Donald Trump’s presidency didn’t even make it a month before one of his top aides resigned in scandal.
With Flynn’s resignation, the Trump administration has made history — Flynn’s tenure in the office is the shortest of anyone’s since the position of national security adviser was created. (The job has a lot of turnover, but even its most beleaguered holders have lasted at least a few months. Flynn resigned on day 25.)
Flynn was long viewed by many as one of Trump’s most extreme appointees, known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and curious closeness with Russia. Neither of those may be so bad from Trump’s perspective, but many people who worked with Flynn in a substantive capacity during the transition and early days of the administration soon concluded he was both insufferable and incompetent, according to a New York Times report.
But his problems, it soon emerged, went deeper. Vox’s Yochi Dreazen has more on just why Flynn was pushed out here, but the short version is that he claimed not to have discussed sanctions against Russia during his calls with Russia’s ambassador to the US, and sent administration officials like Vice President Mike Pence to back that claim. Except sanctions were in fact discussed, according to a Washington Post report citing intelligence officials with knowledge of the situation. Eventually, Flynn could no longer sustain his denials.
This story’s not over, though. Another remarkable Post report raises serious questions about just when the Trump administration learned that Flynn had lied (the report claims later-fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates told them last month, but they seem to have just sat on the information rather than acting). And many are also wondering whether Flynn was truly acting of his own accord in this whole mess. (Trump, did, after all, quickly praise Putin’s forbearance in a tweet not long after Flynn’s call.) The FBI is already looking into Flynn’s behavior, and there will be pressure on Congress to get involved too.
And while it does seem clear at this point that Flynn lied, it’s also worth taking note of something else going on here: These are the latest in a seemingly endless series of leaks from security and intelligence officials that are designed to undermine the Trump administration. As Politico’s Eric Geller tweeted, “A small group of current and former national security officials just leaked Mike Flynn out of a job. Does anyone think they'll stop there?”
In any case, the Trump administration now has to completely revamp its National Security Council, with Flynn’s deputy K.T. McFarland and other allies of his likely headed out the door too. That could be a blessing in disguise for Trump — according to a recent New York Times report, the council was already a particularly dysfunctional mess under Flynn. So now we’ll see our first major White House shake-up — and likely not the last.
Come to Mar-a-Lago, where you can watch US foreign policy being made and meet the man who carries the nuclear football for the low, low price of $200,000 a year
The Flynn scandal is fascinating, but since this is the Trump administration it wasn’t even the only national security–related controversy to unfold on Monday.
Over the weekend, Trump had brought Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and several White House top officials to his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. And when word broke that North Korea had tested a ballistic missile Saturday night, a flurry of activity unfolded with Trump and his aides.
Much of this activity was chronicled by Mar-a-Lago club member Richard DeAgazio on his Facebook page. “HOLY MOLY !!!” DeAgazio wrote in a post that included photos of the discussions. “Wow … the center of the action!!!” In another post, DeAgazio described meeting Rick, “the man” who carries “the nuclear football.” Security concerns over Trump examining national security documents in public view with potentially hackable phones strewn about soon arose, as Philip Bump writes.
But all this certainly made an effective advertisement for Mar-a-Lago, which Trump has called the “winter White House,” and which curiously doubled its membership fee to $200,000 a year shortly after Trump won the presidency. Note that while Trump is letting his sons run his business now, he still owns it and has a financial interest in it. So this seems like one of the clearest, most blatant ways he’s cashing in on his office already.
Congress continues to crawl, and yet another obstacle for Obamacare repeal
Meanwhile, in Congress, Trump’s Cabinet secretary confirmations continued to crawl forward, with both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin winning Senate approval Monday night.
Yet rumors swirled that the nomination of Andy Puzder for secretary of labor could be in danger. Puzder’s hearing is set for Thursday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, but at least four GOP senators on that committee won’t yet say if they’ll support him.
“In a context of getting tough on illegal immigration and populist wariness of special treatment for the wealthy and well-connected, GOP senators say in private they find it hard to overcome the revelation that Puzder employed an illegal immigrant as a maid and paid her in cash, paying no employer taxes at the time,” the Weekly Standard’s Michael Warren writes. (Also, the Oprah Winfrey Network has given a decades-old tape in which Puzder’s ex-wife accuses him of abuse to the Senate for senators to review, per Politico.)
And beyond nominations, questions continued to swirl about the fate of the GOP’s legislative agenda. The House Freedom Caucus met privately and voted to demand that any Obamacare repeal be as aggressive as the bill Congress passed in 2015, according to the Huffington Post’s Matt Fuller.
This is an effort to kick-start a repeal process conservatives fear is losing momentum. Yet now that repeal could actually become law, many Republicans in both the House and Senate have shied away from such an aggressive measure without a replacement ready, fearing it could uproot their constituents’ insurance.
And as Fuller writes, Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion is a particular sticking point — the 2015 bill would zero it out, but 20 of 52 Republican senators come from states that availed themselves of the expansion. “That’s 184,000 people in my state,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) told Politico recently. “That’s problematic.”
A compromise on Medicaid expansion is certainly a possibility, but if the Freedom Caucus does stick to a hard line on the matter, it will be tough to reach — which seems to be yet another obstacle to repeal passing at all.