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JONATHAN ERNST

Why Sean Spicer was right to use the word ‘unbelievable’

Updated
On Jan. 26, less than a week into Donald Trump’s nascent presidency, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates notified the White House of an alarming revelation: the Justice Department had evidence that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn lied about his post-election talks with Vladimir Putin’s government and may be vulnerable to a Russian blackmail campaign.

Within days, Trump took decisive action – by firing Yates. Flynn, however, remained in place, guiding the White House’s policies on national security.

Late Monday night, Flynn stepped down from his powerful position, and yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the NSA’s ouster was a result of the revelations three weeks ago. It led, as Spicer put it yesterday, to an “evolving and eroding level of trust” between the president and Flynn.

The trouble, of course, is the gap on the calendar. A reporter asked Spicer yesterday what in the world took so long. If the White House was notified about Flynn on Jan. 26, and the president was briefed right away, why not show Flynn the door on Jan. 27, instead of waiting until Feb. 13?

Spicer responded that Trump, “from day one, from minute one, was unbelievably decisive.”

I’m delighted the press secretary used the word “unbelievably,” because in this case, it’s literally true.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent had a good piece on the “miraculous coincidence” inside the West Wing.
[A]ccording to [Spicer’s] account, Trump asked the White House counsel to determine whether Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador raised legal issues. The White House counsel determined that they didn’t. Then, after that, some sort of internal process began that was meant to determine whether Flynn could be trusted. And eventually, after an “erosion” of trust, Trump concluded that he could not.

It is possible that this is true, but it is not easy to square this with the other known facts. For instance, it is a miraculous coincidence that Trump’s erosion of trust finally reached the breaking point just as the [Washington] Post published its story making the news of the Justice Department’s warning to the White House public.
It’s almost comical. On Jan. 26, the White House was told by the Justice Department that Flynn was, in effect, compromised. On Jan. 28, Flynn was nevertheless in the Oval Office while the president chatted with Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Jan. 29, Flynn was still chiefly responsible for compiling the information for Trump’s presidential daily briefing on national security and still participated in meetings with foreign leaders.

As recently as the day of his resignation, Flynn was participating in national security briefings. Literally, the same afternoon, a top aide to the president said Flynn enjoyed Trump’s “full confidence.”

Six hours later, however, the president decided his trust in his national security advisor had “eroded” to an untenable level.

This version of events is obviously ridiculous. Had it not been for the Washington Post’s reporting on Monday night, it’s all but certain that Flynn would still be Trump’s NSA.

The White House’s explanation of what transpired is burdened by contradictions, shifting rationales, and a calendar that plainly doesn’t make sense. Even if we look past Spicer’s and his colleagues’ lack of credibility, this is a serious scandal in which the White House has the challenge of convincing the public to trust the administration’s word.

The more “unbelievable” the White House’s claims, the more damaging the scandal will be.

Scandals and White House

Why Sean Spicer was right to use the word 'unbelievable'

Updated