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The big problem with Trump’s strategy to attack Michael Flynn’s credibility: His own mouth

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, jokes with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in October 2016. (George Frey/Getty Images)

The White House has fired a warning shot in Michael Flynn's direction, with The Washington Post's Carol D. Leonnig reporting that it plans to label him a liar who can't be trusted if he makes claims against it.

The strategy isn't that shocking — Trump seemed to preview it with that fateful tweet, and his lawyers have hinted in this direction too — though it makes it crystal-clear that Trump's loyalty to his former national security adviser is far from absolute.

But if there is one big hole in the strategy, it's precisely that: Trump's demonstrated loyalty.

Basically, Trump's legal team is preparing to argue that Flynn isn't a credible witness because he lied to investigators. Yet this particular lie was one that Trump himself was well aware of — by his team's own accounts — and didn't seem all that perturbed by. And it's actually only part of a large volume of red flags on Flynn that the White House and Trump himself seemed to dismiss, even after Flynn was fired.

Here's a quick recap (with an assist from Philip Bump's great Flynn timeline):

After the first two, Trump sought leniency for Flynn from FBI Director James B. Comey during a Feb. 14 meeting, according to Comey's contemporaneous notes. (Trump recently denied this.) He would also go on in late March to try to get CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats to intervene with the FBI, according to what Pompeo and Coats told associates.

President Trump has a history of defending his former national security adviser Michael Flynn. (Video: The Washington Post)

Trump has also gone to bat for Flynn's character publicly. As Leonnig noted in her report, Trump called Flynn a “wonderful man” after firing him in February. He said earlier this month that what prosecutors did to Flynn was “very unfair” and that he had “led a very strong life.” He told NBC News in May that Flynn was a “very good person.” He tweeted in March that Flynn should ask for immunity because the investigation was a “witch hunt.” And he has told aides repeatedly that he regretted firing Flynn, as The Post's Josh Dawsey reported back in May for Politico.

None of this paints the picture of a president who thinks Flynn lacks credibility or character; instead, Trump has repeatedly testified in the court of public opinion in support of Flynn's character — even doing so after learning about many of his alleged misdeeds. As recently as earlier this month when Flynn cut a deal with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigators, Trump played down the allegations against Flynn.

We've seen before how Trump's past comments and tweets can come back to bite him during legal proceedings. Any effort to impugn Flynn's character should be undercut by Trump's repeated public defenses of that very same character.

The question from there is why did Trump keep defending Flynn? If he didn't truly think Flynn was a person of solid character, what's the alternative? That's the scariest prospect for the White House.