Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor to U.S. President Donald J. Trump, attends a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 10 February 2017.
JIM LO SCALZO/EPA

White House struggles to keep its story straight on Michael Flynn

Updated
On Monday afternoon, the White House was dismissive of the controversy surrounding then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, insisting that Donald Trump still has “full confidence” in Flynn. A few hours later, Trump World reversed course, saying the president was actually “evaluating the situation” surrounding the controversial NSA.

On Tuesday afternoon, following Flynn’s resignation, the White House line changed again, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer telling reporters that the president forced Flynn out because Trump could no longer trust his National Security Advisor.

Yesterday, Trump publicly addressed the Flynn scandal for the first time this week, and changed the White House’s position once more. From a brief press conference:
“Michael Flynn, General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media – as I call it, the fake media, in many cases. And I think it’s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly. I think, in addition to that, from intelligence – papers are being leaked, things are being leaked. It’s criminal actions, criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time – before me. But now it’s really going on, and people are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.

“I think it’s very, very unfair what’s happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated, and the documents and papers that were illegally – I stress that – illegally leaked. Very, very unfair.”
So, the president believes the man he fired was “treated so badly”? And that the conspiracy isn’t related to Russia, but rather, to Hillary Clinton fans?

It’s not a good sign that the White House can’t keep its story straight, but it’s equally unsettling that Trump believes “what’s happened to” Flynn is “very, very unfair” – despite the fact that Trump was responsible for what’s happened to Flynn.

The implication seems to be that the media left the president no choice. Pesky news organizations presented facts to the public, which in turn created a controversy that forced Trump’s hand. It’s reminiscent of the recent White House argument that it’s the media’s fault that the president calls his Muslim ban a “ban.”

But as a political matter, it’s also counterproductive. Tuesday’s White House line – Trump could no longer trust Flynn – at least had the benefit of coherence. Given the revelations surrounding Flynn, it stood to reason Trump World would want to put some distance between the president and the NSA.

But watching Trump contradict that line yesterday helps make the dynamic that much more bizarre. Instead of keeping Flynn at arm’s length, the president now seems eager to defend his scandal-plagued former aide and blame news organizations for his own decision to fire someone he ostensibly doesn’t trust.

Ordinarily when there’s a scandal involving a high-ranking official, the White House has a decision to make: defend the official or fire him/her. Leave it to Team Trump to pursue both paths simultaneously.

The West Wing is filled with people who’ve had time to get their story straight. They’re failing miserably. 

Donald Trump and White House

White House struggles to keep its story straight on Michael Flynn

Updated