The White House has fired a warning shot in Michael Flynnâ€™s direction, with The Postâ€™s Carol D. Leonnig reporting that it plans to label him a liar who canâ€™t be trusted if he makes claims against it.
The strategy isnâ€™t that shocking - President Donald Trump seemed to preview it with that fateful tweet, and his lawyers have hinted in this direction too - though it makes it crystal-clear that Trumpâ€™s loyalty to his former national security adviser is far from absolute.
Trump tweeted â€śI had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!â€ť
But if there is one big hole in the strategy, itâ€™s precisely that: Trumpâ€™s demonstrated loyalty.
Basically, Trumpâ€™s legal team is preparing to argue that Flynn isnâ€™t a credible witness because he was proven to have lied to investigators. Yet this particular lie was one that Trump himself was well aware of - by his teamâ€™s own accounts - and didnâ€™t seem all that perturbed by. And itâ€™s actually only part of a large volume of red flags on Flynn that the White House and Trump himself seemed to dismiss, even after Flynn was fired.
Hereâ€™s a quick recap (with an assist from The Postâ€™s Philip Bump):
nâ€ŠFlynn informed White House counsel Don McGahn on Jan. 4 that Flynn was under investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for the Turkish government.
nâ€ŠThen-acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed McGahn on Jan. 26 that Flynn had misrepresented his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to the White House, by saying the two of them didnâ€™t discuss sanctions. Then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer said McGahn shared this information with Trump â€śimmediately.â€ť Despite this, Flynn would again deny having discussed sanctions with Kislyak in an interview with The Post on Feb. 8.
nâ€ŠFlynn in March belatedly disclosed fees and expenses paid to him by Russia-related entities, including travel paid for by Russian government-backed television station RT.
After the first two, Trump sought leniency for Flynn from FBI Director James Comey during a Feb. 14 meeting, according to Comeyâ€™s contemporaneous notes. (Trump recently denied this.) He would also go on in late March to try to get CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to intervene with the FBI, according to what Pompeo and Coats told associates.
Trump has also gone to bat for Flynnâ€™s character publicly. As Leonnig noted in her story, Trump called Flynn a â€śwonderful manâ€ť after firing him in February. He said earlier this month that it was what prosecutors did to Flynn was â€śvery unfairâ€ť and that he had â€śled a very strong life.â€ť He told NBC News in May that Flynn was a â€śvery good person.â€ť He tweeted in March that Flynn should ask for immunity since the investigation was a â€świtch hunt.â€ť And he has told aides repeatedly that he regretted firing Flynn, as The Postâ€™s Josh Dawsey reported back in May for Politico.
Trump tweeted â€śMike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!â€ť
None of this paints the picture of a president who thinks Flynn lacks credibility or character; instead, Trump has repeatedly testified in the court of public opinion in support of Flynnâ€™s character - even doing so after learning about many of his alleged misdeeds. As recently as earlier this month when Flynn cut a deal with special counsel Robert S. Mueller IIIâ€™s investigators, Trump downplayed the allegations against Flynn.
Weâ€™ve seen before how Trumpâ€™s past comments and tweets can come back to bite him during legal proceedings. Any effort to impugn Flynnâ€™s character should be undercut by Trumpâ€™s repeated public defenses of that very same character.
The question from there is why did Trump keep defending Flynn? If he didnâ€™t truly think Flynn was a person of solid character, whatâ€™s the alternative? Thatâ€™s the scariest prospect for the White House.
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter for The Fix.