It’s been two weeks since Michael Flynn, the former general who briefly served as Donald Trump’s White House National Security Advisor, pleaded guilty in federal court to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia. As part of his plea agreement, Flynn is now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
With this in mind, Donald Trump made some news this morning from the South Lawn of the White House.
REPORTER: About Michael Flynn, would you consider a pardon for Michael Flynn?
TRUMP: I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We’ll see what happens. Let’s see.
That “yet” qualifier sure stands out, doesn’t it? Indeed, I wonder what Flynn himself will think when he hears this. It’s almost as if the president were sending a message to his former aide, effectively saying, “No matter what the special counsel’s office is telling you, I still have pardon power.”
Earlier in the same Q&A, there was also this exchange:
REPORTER: Mr. President, when did you find out that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI? When did you find out?
TRUMP: What else is there? You know the answer. How many times has that question been asked?
Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.
The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.
Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.
His administration has moved to undo at least some of the sanctions the previous administration imposed on Russia for its election interference, exploring the return of two Russian compounds in the United States that President Barack Obama had seized — the measure that had most galled Moscow. Months later, when Congress moved to impose additional penalties on Moscow, Trump opposed the measures fiercely.
Trump has never convened a Cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it, administration officials said. Although the issue has been discussed at lower levels at the National Security Council, one former high-ranking Trump administration official said there is an unspoken understanding within the NSC that to raise the matter is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.
U.S. officials declined to discuss whether the stream of recent intelligence on Russia has been shared with Trump. Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update — known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB — is often structured to avoid upsetting him.
Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump’s main briefer — a veteran CIA analyst — adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.
“If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference — that takes the PDB off the rails,” said a second former senior U.S. intelligence official