Wheels coming off the Trump steamroller
WASHINGTON — The resignation under fire of President Trump’s national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has capped the first weeks of perhaps the most chaotic rollout of an American presidency in history.
It comes on the heels of the judicial branch’s rejection on constitutional grounds of Trump’s bid to suspend immigration by refugees and entry into the United States by people from seven designated Muslim countries. His actions already have stirred unprecedentedly early and widespread street protests in cities and towns across the country and abroad.
Flynn was forced to step down explicitly for having lied to Vice President Michael Pence, denying he had discussed the fate of sanctions against Russia in an FBI-recorded conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak before Trump took office. The discussion came in the context of then-President Barack Obama’s order to expel Russian intelligence officials from the United States in response to interference with the American presidential election.
Russian President Vladimir Putin surprisingly said he would not engage in matching acts of retribution, and Trump quickly praised him, saying Putin’s restraint proved the Kremlin leader was “smart.” The implication was that Flynn had signaled to Putin regime that sanctions would be lifted by the incoming Trump administration.
Flynn in his letter of resignation said only that “because of the fast pace of events,” he had “inadvertently” briefed Pence “with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador,” and that he had “sincerely apologized” to Trump and Pence.
The resignation came only after Trump’s White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, tap-danced around the dicey matter by saying “the president is evaluating the situation.”
Then the White House counsel, Kellyanne Conway, told MSNBC that her boss had “full confidence” in Flynn. It apparently was an example of what she earlier in another context had described as “alternative facts.” Critics more straightforwardly have labeled it “fake news.”
Meanwhile, as the Trump information machine continued to struggle with its own credibility crisis, retired Army Lt. Gen. Joseph K. Kellogg Jr., a Vietnam War veteran, was named acting national security adviser, the latest military man on the National Security Council.
The growing image of a new administration of political outsiders swimming in unchartered waters has been further advanced by Trump’s inclusion of former Breitbart News website CEO Stephen Bannon as a member of the NSC.
On Sunday, a Bannon ally, 31-year-old “senior” policy adviser Stephen Miller, was trotted out on the television cable talk shows, apparently to rescue and polish up Trump’s embattled communications team. He proved to be an uncommonly self-assured mouthpiece to the point of the obnoxious. He aggressively dismissed the federal judge in Seattle who blocked the Trump immigration ban, saying “one unelected judge cannot make laws for the entire nation.” He accused the judicial branch of considering itself “supreme” to the executive.
Does Donald Trump realize and appreciate what he has gotten himself into, and the scope of what his quest for self-aggrandizement and self-gratification has imposed on his fellow Americans? When will he settle down and attend to the immense tasks that come with the presidency?
Jules Witcover is a nationally syndicated columnist.