Say Flynn was blackmail risk
Two days after the election, President Barack Obama told President-elect Donald Trump that Mike Flynn was bad news. Trump, unmoved, hired him as national security adviser.
Six days after Trump’s inauguration, acting Attorney General Sally Yates asked for a meeting at the White House to deliver a grave warning:
Fresh intelligence revealed that Flynn had lied about his contacts with the Russians -- falsehoods that Vice President Mike Pence unwittingly repeated on TV. Even worse, the Russians were certain to have proof of the lies -- the means to blackmail Flynn to serve Vladimir Putin’s interests.
But Flynn stayed in the job, privy to the nation’s most sensitive secrets, for 18 more days. It was only after Flynn’s deceit spilled into public view as The Washington Post revealed Flynn’s discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that Flynn was shown the exit.
Testimony by Yates and former director of National Intelligence James Clapper before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Monday, as well as news reports about what Obama told Trump, provided new revelations and raised new questions about Flynn and Trump, though Trump in a tweet dismissed it all as “old news.”
See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday.
‘Why does it matter?’
Yates met on Jan. 26 and 27 with Don McGahn, Trump’s White House counsel, to lay out evidence that Flynn had misled Pence and other senior officials about the substance of his phone calls with Kislyak.
At one point, Yates testified, McGahn asked her, “Why does it matter to the DOJ [Department of Justice] if one White House official lies to another official?”
She said she told him, “You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”
McGahn also wanted to know how Flynn had fared when he was questioned by the FBI earlier that week. She did not answer.
Yates could shed no light on why the White House did not act quickly. She was fired Jan. 30 for refusing to defend Trump’s travel ban in the courts. Flynn was forced to resign Feb. 13.
Obama’s warning discounted
Before the full scope of Flynn’s Russian connections were known, Obama urged Trump during their Oval Office meeting on Nov. 10 not to hire Flynn.
The outgoing president had fired Flynn in 2014 as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and considered him a poor manager with a questionable temperament.
But Trump blew off the advice, figuring Obama was badmouthing Flynn because, as Press Secretary Sean Spicer described it, he became an “outspoken critic” of his ex-boss.
Besides, Spicer said, “If President Obama was truly concerned about General Flynn, why didn’t he suspend General Flynn’s security clearance, which they had just approved months earlier?”
When Flynn’s clearance was renewed by the DIA, it didn’t know of Russian payments that he had received, NBC News reported. The White House job required a higher-level clearance, which he never obtained.
The Kushner Cos. -- owned by the family of Trump son-in-law and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner -- apologized for dropping his name while meeting in China with potential investors in a New Jersey apartment development.
“Ms. [Nicole] Meyer wanted to make clear that her brother had stepped away from the company in January and has nothing to do with this project,” the company said in a statement.
The statement didn’t refer to another controversial aspect of the Kushner pitch -- that investors of $500,000 or more would be able to obtain EB-5 visas to immigrate to the United States. That program was renewed just in time for the Kushners' Chinese pitch.
The take-away: Foreign money
The Kushner Cos.’ investor hunt in China is just the latest example of his family, the Trump family and others in their orbit going abroad for funds and profit, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
For Trump’s critics, questions keep arising about potential violations of the “emoluments” clause of the Constitution.
Ban on the run
A December 2015 news release touting Trump’s “Muslim ban” plan was removed from his campaign website Monday, shortly afer Spicer was asked at his briefing why it was still online.
The administration now contends Trump’s efforts to halt immigration from six Muslim-majority countries are not a “Muslim ban.” Courts so far have found otherwise. The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the travel ban case Monday afternoon.
In other immigrant-crackdown news, the AP reports that officials are taking "the unusual step of hunting for evidence of crimes committed by Haitian immigrants as it decides whether to allow them to continue participating in a humanitarian program that has shielded tens of thousands from deportation since an earthquake destroyed much of their country."
What else is happening
- Trump’s top military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban, The Washington Post reported. Trump, who told them he wanted to start “winning again,” has not signed off on the plan.
- White House advisers who didn’t want Trump to announce an end to NAFTA called Ottawa and urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ask Trump to hold off, according to Canada’s National Post. Trudeau phoned and Trump agreed.
- Sebastian Gorka will be staying at the White House as a counterterrorism adviser after Trump and Steve Bannon stepped in to undo plans to move him to another agency, The Daily Beast reported.
- Eric Trump denied as “completely fabricated” golf writer James Dodson’s story that he told him the family got money from Russia to fund golf courses. Trump’s oldest son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008 that the family business “sees a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
- Trump congratulated French President-elect Emmanuel Macron by phone and they agreed to meet during a NATO leaders’ meeting in Brussels later this month.
- Long Island billionaire and mega donor Robert Mercer has been sued by former employee David Magerman, who claims he was fired from Renaissance Technologies for calling Mercer racist and publicly criticizing his support of Trump.
- The physician now in charge of veterans' affairs for the Trump administration continues to examine individual patients, with the stated goal of seeing the day-to-day experience of those his agency serves.
- Tiffany Trump, the president’s younger daughter, will enter Georgetown Law School in Washington this fall.
- Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough has obscure influence in setting the terms of considering parts of the Trump agenda.