Media coverage of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn shows that the press believes he is done for and it is only a matter of time until President Donald Trump fires him or he resigns. The excitement in the press over the chance of a Trump administration sacking is palpable.
CNN’s report on Monday gives us a few paragraphs of melodrama before conceding that a “senior administration official” told the network that “Flynn has no plans to resign and no expectations that he will be fired”:
A turbulent weekend has National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on unstable ground with President Donald Trump over Flynn’s inability to deny that he spoke about sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office.
Trump, who doesn’t like when his aides generate negative press, has expressed displeasure with Flynn to aides in recent days, said a source close to the President. Trump and his team are particularly bothered by the possibility that Flynn misrepresented his conversations to Vice President Mike Pence.
CNN’s headline says that Flynn is “on thin ice.” CBS News sees his “job security in jeopardy.” MSNBC declares “the White House’s Michael Flynn problem” has reached a “tipping point.” Time smelled blood in the water when White House official Stephen Miller “sidestepped repeated chances Sunday to publicly defend him” when he appeared on various talk shows.
However, Monday did see the White House supporting Flynn, including assurances that he still enjoys “the full confidence of President Trump” from Kellyanne Conway. Jennifer Griffin of Fox News quoted the White House denouncing rumors that Flynn would be fired or resign by the end of the week as “wrong,” “gossip,” and “palace intrigue.” This response also seems to question the word of yet another anonymous official in the White House who said that Flynn apologized to Vice President Mike Pence by telephone for misleading him.
Of course, with Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee publicly demanding Flynn’s termination, it is no surprise the media would follow their lead with stories about his dead-man-walking career status. The teeming hive of leakers infesting the White House could be trying to shape coverage of Flynn to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom — or, conversely, the sources who think he isn’t on the chopping block could be wrong.
However, chief Washington Examiner political correspondent Byron York made an interesting observation about the Wall Street Journal’s somewhat downbeat review of Flynn’s travails:
— Byron York (@ByronYork) February 13, 2017
This seems to contradict the key point driving most of the coverage, which is based on the notion that Flynn improperly promised sanctions relief. It was hardly a secret that Trump promised improved relations with Russia, much as the incoming Obama administration promised in 2008 — a political narrative that culminated in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s infamous “reset button” fiasco.
The Wall Street Journal’s gallery of anonymous sources said Flynn has “apologized to everyone” for causing problems but still has Trump’s confidence. However, some in the administration are said to be hoping Flynn will “resign on his own” and are “speculating on possible successors.”
On Monday evening, the White House put out word that President Trump is “evaluating the situation,” and Vice President Pence is deeply involved in the evaluation:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 13, 2017
As the Wall Street Journal’s article chronicles, the Democrats put a lot of effort into building their “Russia hacked the election to install Trump” narrative. Flynn’s firing would be useful fuel to keep that narrative running. It would also splash career blood across the gears of that Trump White House leak machine and drive increasing amounts of speculative media coverage about internal political battles and “palace intrigue.”
Regardless of how things work out for Michael Flynn, the Trump White House clearly needs to get a handle on these anonymous sources and develop effective strategies for projecting organization and resolve. That strategy must include Flynn if he continues as National Security Adviser; his reports to the White House about what he discussed with the Russian ambassador were, at best, confusingly worded. The Flynn saga should serve as an important reminder that Republicans cannot get away with stonewalling until a damaging story becomes “old news” the way the Obama administration routinely did.
Every story about Flynn published over the weekend, or on Monday, contains multiple anonymous sources, some of which flatly contradict other anonymous sources. That state of affairs will itself become an enduring narrative about the Trump White House if it doesn’t bring the leaks under control.