For any president, one of these headlines would be very bad news. For President Trump, they all came in a span of 12 hours:
It was a dizzying Wednesday night for political reporters and followers alike, with a bevy of new information being thrown at them on multiple fronts. And it continued into early Thursday morning with that last headline, from Reuters.
Trump’s opponents have often accused the media of allowing Trump to distract them with the insignificant, shiny objects that Trump dangles in front of them. At this point, the bigger problem may be that there are too many very real stories to keep up with.
So here’s a quick summary of why each of these stories is significant, and what it means going forward.
This is the day the White House and apparently congressional Republicans hoped would never come. The White House said just three days ago that there was frankly no need for a special investigator to look into Russian meddling, and very few in the GOP signed off on one, even after the drama of Trump firing FBI Director James B. Comey last week.
The reasons they didn’t want one are: a) The investigation had previously been handled only by Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, and by the FBI, which is at least within the chain of command in the Trump administration. A special prosecutor lends much more seriousness to the proceedings and carries the kind of independence from political influence that simply didn’t exist before.
And as I argue, it’s a pretty direct rebuke from Trump’s own Justice Department of his heavy-handed approach to this whole thing, something opponents have argued amounts to obstruction of justice.
Even if you acknowledge this was a joke, which House GOP leadership say it was, it shows that Republicans were joking about Trump colluding with Russia even before WikiLeaks. That’s a story line even Democrats didn’t really pick up until much later.
It’s not difficult to see Democrats using this to argue that Republicans buried whatever curiosity they had about ties between Trump and Russia as they were working to elect him president.
Michael T. Flynn, who was forced to resign as Trump’s national security adviser, is the opposite of the gift that keeps on giving. He’s the infestation that no exterminator can get rid of.
We’ve gradually learned more and more about his work for the Turkish government, which he failed to disclose and could face legal trouble for. Now McClatchy points out that he not only did not disclose the $500,000 he was paid, but he also pushed the White House in a pro-Turkey direction very early on. Here’s more:
The decision came 10 days before Donald Trump had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with President Barack Obamas national security adviser, Susan Rice, who had explained the Pentagons plan to retake the Islamic States de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces whom the Pentagon considered the U.S.s most effective military partners. Obamas national security team had decided to ask for Trumps sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president. Flynn didnt hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months. If Flynn explained his answer, thats not recorded, and its not known whether he consulted anyone else on the transition team before rendering his verdict. But his position was consistent with the wishes of Turkey, which had long opposed the United States partnering with the Kurdish forces and which was his undeclared client.
According to this telling, an agent of a foreign government, Flynn, affected official U.S. military action benefiting his sponsoring country when that arrangement was still a secret. That’s bad for Flynn, and it’s very bad for the administration, for a reason we’re about to get to …
4) White House counsel knew Flynn was under investigation even before he was hired
This arrangement may not have been known to the public, but the New York Times reports that not only was the Trump team aware, but that it knew he was under investigation for it.
This makes the above and everything that came before it just remarkable. How could Trump hire Flynn for a national security job knowing this? How could the White House let him weigh in on policy affecting Turkey? How could the White House have waited so long to terminate Flynn when his problems grew on that second big issue, his contacts with Russia?
And very troubling for Vice President Pence, who led Trump’s transition, how in the world do you explain this?
5) The source whose highly classified information Trump shared with Russia is a valuable Israeli one
The most valuable source of information on external plotting by the Islamic State. Some officials think Trump compromised this source with what he shared with Russia. Whether he did that or not, it’s becoming clear that it was a hugely significant source of intelligence from a top ally.
6) 18 undisclosed contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia
Anonymous officials tell Reuters that there were at least 18 previously undisclosed phone calls and emails between the Trump campaign and Russia during the final seven months of the 2016 campaign. Several of these involved Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The Trump team has previously denied any contact with the Russians during the campaign on multiple occasions. Here’s a sampling:
And here’s the money quote in the Reuters story from Richard Armitage, a former top State Department official in the George W. Bush administration: Its rare to have that many phone calls to foreign officials, especially to a country we consider an adversary or a hostile power.
Add this to the long paper trail of contradicted White House statements on Russia.