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Make no mistake: This is what a White House in crisis looks like.
Not even a month into office, President Trump’s White House has had its first shake-up, and it appears it can only get worse — for the country, Trump, and the Republican Party.
Let’s step back and consider what’s happened since Friday:
• We learned that the nation’s top security adviser had potentially illegal conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
• We learned that the National Security Adviser Michael Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations (Flynn said he “inadvertently briefed” Pence with “incomplete information”).
• We learned that Flynn was interviewed by the FBI about these conversations with the Russian ambassador. We also know that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned from the campaign in August amid questions about his own ties to Russia.
• As Flynn resigned, the White House contradicted itself on whether he was forced out or not. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said Tuesday morning on the “Today” show that Flynn resigned on his own. Hours later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that, no, Flynn had lost the confidence of the president and was forced to resign.
• Speaking of Conway, the Office of Government Ethics announced Tuesday there “is a strong reason to believe” she violated federal rules by endorsing, yes, Ivanka Trump’s clothing line.
• We learned that this White House has a decentralized leadership structure in which a few main principals compete for power. What’s more, in order to play this inside game, these principals have largely delegated their day-to-day duties to deputies. This includes Stephen Bannon, who hired a new aide, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, and even Conway, who has hired her own chief of staff, even though Conway’s duties at the White House remain somewhat vague.
• Further, The New York Times reported late Tuesday that Flynn’s resignation is not the end of questions about the Trump administration and Russia. Other senior Trump aides had regular contact with Russian officials throughout a presidential campaign that Russia was trying to directly influence. Indeed, American agencies were tracking all this and informing President Obama. The report is so explosive (why were they talking so frequently with Russia, and only Russia, and why is Trump so hesitant to criticize Vladimir Putin?) that Capitol Hill Republicans might be forced to hold hearings.
• We learned that Pence was not just misled by Flynn, but the vice president was kept in the dark for days on the matter — by Trump himself. The Department of Justice knew Flynn misled Pence; the White House counsel knew; Trump knew; and other unnamed aides knew on Jan. 26. But Pence only learned the truth in a Feb. 9 story from The Washington Post.
• But at least the United States and Russia are pals now, right? Well, Russia just fired a cruise missile — a clear violation of a landmark arms treaty — and an early test for Trump.
• Then there is the fight between Priebus and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The Wall Street Journal reports that Priebus has been going around Tillerson to fill key ambassadorships with past Republican National Committee donors without consulting Tillerson.
• Oh, and a close personal friend of Trump said that Priebus isn’t doing a good job, which sent off political sirens in Washington.
As John McCain put it to reporters yesterday, “It’s a dysfunctional White House. . . . Nobody knows who’s in charge and nobody knows who’s setting policies.”
Lastly, there is this from General Tony Thomas, head of the military’s Special Operations Command. It’s worth noting that generals rarely speak out on politics.
“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war,” he said.
Let that sink in.