President Donald Trump’s enduring loyalty to former national security adviser Michael Flynn has come back to bite him.
The White House is now battling allegations that Trump asked ousted FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, an action that would follow a well-established pattern of the president protecting Flynn over his own self-preservation.
While Trump ultimately fired Flynn in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Trump has continued fiercely defending the retired three-star general both publicly and privately.
Just last week, Trump scolded his staff for “piling on [Flynn]” in the press, according to a White House official, when it became clear that part of the White House communications strategy was to distance itself from Flynn while dealing with the fallout from Trump firing Comey.
Trump has also expressed his personal preference for Flynn’s style of briefings over those from his replacement, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who Trump has complained about being condescending, according to two senior administration officials.
Since Trump fired Flynn following days of damaging headlines about his contacts with Russian officials, the president called Flynn “a wonderful man,” and even tweeted in his defense last week before former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified that she warned the White House about Flynn’s vulnerability to being blackmailed because of his deception about his contacts with Russian officials.
Even when details have emerged, such as Flynn’s failure to reveal that he had been paid $34,000 to speak at a 2015 gala in Moscow honoring the Russian propaganda outlet RT and about Flynn’s offer to testify before federal and congressional investigators about their probe into Russia’s meddling in the election in exchange for immunity, Trump has fiercely defended Flynn.
“Gen. Flynn stood by the president’s side when the foreign policy establishment was joining the chorus of Never Trump activists trying to elect Hillary Clinton. He considers Flynn a patriot and a loyal friend,” the White House official said on Tuesday after news emerged of Trump’s alleged request to Comey.
“So while what happened was a fireable offense, the president definitely didn’t enjoy doing it.”
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump disliked firing Flynn so much that he passed the task to chief strategist Steve Bannon, who delivered the news to Flynn by saying “do the right thing,” according to a senior White House official.
At a news conference the next day, Trump defended Flynn to the press by saying the the retired general “did nothing wrong” and added that he fired Flynn only for misleading Pence about his contacts with the Russians.
For Trump, Flynn’s loyalty to him early in the campaign eclipses any embarrassment he’s brought to his young administration. During the transition, Trump was warned by many that Flynn was a loose cannon, but he decided to name him national security adviser over the objections of many.
“He shut down any talk of Flynn getting pushed out or relegated to a lesser role,” a White House official said.
Trump has struggled to connect with McMaster, and he misses his conversations with Flynn, according to a senior administration official. His affection for Flynn has been passed on to former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, who he offered any role within the administration when McMaster fought to push her out of the role as deputy, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
And while White House veterans say loyalty is important in any administration, some say Trump’s dedication can go too far.
“Trump’s loyalty to his friends and family is admirable,” said Alex Conant, a former spokesperson for George W. Bush. “His loyalty to someone he fired for lying is harder to appreciate.”