President Donald Trump on Sunday interviewed four candidates to replace ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as the president’s defenders and critics hit the Sunday morning TV talk-show circuit to discuss his relationship with Russia and his labeling of the press as an “enemy of the people.”
“There’s nothing wrong with having a conversation about sanctions,” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” in reference to Flynn’s talks with Russia’s ambassador to the United States before Trump assumed the presidency. “ . . . His job is to talk to foreign leaders.”
Trump has said he believes Flynn acted legally. At question is whether the former adviser broke a law barring unauthorized citizens interfering in disputes with foreign governments.
Priebus told “Fox News Sunday” that, separately, during the campaign, there was “absolutely” no collusion between Trump’s team and Russia intelligence in disrupting the U.S. presidential elections.
“We don’t know of any contacts with Russian agents,” he told NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
Retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, who on Thursday turned down Trump’s offer to be national security adviser, was scheduled to be interviewed by ABC News’ “This Week,” but the network said he was unable to appear.
Among those Trump interviewed to replace Flynn — who resigned last Monday — are former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, West Point superintendent Lt. Col. Robert Caslen, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, and acting National Security Adviser Keith Kellogg, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Saturday aboard Air Force One.
Trump spoke with the candidates in person at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, where he has spent his third straight weekend Sunday.
He was expected to speak with other contenders on Monday, when he returns to Washington, D.C.
On the Sunday talk shows, guests bantered over the role of the free press and Trump’s high-profile attacks of the coverage of his month-old administration.
Priebus criticized outlets for using unnamed sources in reports that the Trump campaign had been in frequent contact with Russia, and that the U.S. intelligence community was withholding information from the White House.
Establishment members of the Republican Party emphasized the need for an independent news media in a democracy while making clear they themselves aren’t necessarily fans.
“The backbone of democracy is a free press and an independent judiciary, and they’re worth fighting and dying for,” Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) said on CBS, adding, however, that he believes the press corps is “over-the-top . . . almost to the point of being hysterical.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on NBC, “I hate the press. . . . But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.”
McCain didn’t mince words on Trump’s efforts to present the news media as a threat.
“That’s how dictators get started,” the senator said.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh told “Fox News Sunday” he agreed with Trump’s “enemy” tweet about reporters.
“Enemy of the people, enemy of the state, they are enemies of Trump. And Trump won the election,” Limbaugh said.
Beyond the nationally televised shows, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) discussed his views on Flynn, as well as Trump.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with him talking to the Russians,” King told WABC-TV’s “Up Close” of Flynn.
King told WNYM/970 AM host John Catsimatidis he believes the president should refocus on what Americans want from him, including securing borders and lowering taxes.
Trump has to “stop making these unforced errors,” King said. “I agree with 90 percent of what he’s doing. But then maybe slow down on some of the tweets or whatever and just focus on getting the job done.”