“Full confidence” is a mighty strong term to describe Flynn’s position. Based on the overnight reporting and this new piece from NBC, it sounds like he’s hanging on mainly because it would be embarrassing for the administration to replace him less than a month into Trump’s presidency. That would be an admission of a mistake, and Trump doesn’t admit mistakes lightly even under the best circumstances. In Flynn’s case, by firing him he’d be a copping to a mistake he was specifically warned against making by various critics in the intelligence community.
A better term for Flynn’s predicament right now might be “probation.” One more screw-up and that might be it for him.
Flynn is “fine — for now,” one senior White House official said, noting that the national security advisor has “nine lives.” But that same official also pointed out that former President Ronald Reagan had high turn over in this position, saying he went through six national security advisors in eight years.
Still, another source with direct knowledge told NBC News that Flynn has “made enemies inside the building” who are now “all aligned against him.” According to this person, discussions took place while in Florida about how to replace Flynn and with whom…
For those who have spent time in the orbit, conventional wisdom in Trump World is to stay close to Trump, known to be the final arbiter in situations such as these. That’s something that, that source told NBC News, Flynn knows. The key will be for Flynn to stay close to Trump without further angering him, the source added.
Another sign that Flynn knows he’s on thin ice: He’s apologized to Mike Pence for having told him in December that sanctions weren’t discussed with Russia’s ambassador when, according to numerous sources last week, they were:
National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has apologized amid reports that Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador in the days before President Trump’s inauguration, a White House official said.
The apology was directed most notably to Vice President Pence, who had emphatically denied to CBS News last month that Flynn had discussed “anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
Flynn spoke to Pence by phone, the official said.
Gotta say, while I understand the annoyance of Trump and his team at Flynn for having misled Pence, especially knowing that Pence was tasked with defending Flynn’s call with the ambassador publicly, I’m surprised they haven’t pushed back harder on the accusation that the conversation with the Russian ambassador was itself improper. You can understand the argument for why it was: At a moment when Obama was slapping sanctions on Russia for its DNC and Podesta hacking shenanigans, the incoming national security advisor shouldn’t have been hinting privately that those sanctions might go away in a matter of weeks when Trump was president. By doing that he risked undermining the foreign policy of the United States, regardless of how little time left in office Obama had. On the other hand, surely Russia’s ambassador didn’t need to be explicitly told by Flynn that sanctions might be rolled back if Russia proved cooperative with the new administration. Trump had made no secret of his desire for detente with Russia; it was the cornerstone of his own foreign policy as a candidate. Flynn may have felt safe mentioning sanctions to the ambassador believing that of course everyone knew sanctions might be relaxed so how could he possibly be guilty of impropriety in acknowledging it? Maybe Team Trump is avoiding that argument because it knows intelligence pros are annoyed with Flynn and it doesn’t want to antagonize them further.
Anyway. Flynn is fine for now — or is he?
Spicer just read a statement on Flynn: “The President is evaluating the situation…” pic.twitter.com/12rr4ArXNQ
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 13, 2017
That statement was issued after Conway went on TV this afternoon to say that Flynn enjoys Trump’s full confidence. Has the probation period already ended?
By the way, in striking contrast to Flynn, the White House has pushed back hard today on the idea that Reince Priebus’s job might also be in jeopardy. Chris Ruddy, the Newsmax CEO who questioned Priebus’s competence on CNN yesterday, was quoted in Newsmax today as saying, “I’m hearing from a number of senior people today that President Trump very much likes the job Reince Priebus is doing and has no intention of replacing him.” Trump himself told reporters this afternoon that Priebus is doing not a good job but a “great job,” which makes sense given the extra authority Reince seems to have been invested with lately. I think he’s safe. Flynn is another matter.