Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, carried on this past weekend as planned, despite reports that he had inappropriate conversations with Russia’s ambassador before Trump took office. Flynn trekked to Mar-a-Lago, hopped on phone calls with foreign leaders, huddled with senior Trump officials and was in on the presidential daily briefing.
At the same time, Flynn’s political future was crashing down around him: Trump’s aides and top allies urged the president to get rid of Flynn, after it became clear he discussed sanctions with Russian officials and lied about it to Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials.
By Monday night, Trump had made his first big staff shake-up, causing chaos in a nascent presidency and raising further questions about the president’s ability to handle national security matters in the first month of his tenure.
Though questions about Flynn’s conversations — and whether he fully communicated the details of those discussions with administration officials — overshadowed Trump’s weekend meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, perhaps most damaging to the Trump administration was a report from The Washington Post that Trump officials were informed by the Justice Department of the issues at least several weeks before and had chosen not to act.
Trump’s decision on what to do with Flynn was not easy, according to several people who spoke with him about it. The president values loyalty perhaps more than anything, and Flynn had been one of his most staunch surrogates on the campaign trail. The president saw Flynn as a fellow outsider who had a good sense of the national security challenges. “Trump liked the way he talked to him,” one adviser said. “He thought Flynn knew what he was doing.”
But Trump became increasingly convinced that the question of Flynn’s contact with Russia wasn’t going away. His top aides and advisers distrusted Flynn, according to senior White House officials and others who spoke with Trump, and Trump was concerned that the intelligence and national security community would always oppose Flynn, sources said.