had Trump’s “full confidence.” Soon afterward, Spicer said Trump was still “evaluating” the situation. On Tuesday, she said Flynn resigned voluntarily. Spicer said Flynn was asked to resign.
- House oversight committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) asked the White House for explanations of Trump’s out-in-the-open crisis management over a North Korean missile test Saturday night at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
- The White House has posted inaccurate texts of Trump executive orders, including the travel ban, on its website, USA Today reports.
- White House public tours, on hiatus since Trump took office, will resume March 7, first lady Melania Trump announced in a statement.
- April Ryan, a White House reporter for the American Urban Radio Networks, told The Washington Post that Trump aide Omarosa Manigault (of “Apprentice” fame) recently threatened her in a physically intimidating manner. Manigault’s response: “Fake news!”