Michael Flynn attends a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington, DC, USA, 10 February 2017. 

White House’s claims about Flynn are falling apart under scrutiny

The fact that Donald Trump relied on a foreign agent as a top campaign adviser – and a trusted member of his inner circle – during the presidential campaign looks bad. Not necessarily stop-the-presses bad, but the fact that the Republican was paying Michael Flynn while Flynn was also paid by Turkey is a tough controversy to simply explain away.

What’s becoming a far more serious story is Team Trump lying about all of this now.

The Flynn controversy has long been bizarre. Trump and his aides have never been able to explain why they brought on someone with close ties to Putin’s Russia to advise the GOP candidate ahead of the election. They also haven’t explained why it took a few weeks for Trump to fire Flynn after the Justice Department told the White House Flynn was lying about his communications with a Russian official.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 3/10/17, 8:59 PM ET

Maddow: Pence story on Flynn impossible to believe

Rachel Maddow reviews the dubious explanations the Trump administration has offered for its behavior toward disgraced National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and points out the glaring problems in V.P. Pence’s story about what he knew about Flynn’s lobbying.
The story got worse last week when Flynn retroactively registered as a foreign agent, which sparked a series of questions. Trump asked a foreign agent to be White House National Security Advisor? Did the president not consider why this might be a bad idea?

As if this weren’t quite enough, the story keeps getting worse. The Washington Post reported late Friday:
Attorneys for Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, informed the incoming White House legal counsel during the transition that Flynn might need to register with the government as a foreign agent – a phone call that raised no alarms within Trump’s team, despite the unusual circumstance of having a top national security post filled by someone whose work may have benefited a foreign government.
The Associated Press reported that Flynn’s attorneys twice alerted Team Trump to Flynn’s paid work on behalf of Turkish interests.

All of which makes it alarming that the White House is saying it had no idea what Flynn was up to.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked, for example, if Trump was aware of the fact that Flynn was acting as a foreign agent when the president appointed him to serve as NSA. “I don’t believe that that was known,” Spicer replied.

Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News on Friday the story published that day about Flynn’s role as a foreign agent “was the first I heard of it.” That, as Rachel noted on Friday’s show, doesn’t make any sense: not only were there multiple press accounts last fall about Flynn being paid by a foreign government, but Pence was directly notified, in writing, by a member of Congress during the presidential transition.

Why in the world would the White House repeat falsehoods that are so easily discredited?

Making matters slightly worse, when reporters started asking about Flynn’s work during Friday’s White House press briefing, Spicer said it’d be wrong to “start to impugn his integrity.” That’s an odd thing to say about a man the president fired for lying. Indeed, in the same briefing, Spicer himself said Flynn “betrayed the trust of the vice president.” So why would it “impugn his integrity” to ask about Flynn’s work as a foreign agent?

Spicer added, in reference to Flynn’s foreign work, “[T]here was no disclosure at the time…. I think we trust people to fill out the appropriate forms that they need to.” That’s not much of an answer. The White House has a responsibility to vet people before they’re given powerful posts, and in this case, it seems the only people in the political world who were unaware of Flynn’s foreign work were his colleagues on Team Trump.

Postscript: In case this story weren’t already weird enough, it appears Flynn paid a former FBI agent, Brian McCauley, tens of thousands of dollars during the 2016 campaign. McCauley was a tangential player in a Hillary Clinton email controversy.

Donald Trump and White House

White House's claims about Flynn are falling apart under scrutiny