Trump appointees 'on thin ice'

There has been controversy over Mr Flynn's contacts with Russian officials.
There has been controversy over Mr Flynn's contacts with Russian officials.
Mr Priebus has been criticised for not being suited for his role.
Mr Priebus has been criticised for not being suited for his role.

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn is struggling to get past a controversy over his contacts with Russian officials before Mr Trump took office, conversations that officials said have raised concerns within the White House.

Top White House officials were reviewing over the weekend Mr Flynn's contacts with the Russians and whether he discussed the possibility of lifting US sanctions on Russia once Mr Trump took office, which could potentially violate a law banning private citizens from engaging in foreign policy.

Mr Flynn is a retired army general and former director of the Defence Intelligence Agency. An early Trump supporter, he has advocated improving relations with Russia.

He had initially denied discussing sanctions with the Russians in the weeks before Mr Trump took office on Jan 20, and Vice-President Mike Pence went before television cameras to repeat the denial and defend Mr Flynn.

When a Washington Post report emerged last week quoting officials as saying the subject of sanctions had in fact come up, Mr Flynn left open the possibility, but could not remember with 100 per cent certainty, an administration official said. A second administration official stressed that Mr Pence made his comments based on a conversation with Mr Flynn.

Mr Flynn has apologised to Mr Pence, the first official said.

There was no indication from transcripts of Mr Flynn's conversations that he had promised to lift the sanctions, but rather he made more general comments about hoping for better US-Russian ties under Mr Trump, a third official said.

Mr Trump has yet to weigh in on the subject, promising last Friday that he would look into it. There was a sense that while Mr Flynn was on thin ice, he did not appear to be in danger of losing his job, the third official said. Even so, there were no loud voices speaking up for him. Trump senior policy adviser Stephen Miller was asked on NBC's Meet The Press on Sunday whether Mr Trump had confidence in Mr Flynn. "It's not for me to tell you what's in the President's mind," he replied.

Another Trump senior appointee, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, also appears to be on thin ice. One of Mr Trump's longtime friends, who spent time talking privately with the President last Friday, has publicly argued that Mr Priebus should be replaced.

"A lot of people have been saying, 'Look, Donald has some problems', and I think he realises that he's got to make some changes going forward," Mr Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media, told The Washington Post. "It's my view that Reince is the problem. I think on paper, Reince looked good as the chief of staff - and Donald trusted him - but it's pretty clear the guy is in way over his head. He's not knowledgeable of how federal agencies work, how the communications operations work. He botched this whole immigration roll-out. This should have been a win for Donald, not two or three weeks of negative publicity."

White House spokesmen did not respond to a request for comment.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline 'Trump appointees 'on thin ice''. Print Edition | Subscribe