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First Read: Flynn's Departure Raises More Questions Than It Answers

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn arrives at the Trump Tower for meetings with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, in New York on Nov. 17, 2016.Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AFP/Getty Images

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

Flynn's departure raises more questions than it answers

The bombshell news from last night, which marked President Trump’s 25th day in office: “Michael Flynn abruptly quit as President Donald Trump's national security adviser Monday night, hours after it emerged that the Justice Department informed the White House that it believed he could be subject to blackmail,” per NBC News. “The resignation also came after previous disclosures that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials about his communications with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States. Pence repeated the misinformation in television appearances.” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell has more: “A senior official tells NBC News the president and top advisers have been "agonizing" over what to do about Flynn for days. The official, who was involved in the discussions, says the situation became unsustainable -- not because of any issue of being compromised by Russia — but because he had lied to the president and the vice president.” All of this news raises more questions than answers.

  • When exactly did Team Trump first learn that Flynn misled them about the nature of his conversations with Russia’s government?

The Washington Post says it was last month. “The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials said.”

  • Did anyone else on Trump's team discuss sanctions on Russia? And did Trump authorize Flynn's discussions with Russia's ambassador?

Remember, the day after the Obama administration slapped extra sanctions on Russia’s government for interfering in the 2016 election, Trump praised Russia’s delay in responding to them. “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!” he tweeted.

  • What does this say about the president’s judgment?

Flynn — who we now have learned was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail — was Trump’s pick to be this country’s national security adviser. And this story wasn’t the first strike against him and his management of the National Security Council. “Three weeks into the Trump administration, council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump’s Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them. Most are kept in the dark about what Mr. Trump tells foreign leaders in his phone calls,” the New York Times wrote over the weekend.

  • How much credibility does this administration have left?

At 4:00 pm ET yesterday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki that the president had full confidence in Flynn, yet he resigned just hours later. (When NBC’s Matt Lauer asked Conway on “Today” this morning if she was out of the loop, she replied that Trump “is a very loyal person,” and that Flynn himself made the decision to resign.) On Friday, Trump denied that he had read the Washington Post’s scoop that Flynn had indeed discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador. “I don't know about it. I haven't seen it. What report is that?” (Does anyone believe that now?) And despite the administration’s previous denials that Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russians, we now know Team Trump was notified A MONTH AGO that Flynn was possibly misleading them.

  • A question for every member of Congress: Are you going to support a full investigation into arguably the biggest scandal involving a foreign government since Iran-Contra?

Considering everything we now know about this story — an incoming administration was having conversations with a foreign adversary, and not telling the truth about them — you have to go back 30 years to Iran-Contra to think of a comparable scandal. And folks, we’re today on Day 26 of the Trump administration. Here’s the question that should be posed to every lawmaker, Republican or Democrat: Are you going to support a full investigation into arguably the biggest political scandal involving a foreign government since Iran-Contra?

Trump Cabinet Watch

Per NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell, the Senate yesterday confirmed Steven Mnuchin to be Trump’s Treasury, as well as David Shulkin to head Veterans Affairs. This means 11 members of Trump’s team have won Senate confirmation out of 694 key positions.

  • Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson CONFIRMED
  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions CONFIRMED
  • Treasury: Steve Mnuchin CONFIRMED
  • Defense: JamesMattis CONFIRMED
  • Homeland: John Kelly CONFIRMED
  • Interior: Ryan Zinke NOMINATED
  • HHS: Tom Price CONFIRMED
  • HUD: Ben Carson NOMINATED
  • Education: Betsy DeVos CONFIRMED
  • Commerce: Wilbur Ross NOMINATED
  • Transportation: Elaine Chao CONFIRMED
  • Labor: Andy Puzder NOMINATED
  • Agriculture: Sonny Perdue NOMINATED
  • Energy: Rick Perry NOMINATED
  • Veterans Affairs: David Shulkin CONFIRMED
  • OMB Director: Mick Mulvaney NOMINATED
  • U.S Trade Representative: Robert Lighthizer NOMINATED
  • UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley CONFIRMED
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt NOMINATED
  • Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon NOMINATED
  • CIA Director: Mike Pompeo CONFIRMED

What were other new presidents doing on February 14?

  • Questions swirl around Barack Obama’s replacement in the Senate, Roland Burris, after new documents show that the brother of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich asked Burris for fundraising help in the weeks before Burris was appointed to the seat
  • Despite George W. Bush’s urgings that lawmakers “move on” from the Clinton era, a Senate panel starts a probe of Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich
  • Bill Clinton does a two mile jog to mark American Heart Month
  • George H. W. Bush’s secretary of state, James Baker, announces that he will sell his stocks to avoid conflict of interest concerns
  • Ronald Reagan abandons his plan to make tax breaks retroactive to the beginning of the year, instead agreeing to a July 1 start date for the plan
  • Jimmy Carter meets with the president of Mexico