Trump White House cannot keep its story straight on Flynn resignation
The Trump administration is operating within such a distorted reality of its own making that, after a weeks-long cover-up, they cannot keep their own story straight regarding the Trump team's ties to Russia and Michael Flynn's resignation.
The Trump administration has had a rough time executing its communications strategy on the resignation of disgraced National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
In announcing the resignation, Donald Trump did not address the circumstances of Flynn’s resignation at all. And in multiple interviews, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway repeatedly stated that the decision to resign was Flynn’s, while asserting that it would be “inappropriate” to comment on whether Trump had been told of the Department of Justice’s warning, given weeks ago, that Flynn might be vulnerable to blackmail over his lies.
But not long after, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer opened his daily briefing by directly contradicting Conway, stating that Trump had asked Flynn to resign, and that Trump had been notified immediately of the Justice Department’s warning on January 26:
The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation and a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for General Flynn’s resignation. Immediately after the Department of Justice notified the White House counsel of the situation, the White House counsel briefed the president and a small group of his senior advisers. The White House counsel reviewed and determined that there is not a legal issue, but rather a trust issue.
So, in the course of a day, Trump went from having “full confidence” in Flynn, to reluctantly accepting his resignation because he had become a “distraction,” to demanding Flynn’s resignation over an “eroding level of trust” that apparently occurred in the space of several hours.
Several times throughout the briefing, Spicer insisted that the White House counsel determined “immediately” that there was no legal issue, which is apparently their attempt to preemptively answer why Flynn was not fired on January 26.
The flaw in that “logic” became clear in fairly short order, as a reporter later asked him why Trump would retain a known liar for three weeks. Spicer was forced into a bald-faced lie, as well as a damning contradiction of his earlier statement. Pay particularly close attention to CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett’s reaction to what Spicer is saying (emphasis added):
REPORTER: Why not immediately act, why wait another two and half weeks?
SPICER: I don’t understand how that’s a due process. There was a — because what — the attorney general didn’t come in, the acting attorney general, come in and say that there was an issue. She said, ‘We wanted to give you heads up that there may be information.’ Okay? There was — she could not confirm that was an investigation. And so, it would be unbelievably shortsighted and wrong to go in and dismiss someone immediately. In fact, what the president did was take decisive action to make sure the White House counsel thoroughly reviewed and vetted the situation. He took immediate and decisive action. If you look at the timeline in terms of what he did and how that expanded, the White House counsel’s first and foremost goal was to make sure there was not a legal issue at hand. Once that was concluded, then it became a phase of determining whether or not the General’s action on this, and a whole host of other issues, undermined his trust in the president.
But the president from day one, from minute one, was unbelievably decisive in asking for and demanding that, his White House counsel and their team review the situation, first and foremost to question whether it’s a legal issue, and what they immediately determined, not immediately, but within several days, was that after review, that there was not a legal issue, and then it moved into a second phase.
Spicer is flat-out lying in his claim about what the Justice Department did not say, a lie he tried to support by asserting that the Department would not “confirm an investigation,” which would be improper for this independent agency to do.
But Spicer also forced himself to reveal that it took “several days” to rule out a legal issue, which means that, by their own admission, the White House kept Flynn on his highly-sensitive job while they still thought he could be legally exposed. By Spicer’s own account, Flynn was still participating in Trump’s intelligence briefings at that time.
The investigations into Flynn and the Trump administration will not, of course, be conducted on Spicer’s and Conway’s unrealistic terms. But if their utter inability to keep even their own lies straight is any indication, those investigations will not go well for Team Trump.