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White House Sends Mixed Messages About Confidence In Michael Flynn

Feb 13, 2017
Originally published on February 13, 2017 7:39 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It has been a quickly moving and some say rocky start for the Trump White House. There have been reports of infighting and even a possible staff shakeup, and that's only in the first three weeks. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins me now to talk about this. Hello.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hello.

MCEVERS: So let's start with Michael Flynn. This is the president's national security adviser, and he is in some trouble for misleading or possibly even lying to Vice President Mike Pence. What's the latest on this tonight?

LIASSON: The latest is that we have learned that Mike Flynn has apologized to the vice president and the president. Remember; last month, Flynn told Vice President-elect Pence categorically that he did not talk about sanctions put in place by President Obama against Russia for interfering in the election when he talked to the Russian ambassador on the phone.

Pence then went on to some Sunday shows and said that - that Flynn had not talked about sanctions - turns out now Flynn says he can't recall. He's not a hundred percent sure what he actually talked about. But the scene today was absolutely chaotic and startling.

At 4:12 p.m., White House Adviser Kellyanne Conway went on television and said that President Trump had, quote, "full confidence" in Flynn. Exactly one hour later, President Trump walked by a scrum of reporters, was asked about Flynn, refused to say anything. Instead, Trump deferred to a statement which is read here by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SEAN SPICER: The president is evaluating the situation. He's speaking to the vice president - to Vice President Pence relative to the conversation the vice president had with General Flynn and also speaking to various other people about what he considers the single most important subject there is - our national security.

MCEVERS: So from full confidence to, he's considering it.

LIASSON: Evaluating is not a good word to be used when your job is hanging in the balance.

MCEVERS: OK, so did the president talk about this during his press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau?

LIASSON: No, he - plenty of reporters wanted to ask him, but he called on two very friendly reporters from The Daily Caller and Sinclair Broadcasting, neither of whom asked him about it. Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, on the other hand, did take some pretty tough questions from a Canadian reporter.

MCEVERS: So staying on the subject of national security, over the weekend, the president was seen by guests at Mar-a-Lago - this is his private club in Florida - talking about national security in the dining room. What happened there?

LIASSON: North Korea launched a missile in the direction of Japan just as the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was having dinner with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. All of a sudden, an impromptu national security meeting started in the dining room at the table in clear view of other guests. They used their cell phones as flashlights. Documents were spread out on the table. Other guests took pictures of this and posted it on Facebook.

So that raised a tremendous amount of questions from national security experts. The White House says no classified documents were on the table. We do know there is a SCIF, a special room at Mar-a-Lago where they could have a conversation about classified information, but that wasn't used. And it just raises all sorts of questions about whether Mar-a-Lago is a safe place to discuss these kinds of things out in public.

MCEVERS: Right, right, I mean it's something none of us have seen before, but explain why all of this is so important.

LIASSON: Well, the administration is less than one month old, just 24 days old. There's tremendous amounts of rumors flying, lots and lots of leaks, lots of staff turmoil. Staffers are insulting each other through the press anonymously. We've had rollouts of executive orders that have been chaotic where Cabinet secretaries weren't told about them until they watched the rollout on television. The president's approval rating has dropped to 40 percent. That's a historic low.

And this matters especially in foreign policy and national security, which is pretty much the purview of the president's alone. And there have been a lot of eye rolls and complaints from Republicans on the Hill and national security officials and other agencies because when it comes to national security, the president needs to send clear signals to our allies and enemies. And right now, his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is under a big cloud.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.