The White House is taking a mulligan on its selection of a national security adviser, replacing Michael Flynn just 24 days into his tenure. It’s seeking a do-over on its messaging of Flynn’s departure, too.
During a briefing Tuesday afternoon, Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to corral a narrative fast getting out of control. Spicer’s message had a few fundamental points: First, the White House had determined that Flynn broke no laws in his discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Second, Flynn was fired because Trump had lost faith in his honesty, not for having violated any law. “It was a matter of trust,” Spicer repeated, over and over. Third, he said Trump learned about Flynn’s untruths in January. Fourth, Flynn was not directed by Trump or anyone else at the White House to discuss sanctions with Kislyak. Fifth, Trump made the decision to fire Flynn.
But Spicer’s narrative is dubious, riddled with contradictions with what’s already known and with previous administration statements.
Take the claim that Trump pulled the trigger on firing Flynn. It stands to reason that the White House would want to make the president look firm, decisive, and in command. But that undercuts reporting from The New York Times and Politico, both of which said that Trump adviser Steve Bannon had pushed Flynn to resign, and from The Washington Post, which said Trump was willing to let Flynn linger to see if the scandal would blow over. As soon as Spicer made the claim, reporters who’d been up late on Monday covering the story cried foul, noting that senior administration officials had told them last night that Flynn made the decision on his own.