Here’s where things stand heading into day 29 of the Trump administration:
The plot continues to thicken when it comes to ex-White House official Michael Flynn.
Flynn started the week as President Trump’s national security adviser. He ends it not only removed from his job, but in possible legal jeopardy after he told FBI agents that he didn’t discuss U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador.
Here’s a reminder of what happened.
Flynn was ousted on Monday after The Washington Post reported that he inappropriately discussed U.S. sanctions with Russia’s ambassador prior to Trump’s inauguration, then misled Vice President Pence and others about what was said, a situation the FBI thought might leave him open to Russian blackmail.
The FBI alerted the White House about Flynn’s conversations at the end of last month after an interview with him. On Thursday night, we learned that Flynn contradicted the contents of intercepted communications collected by intelligence agencies, denying — like he did to Pence — that he had discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador.
TRUMP CALLS RUSSIA CONTROVERSY A ‘SCAM’
The unfolding drama has focused attention on an uncomfortable topic for the White House: its possible connections to Russia and that country’s president, Vladimir Putin.
Trump, at a lengthy and hostile news conference, called the growing controversy a “ruse” and a “scam” unfairly perpetrated by the media. He also said he wasn’t aware of any contact between his campaign and Russia prior to the election, after persistent questions from reporters.
As our colleagues wrote, the event quickly became a venue for Trump to air his grievances against the media, the intelligence community and his critics generally. The president “alternated between claims that he had ‘inherited a mess’ and the assertion that his fledgling administration ‘is running like a fine-tuned machine’ … taking aim at everything from ‘illegal immigrant violence’ to the ‘criminal leaks’ within his intelligence community” for a full hour and 17 minutes.
ACOSTA PICKED AS NEW LABOR NOMINEE
Trump’s ostensible purpose for the news conference was to announce his new nominee for secretary of labor, former U.S. attorney Alexander Acosta, who fills the spot left open after fast-food executive Andrew Puzder withdrew his name amid controversy on Wednesday.
Acosta, who would be the first Hispanic member of Trump’s Cabinet if confirmed, is the dean of the law school at Florida International University and served as assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division under President George W. Bush.
The pick was “cautiously applauded” by unions and labor groups that had opposed Puzder, our colleague wrote, though they still promised to thoroughly vet him.
“Working people changed the game on this nomination,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “In one day, we’ve gone from a fast-food CEO who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it.”
TRUMP’S CHOICE TO REPLACE FLYNN TURNED HIM DOWN
With Puzder now replaced, Trump can focus on filling Flynn’s job. It hasn’t been easy so far.
Trump offered the position to retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, a member of the Navy SEALs and former deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, but Harward turned it down over concerns about staff, money and family, The Post reported.
His decision now “leaves the White House scrambling to find a leader for the National Security Council, which is struggling to get its bearings” after the Flynn debacle, our colleagues wrote.
COMING UP — A NEW IMMIGRATION ORDER
The process with Trump’s travel ban is about to start all over again.
The White House will issue a new executive order on immigration by next week, Trump said Thursday, to replace the controversial and legally questionable measure barring entry to refugees and citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries. In the meantime, lawyers for the Trump administration asked a federal appeals court to hold off on taking legal action against the original order. Late Thursday, the court agreed to wait until the new order was issued.
In doing this, the administration is essentially “pumping the brakes on the furious court battle to restore the travel ban,” our colleague wrote. Depending on the substance of the new order, however, the legal wrangling may still be far from over.
Follow the author @eliseviebeck.