Donald Trump's official line has been that he fired his first White House National Security Advisor, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, because Flynn lied to Mike Pence about his communications with Russia. There are, as Rachel noted on Friday's show, plenty of questions surrounding the reliability of this official line, but that was the president's story and he stuck to it.
Over the weekend, however, Trump published a tweet that pointed to an important change in the president's posture.
"I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"
It was the kind of message that generated all kinds of questions -- why would Flynn lie if there was "nothing to hide"? -- but the key phrase that stood out in the tweet was "and the FBI."
Taken at face value, Trump's tweet made it sound as if he knew Flynn lied to the FBI, which is why he "had to fire" Flynn from his important White House post. To put it mildly, that raised the possibility of an important legal problem for the president: it suggested Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13 for lying to the FBI, and then asked James Comey, the then-FBI director, to go easy on Flynn literally one day later, on Feb. 14.
Matt Miller, a former Justice Department spokesperson and an MSNBC analyst, wrote after seeing the president's tweet, "Oh my god, he just admitted to obstruction of justice. If Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI when he asked Comey to let it go, then there is your case."
Susan Hennessey, Lawfare's executive editor, added, in reference to Trump's message, "This is a pretty substantial confession to essential knowledge elements of an obstruction of justice charge."
Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics, went a little further, writing, “Before we slipped into an alternate universe of unabashed corruption, this tweet alone might have ended a Presidential administration."
Allegations that the president may have obstructed justice are not new, but his tweet certainly appeared to make matters significantly worse. And so, the White House came up with a curious explanation.