Edelman: Trump administration far from 'well-oiled machine'

Last Thursday, President Trump held an impromptu news conference, where he presented some newsworthy information, most notably nominating Alexander Acosta to be secretary of labor. Acosta replaces Trump's first pick, Andy Puzder, who withdrew his nomination after a broadcast showing his former wife accusing him of domestic violence appeared on national TV. Acosta's nomination was overshadowed, however, by other occurrences.

Trump was questioned regarding Gen. Michael Flynn's firing from his post as national security adviser. He was asked, "did you direct Mike Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador?" and "Would you have fired him if this information hadn't leaked out?" Here are the facts, as far as we know them, about Flynn:


On Dec. 29, President Obama announced measures his administration would take against Russia for hacking and interfering in the 2016 election. Russia immediately announced that 35 American diplomats would be expelled. U.S. Intelligence agencies monitor calls between Flynn and Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.

The very next day, Putin announced that Russia will not take action against Obama's sanctions. Trump tweets his approval of Russia's decision.

On Jan. 12, the Washington Post reported that on Dec. 29, after sanctions were announced, Flynn phoned Kislyak several times. The next day, Trump's press secretary answers questions and states the calls were unrelated to the sanctions and "centered on the logistics" of a post-inauguration call between Trump and Putin.

On Jan. 14, Flynn briefed Vice President-elect Pence, telling him that the Dec. 29 calls had nothing to do with sanctions or diplomatic expulsions. The next day, Pence appears on "Face the Nation." He said that Flynn had contacted diplomats from 30 countries and the calls to Kislyak had nothing to do with the sanctions.

Jan. 23, Spicer tells reporters that there was just one call between Flynn and Kilsyak and denies that sanctions were discussed.

On January 26, acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed the White House that the Dec. 29 calls did, in fact, discuss sanctions and warned that the Russians could blackmail Flynn.

Feb. 9, the Washington Post reports that Flynn did in fact discuss sanctions with the Russians. Flynn denied the allegations but later admitted that he "couldn't be certain the topics didn't come up." A Pence aid says that the Post's report was the first time that the vice president realized he had been lied to.

On Feb. 10, President Trump says, "I don't know about that. I haven't seen it. What report is that? I haven't seen that. I'll look into that." Spicer amends the president's remarks to say that Trump did know about Flynn's discussion of sanctions, but not the Post's report.

On Feb. 13, news of Yate's telling the White House became public. Flynn resigned later that day.

And how did Trump answer those questions about the Flynn affair? In his press conference last Thursday, Trump said he fired Flynn not because he lied to the vice president, but because that news had been leaked to the press. he went on to accuse the news media of spreading nothing but "fake news."

This raises some very disturbing questions:

Was Flynn acting on his own when he talked with Kislyak or was he following orders from Trump? What did Flynn offer the Russians to get them to change their minds about retaliating for the sanctions Obama put in place? How much did Flynn jeopardize our country's security? Why is Trump unwilling to criticize any of Russia's recent activities, including planting a spy ship off the East Coast, buzzing a Navy vessel and violating an arms treaty by firing a cruise missile? Was Trump being completely honest when he said, "Russia is fake news"?

Flynn's conduct and firing represent a serious breakdown in the president's ability to process critical security information. And Pudzer's forced withdrawal from consideration as labor secretary point to a failure of Trump's team to vet him completely. These events, even more than Trump's late-night tweets, point to many very rough edges in his still-young administration, not the "well-oiled machine" he bragged about. These issues must be resolved as soon as possible. The security of our nation and of our allies depends on it.

Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at