We know that to the media, since at least July 2016, Mr. Trump and campaign officials lied, repeatedly and often, about not having had contacts with Russian officials. As late as August 2017, President Trump held that line, telling The Wall Street Journal: “There’s nobody on the campaign that saw anybody from Russia. We had nothing to do with Russia.”
This sustained pattern of lying to the media about any Russian contacts was almost surely done by design and coordinated from within Mr. Trump’s inner circle.
Were statements to federal authorities also done by design and coordinated?
If you direct your attention to the series of known cases when Trump officials have not told the truth to the F.B.I. and to Congress about Russian contacts, what emerges is a likely conspiracy on the part of Mr. Trump’s inner circle to mislead federal officials.
That’s where the stakes could not be much higher for the White House. Not only is it a crime to lie to federal authorities; it’s also a crime to encourage others to do so, whether or not they follow through with crossing the line of perjury.
.. We have two undisputed cases, through the indictments of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and George Papadopoulos, the former foreign policy adviser. It is difficult to see how the two men could expect to get away with it. Who would lie to the F.B.I. if one’s colleagues, interviewed at a later date, would contradict the false account of the same set of events?
.. We now know Mr. Flynn’s phone call during the transition in December 2016 with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, was coordinated with other senior transition officials meeting at Mar-a-Lago, in Florida. When it came to Mr. Flynn’s F.B.I. interview, a story was already in place. The day before, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, had adamantly denied that Mr. Flynn spoke to the Russians about sanctions. So to get away with lying to the F.B.I., whether or not he alerted White House officials to the meeting beforehand, Mr. Flynn would presumably have to count on the others sticking to that lie, too.
The same goes for Mr. Papadopoulos, who risked going to prison for lying to the F.B.I. As with Mr. Flynn, his communications with the Russians were well known and approved by senior campaign officials.
.. The pattern goes on from there. If Mr. Flynn was counting on others to cover his tracks, he seems to have calculated correctly. For example, K. T. McFarland, the former deputy national security adviser who also served on the transition team, told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, in writing, that she was not aware of Mr. Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador. That was a lie, disproved by court documents revealing her close strategizing with Mr. Flynn before and after the call and by the news report of her email coordinating on the matter with senior members of the Trump transition team at Mar-a-Lago. (Mr. Spicer was one of the email’s recipients.)
.. Perhaps Mr. Sessions felt he had to lie during his confirmation process. Mr. Trump had told reporters, at his first news conference as president-elect, that nobody associated with the campaign was in contact with any of the Russians.
.. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, skipped over multiple meetings with Russians on his security clearance forms, which were vetted by the F.B.I. Mr. Kushner’s omissions were so alarming that it caused Charles Phalen, the sitting director of the government bureau responsible for clearing these forms, to tell Congress, “I have never seen that level of mistakes.”
.. Finally, Donald Trump Jr. may also have lied to congressional investigators by testifying that he did not inform his father of the Trump Tower meeting with Russians. There is no hard public evidence to prove this, but it is hard to fathom that Don Jr. didn’t inform the candidate of a meeting that was set up on the proposal, as far as he knew, for the Russian government to aid the campaign and that he thought deserved the direct involvement of Paul Manafort, then the campaign manager, and Mr. Kushner.
In short, if you block out much of the noise that has surrounded the Russia investigation and focus on certain public information, you can see the outline of a concerted effort to mislead federal officials.
.. How could campaign officials, or the president himself, expect to get away with any such scheme, especially when encouraging others to commit perjury is a serious federal offense?
Maybe they didn’t anticipate a full investigation. The president admitted that he felt if Mr. Sessions had only held on, the attorney general would have shut down the Russia investigation: “If Jeff Sessions didn’t recuse himself, we wouldn’t even be talking about this subject.”
.. With Mr. Flynn, Mr. Papadopoulos and now Steve Bannon cooperating, if and when the time comes for Mr. Trump’s interview, Mr. Mueller’s team will be well prepared to ask the president about his own knowledge and involvement.
Mr. Trump and his advisers seem to have thought they could orchestrate a major strategic realignment with the Russians. Seeing Mr. Putin as a potential ally may have been profoundly naive—I certainly think so—but it was evidently a key part of their plans.
.. Mr. Trump’s longstanding fascination with Russia’s leader is no secret. He has been lavishing praise on Mr. Putin for more than a decade. In October 2007, for instance, Mr. Trump told talk-show host Larry King, whether “you like [Putin] or don’t like him—he’s doing a great job…in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia, period.”
.. He insists that the Russia investigations in Congress and by special counsel Robert Mueller have undermined potential diplomatic cooperation with the Kremlin on containing North Korea’s nuclear threat, fighting Islamic State and other issues, which could, in Mr. Trump’s words, save “millions and millions of lives.”
.. Mr. Flynn said that the U.S. and Russia were united by a common enemy: radical Islam. “We can’t do what we want to do unless we work with Russia, period,” Mr. Flynn claimed.
.. K.T. McFarland, a month away from becoming Mr. Flynn’s deputy, said that Mr. Obama’s move was intended to “box Trump in diplomatically with Russia” and curtail the new president’s freedom to try to maneuver Russia away from its allies Iran and Syria.
.. Russia, she wrote, is the “key that unlocks [the] door.” Ms. McFarland’s message tracks with other evidence that Mr. Flynn, Jared Kushner and others attempted to persuade the Kremlin to help contain China... Mr. Flynn’s request to the Kremlin not to overreact to the imposition of new sanctions by the Obama administration was a stunning break with the well-established protocol of not interfering with the actions of a sitting administration. It also raises troubling questions about what the Trump team might have offered in exchange. Sanctions relief? Reconsideration of U.S. support for Ukraine and other countries that have been victims of Russian aggression?.. Given widespread reports at the time about Russian cyber and information operations seeking to influence the 2016 campaign, these efforts would have sent an unambiguous message to the Kremlin: The Trump team was relaxed about Russian meddling and eager to get down to business... In Syria, rather than negotiating a Russian-American alliance to fight Islamic State, Trump’s team soon had to face up to the reality that Russian and Iranian military intervention had already transformed the war in favor of the Syrian regime, decimating U.S.-backed rebels in the process. The notion that Mr. Trump could disrupt the Russia-Iran relationship also proved fanciful. Tehran and Moscow are firmly united in opposing actions by the administration that threaten not just the Iran nuclear deal but a balance of power in the Middle East that serves the interests of both countries.As for plans to put distance between Russia and China, Mr. Trump’s apparent strategy fared no better... his troubled dealings with Russia have already proved what other administrations learned over a much longer period: In dealing with the Kremlin, across so many divergent interests, there are no easy fixes or grand bargains, even for Mr. Putin’s self-declared friends.
Ms. McFarland, who served until May as deputy national security adviser and is awaiting confirmation as ambassador to Singapore, was sometimes referred to by other transition officials as “Flynn’s brain.”
Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff who failed to impose order on a chaos-racked West Wing, was pushed out on Friday after a stormy six-month tenure, and President Trump replaced him with John F. Kelly
.. The president became convinced that Mr. Priebus was not strong enough to run the White House operation and told him two weeks ago that he wanted to make a change
.. Intrigued at the idea of putting a general in charge, Mr. Trump offered the job to Mr. Kelly a few days ago.
.. Mr. Priebus said he had tendered his resignation to the president on Thursday, the same day the newly appointed White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, was quoted vowing to force the chief of staff out. Even so, as late as Friday morning, Mr. Priebus told colleagues that he thought he would have a week before the announcement to make a graceful exit, but he evidently learned otherwise later in the day. Mr. Kelly will take over the corner office in the West Wing on Monday.
.. Some advisers to Mr. Trump opposed the choice, arguing that Mr. Kelly did not have the political background for the job.
.. “The president needs someone who understands the Trump constituency as his chief of staff, someone who has both administrative skills and political savvy,” Roger Stone
.. In six months in office, he has fired
- a national security adviser (Michael Flynn),
- an F.B.I. director and (James Comey)
- a holdover acting attorney general, (Sally Yates)
- White House press secretary, (Sean Spicer)
- communications director, (Mike Dubke)
- deputy chief of staff, (Katie Walsh)
- deputy national security adviser and (K-T-McFarland)
- legal team spokesman (Mark Corall0)his resignation was due to growing frustration with operation and warring factions, as well as concerns over whether he was being told the truth. (The Hill)
- have all left.
.. Privately, even Mr. Priebus’s critics wondered how Mr. Kelly would surmount the same challenges — controlling a freewheeling president who often circumvents paid staff members by seeking counsel from a roster of outside advisers.
.. Several conservative supporters of Mr. Bannon — including Representative Mark Meadows, the House Freedom Caucus chairman — told Mr. Trump on Friday that the president would risk losing base supporters if he let the strategist go.
.. Mr. Priebus had hoped to last a full year, but in the end no other White House chief of staff has been forced out after such a short tenure.
.. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, soured on Mr. Priebus, partly because of what he viewed as the shortcomings of Sean Spicer, an ally of Mr. Priebus’s
.. Mr. Priebus and Mr. Spicer had told the president that they believed Mr. Scaramucci, a gregarious but edgy hedge fund manager and fund-raiser, lacked the required political experience and organizational skills.
.. Mr. Scaramucci quickly engaged in open war against Mr. Priebus — with the president’s encouragement. By Wednesday, the new communications chief publicly suggested that the chief of staff was a leaker and threatened to seek an F.B.I. inquiry.
.. help guide him through a capital that had never seen a president who had not served in politics or the military.
.. “I’ll tell you, Reince is really a star,” Mr. Trump said, using language that he would repeat less than a year later about the man he picked to replace Mr. Priebus.