Opinion Extra

Michael Flynn is gone and everything is fine, just fine, great

In happier times: President Donald Trump accompanied by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, speaks on the phone on Jan. 28 with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In happier times: President Donald Trump accompanied by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, speaks on the phone on Jan. 28 with Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP

The Trump administration is doing exactly what I do when I try to assemble Ikea furniture, in the sense that it has clearly not consulted any instructions and now before it has finished its Cabinet a big piece has fallen off. Also in the sense that there are dangerous screws loose everywhere.

Of course when I try to assemble Ikea furniture, the lives of thousands of refugees aren’t thrown into limbo. And people don’t call Reince Priebus cruel names so he has to joke ineptly to a journalist that he and Stephen Bannon are best buddies and he gives Bannon a back rub every night. (This is an actual thing that happened.)

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Flynn quit because he’d become ‘lightning rod,’ Conway says

Text of national security adviser Flynn’s resignation letter

Ryan says Flynn resignation the ‘right decision’

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News reports suggest that, broadly speaking, every member of the Trump White House spends hours each day busily talking on background to the press. Also, no one in the administration knows what is going on. Monday afternoon, Kellyanne Conway announced that national security adviser Michael Flynn had the president’s “full confidence.” Then within an hour Sean Spicer announced that the president was “evaluating” what course to pursue. Then by 11 p.m. Flynn had “retired.” (At least, that was what Russia Today initially said he was doing, and Russia Today would probably know.)

In his letter of resignation, Flynn admitted that, “Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador.”

“Inadvertently briefed with incomplete information.” I wish there were a shorter way of saying that. A single word for when you mean to tell someone something completely true that did happen, but instead you mistakenly tell them something different?

As usual, it is not the original offense but the cover-up that is the problem. The Washington Post reported that acting Attorney General Sally Yates had informed the White House last month that Flynn had not, er, said what he’d said he said and was therefore vulnerable to Russian blackmail. The White House took no action on the grounds that she was a woman and they could not hear her.

Gradually Flynn went from insisting he had only offered holiday wishes and condolences to admitting he had no idea what he said to the begrudging admission that perhaps sanctions in fact did come up, possibly, maybe, and if you had an actual transcript of the call it would definitely sound like they had come up.

But no one has any problem with people talking to Russian ambassadors, or being otherwise cosy with Russia, or asking the Russians to hack us, or, you know — just, normal things that we have decided we are all fine with, I think? No, it was deceiving Vice President Pence that really was the problem. Every time Pence hears something untrue, an angel is removed from a state science textbook.

This resignation is good news for Pence, who was evidently worried that if current trends continued he would be typecast as Guy Who Goes On TV And Says That Someone Did Not Say A Thing He Definitely Said. Plus, the administration had too many Mikes. Maybe this was why Pence is apparently not being cc’ed on any emails and has been roving freely in a field for the past several weeks, periodically emerging to have lunch with congressional Republicans, vote for a Cabinet nominee, or offer a fetus a wedding cake.

I hope the Flynn departure establishes the precedent that if Pence has to go on TV and say you never said something that you in fact did say, you have to leave your job. Wait until he hears about Donald Trump.

But other than that, things are proceeding quite smoothly in the Trump White House Weekday Mar-a-Lago. People lurk in the hallways, seeking audiences. Aides walk around trying not to seem “low-energy” or “weak,” pounding energy drinks and performing feats of strength any time the president is seen coming down the hallway. Jared Kushner is also there, acting as a “shadow diplomat” — “shadow” in the sense that it is used in the term “shadow government,” which is to say, “not actually a real government.” So far, he almost arranged something good to happen with Mexico, but then Trump sent out a tweet and instead everyone went home upset. This bodes well for Kushner’s plan to make peace in the Middle East.

In other words, we have managed to successfully replicate the conditions of a Tudor court at the White House in just under one month. Bannon has even asked to be identified as Cromwell. (This, again, is an actual thing that has happened.)

Contact Ms. Petri at alexandra.petri@washpost.com.

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