In a joint news conference Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Trump plowed through a prepared statement, spouted platitudes and — perhaps most critically for him — avoided what should be an obvious question about the fate of national security adviser Michael Flynn, who, according to reports, spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States about sanctions in December, while the Obama administration was still in power. Even so, Vice President Pence stated on Jan. 15 that the two didn’t discuss sanctions — raising the possibility that Flynn may have misled others about the content of the call.
Sunday, White House adviser Stephen Miller stopped short of issuing an official endorsement of Flynn during his circuit of talk-show appearances. “I don’t have any information one way or another to add anything to the conversation,” said Miller.
With such a stark non-endorsement crossing into the new week, the media was poised to hear some answers. Cable news this morning zeroed in on the uncertain future of Flynn, clearly hoping that some real news would come out of the joint news conference.
The news that came out of the news conference, though, was that Trump was determined to sidestep the issue. His first choice for questioner went to Scott Thuman, a political reporter for Sinclair Broadcast Group, a company of television stations that reportedly concluded a deal with the Trump campaign for “straighter” coverage, according to Politico. Thuman addressed the president and the prime minister:
You just spoke about the desire to build bridges. Although there are some notable and philosophical differences between yourself and Prime Minister Trudeau, I’m curious as you move forward on issues from trade to terrorism, how do you see this relationship playing out? And are there any specific areas … during your conversations today you each decided to perhaps alter or amend your stances already on those sensitive issues like terrorism and immigration. And Prime Minister Trudeau, while only in its infancy so far, how do you see this relationship compared to that under the Obama administration?
“We are going to have a great relationship with Canada, maybe as good or better, hopefully, than ever before,” Trump responded in part.
Trump also called on Kaitlan Collins of the Daily Caller, who also assisted in suppressing the hot news of the day:
President Trump, now that you’ve been in office and received intelligence briefings for nearly one month, what do you see as the most important national security matters facing us? And Prime Minister Trudeau, you’ve made very clear that Canada has an open-door policy for Syrian refugees. Do you believe that President Trump’s moratorium on immigration has merit on national security grounds?
Oh, a chance to fear-monger! Trump seized it: “We have problems that a lot of people have no idea how bad they are, how serious they are,” said the president. “Not only internationally but when you come right here. Obviously North Korea is a big, big problem and we will deal with that very strongly. We have problems all over the Middle East, we have problems just about every corner of the globe, no matter where you look.” Trump also took questions from two Canadian reporters.
The proceedings concluded without the president having addressed the Flynn matter or the hubbub over the handling of sensitive information over the weekend at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. A similar outcome prevailed last Friday at a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: Trump called on two reporters from Rupert Murdoch outlets New York Post and Fox Business — and again wiggled out of the Flynn controversy, which was just gaining momentum at the time.
As any White House handler knows, the best way for a president to quash a controversy is to address it in his own words. With these evasions — so capably enabled by friendly reporters — Trump can hide from accountability for another day. This, however, merely places more pressure on his aides: counselor Kellyanne Conway, for instance, just underwent an extensive cross-examination on MSNBC via host Steve Kornacki; she said that the president had “full confidence” in Flynn.
The trickle-down accountability will ultimately slime press secretary Sean Spicer, however. He’ll have to answer question after question about Flynn and the apparently sloppy protection of sensitive information. He’ll have to explain away shifting accounts, an apparent untruth and a whole lot of incompetence. In so doing, he’ll give more material to “Saturday Night Live,” which has featured Spicer’s work over the past two weeks.