Donald Trump’s best day yet as president was also his worst
Donald Trump’s young presidency entered a new dimension of surreality on Friday, with his 315th day in office delivering both his greatest achievement so far and his darkest omen of peril ahead.
At the very moment the Senate was poised to pass the US$1.5 trillion tax cut bill – a big step toward Trump’s first major legislative victory – word came that his former National Security adviser, Michael Flynn, had pleaded guilty to a single count of lying to the FBI.
The development was read across Washington to mean that Russia probe leader Robert Mueller probably has a bigger target in his sights, and that Flynn has agreed to provide the evidence that could help him make the case.
Adding to that speculation was Flynn’s stipulation in court documents that a “very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” directed him to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia. According to court records and people familiar with the contacts, that was a reference to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and close adviser.
Like a Greek chorus appearing from the wings came a tweet by James Comey, the FBI director fired in February after Trump allegedly asked his to let Flynn off the hook.
“But justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” Comey wrote, citing words of the Old Testament prophet Amos.
Within Trump’s orbit, there was concern Friday about how the president would react to Flynn’s plea agreement, with one adviser worried there would be “a full freakout”.
Instead, Republicans hoped Trump would concentrate on a badly needed victory on taxes, and help them turn it into momentum as they head into next year’s midterm elections.
Over and over again in his career, Trump has dealt with bad developments by proclaiming something else to be true. He has insisted that those around him do the same – or at a minimum, put a hygienic distance between the president and reality.
Flynn had been a fixture on Trump’s 2016 campaign from its earliest days, and was given a prominent speaking role at the Republican Party convention in Detroit, where he led the crowd in chants of “lock her up” against Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“If I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today!” Flynn said of Clinton, in a declaration now heavy with irony.
Flynn lasted less than a month as national security adviser, resigning in February after revelations that he had had potentially illegal contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
But Trump continued to defend him, saying “he is been treated very, very unfairly by the media – as I call it, the fake media.”
Trump has reached a delicate moment that would seem to call for discipline and focus.
“The really smart presidents just float above it,” historian Douglas Brinkley said.
At low points, Ronald Reagan would simply turn off the television and quit reading the newspaper until things turned around.
It is hard, however, to imagine Trump doing that. If anything, pressure seems to make him even more obsessive about everything that is said about him in the media or by his critics.
“He has no Zen mode,” Brinkley said. “He is simply a person marching on roads of bones in warrior mode.”