Trump Blames Media For Downfall Of National Security Adviser Flynn

Feb 15, 2017
Originally published on February 15, 2017 6:29 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Among the many things President Trump says he is changing is the U.S. approach to Israel and the Palestinians. During a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House today, Trump said he could set aside the goal of a two-state solution. For a long time, that has been the core of many U.S.-backed peace talks. We'll have more on that in just a moment.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

First let's hear how the president responded to other questions about his associates' connections to Russia. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson was at today's news conference at the White House, and she joins me now. Hiya, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: Less than 48 hours ago, Donald Trump accepted the resignation of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn admitted to misleading the vice president and others about conversations he'd had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. What did Trump have to say about Flynn today?

LIASSON: Well, to put this in context, the president at the news conference once again went to two friendly news sources for questions, the conservative website Townhall and the Christian Broadcasting Network, whose reporter asked him how Flynn's departure would affect the Iran nuclear deal. That gave Trump the opportunity to frame his message on Flynn this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media - as I call it, the fake media - in many cases.

LIASSON: So in addition to blaming the media, Trump went on to blame criminal leaks and people who he said are trying to cover up for Hillary Clinton's loss. He failed to mention that he himself had fired Flynn.

SIEGEL: Now, on the topic of Russia, The New York Times is reporting that phone records and intercepted calls show that associates of Trump repeatedly had contact with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign. Did that come up in the news conference?

LIASSON: No. Lots of questions were not asked like that one and why after denying multiple times that no one on his campaign had contacts with Russia, now The New York Times is reporting, as you said, that intelligence officials have been monitoring the phone calls of several campaign officials and Russian intelligence officials.

Another question still unanswered is why Vice President Pence was apparently kept out of the loop about Flynn. Pence actually learned that Flynn had misled him from press reports on Friday. So the big question - why did the president keep his vice president in the dark?

SIEGEL: Now, in this kind of a press appearance by President Trump and, in this case, the visiting Israeli prime minister, there were also questions from the visiting media. So what did the Israeli media ask about?

LIASSON: The Israeli media asked some tough questions, including a question about the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States and whether Trump himself has given rise to them. And here's what he had to say about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had - 306 Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack to 220. You know that, right? There was...

LIASSON: So there again he went right unprompted to review the size of his election victory which is near and dear to his heart, and he does like reciting his box office. But meanwhile, we have the extraordinary spectacle of a White House in chaos on day 26.

SIEGEL: Yeah, Mara, the headlines in a lot of the papers this morning were pretty unusual, talking about, you know - The Washington Post, "A White House In Crisis" - in The New York Times, "Trump's First Month Leaves Washington Reeling." This isn't your first transition to a new president. How unusual do you find all this?

LIASSON: Very unusual, and most of these things are unforced errors, like the writing of the executive orders which are now tied up in court, the fights with foreign leaders and department stores. As for the Flynn situation, we haven't heard that Flynn did anything illegal. As a matter of fact, intelligence officials who've seen the transcripts of those calls tell NPR that there's nothing in them that suggests Flynn was acting under instructions or making specific promises to the Russians and that they haven't seen any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Trump's associates in their conversations with the Russians.

So maybe once again it's the cover-up is worse than the crime, the fact that Flynn misled the vice president. And this is why you have Republicans like John McCain saying this is a dysfunctional White House. No one knows who's in charge. And the big question I have is, voters chose Trump because they wanted change; they wanted the status quo disrupted. But is this what they had in mind?

SIEGEL: NPR's Mara Liasson - Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.