Donald Trump's campaign manager Kellyanne Conway speaks to the media while entering Trump Tower on Nov. 14, 2016 in New York, N.Y.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty

White House claims about Flynn, Russia scandal draw fresh scrutiny

Aboard Air Force One on Friday, a reporter asked Donald Trump to respond to reports that his then-National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, had discussed sanctions with Russia before taking office. “I don’t know about it,” the president said. “I haven’t seen it. What report is that?”

Reminded about the news accounts dominating the political conversation, Trump continued to claim ignorance. “I haven’t seen that,” he added. “I’ll look into that.”

So, four days later, it’s worth asking whether the president straight-up lied in his answer.

According to multiple reports, the Justice Department informed the White House in late January – at least two weeks ago – about its concerns that Michael Flynn could be subject to blackmail from Russian officials. A Washington Post report last night added an interesting detail:
A senior Trump administration official said before Flynn’s resignation that the White House was aware of the matter, adding that “we’ve been working on this for weeks.”
Hmm. So the Trump White House has known for weeks about Flynn’s apparent lies, and Trump aides have spent weeks working on forcing Flynn out of the administration. But as recently as Friday, the president himself was completely in the dark about the controversy?

It creates an awkward political dynamic for the president. Trump either (a) knew what was going on, lied on camera, and was prepared to ignore the scandal indefinitely; or (b) was a hopelessly inept manager who had no idea what was going on around him with his top aides, including one who’s accused of having potentially illegal conversations with a foreign adversary.

I’m eager to hear from the White House which of these scenarios is true.

For now, Trump World doesn’t seem to know what to say. NBC’s Matt Lauer spoke to Kellyanne Conway this morning.
On TODAY, Conway was asked repeatedly why, despite reports that the Justice Department told the White House last month that Flynn had misled them and even put himself at risk for blackmail, he continued to retain the president’s full trust.

“That’s one characterization,” Conway said.
It wasn’t intended as humor, but I’ll confess, I laughed out loud.

When the Republican aide tried to move on, Lauer seemed unimpressed. “Kellyanne, that makes no sense,” he said. “Last month the Justice Department warned the White House that General Flynn had misled them – and that as a result he was vulnerable to blackmail. And at that moment he still had the complete trust of the president?”

At that point, Conway tried to change the subject.

In other words, the Justice Department told the White House that Flynn was lying, and the White House did nothing in response. Asked for an explanation, at least for now, Trump’s White House counselor has no idea what to say.

Conway added this morning that the president and his team are “moving on.” There’s no reason for the rest of the country to do the same.

Donald Trump, Scandals and White House

White House claims about Flynn, Russia scandal draw fresh scrutiny