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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Trump's worst and best day so far - all on the same day

His tax bill gives the president his first legislative victory but his former national security adviser's admission that he lied to the FBI brings the special prosecutor closer to the president

Pictured here on October 17, 2016  in Grand Junction,Colorado during the presidential campaign, Donald Trump called his former national security adviser "a good guy." But since General Michael Flynn was charged with lying about his Russian contacts and then agreed to co-operate with the special prosecutor, he has become a potentially dangerous friend for the president. George Frey/ AFP
Pictured here on October 17, 2016 in Grand Junction,Colorado during the presidential campaign, Donald Trump called his former national security adviser "a good guy." But since General Michael Flynn was charged with lying about his Russian contacts and then agreed to co-operate with the special prosecutor, he has become a potentially dangerous friend for the president. George Frey/ AFP

Republicans were celebrating the late night passage of a radical overhaul of the US tax system yesterday even as they absorbed the potential implications for Donald Trump's White House of Michael Flynn’s guilty plea.

Court documents suggest federal investigators now have senior figures from the president’s inner circle in their sights as the former national security adviser co-operates with federal authorities.

Analysts said it showed how the dark cloud of the Russia investigation was obscuring a rare success for the Trump administration — the passage of a tax bill through the senate in the early hours of Saturday.

It marks a significant step towards a first legislative victory for Mr Trump, who had previously endured the humiliation of multiple failed attempts to repeal the ObamaCare health care programme and was facing mounting concerns that his divisive leadership style had stymied the Republican agenda.

“Biggest Tax Bill and Tax Cuts in history just passed in the Senate. Now these great Republicans will be going for final passage,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Thank you to House and Senate Republicans for your hard work and commitment!.”

The bill, promising a raft of tax cuts, was passed 51-49 shortly after 2am despite the concerns of both parties. The Republicans feared it would raise the national budget deficit, while the Democrats say it will reward the already wealthy. It is now up to the Senate and House of Representatives to merge their two versions of the legislation.

That could still represent a huge hurdle to turning the plan into reality, said Rich Galen, a veteran Republican strategist.

“To say that yesterday was his best day and his worst day … they’re still coming,” he said. “We don’t know whether the tax bill will get to his desk and we don’t know if Flynn is going to sing like a canary to federal prosecutors. So I think the best and worst of Trump’s days are in the future.”

Mr Flynn was fired from the White House less than a month after being appointed national security adviser. It emerged he had lied to the vice-president and other officials about meetings with Russian diplomats during the transition period from the Obama to the Trump administration.

In his plea-bargaining deal, he admitted lying to the FBI over conversations last December with the Russian ambassador to Washington.

In one they discussed the incoming administration’s opposition to a United Nations resolution condemning Israeli settlements as well as sanctions on Russia.

“My guilty plea and agreement to co-operate with the special counsel’s office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country,” said Mr Flynn. “I accept full responsibility for my actions.”

The White House sought to play down his impact, saying the plea implicated no one but Mr Flynn. However, court documents suggest Mr Flynn was not so much the target but the tool in helping the investigation — led by Robert Mueller - close in on other senior figures.

In the filings, Mr Flynn describes calling a senior transition official to discuss Russia sanctions before meeting Sergey Kislyak, the ambassador. American media organisations identified the official as KT McFarland, who has now been nominated as US ambassador to Singapore.

The documents also say a “very senior member of the presidential transition team” asked Mr Flynn to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, about the UN resolution on Israel. Anonymous sources quoted by American media say the "very senior member" was Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.

While some of Mr Trump’s allies took to the airwaves to insist Mr Flynn’s plea offered no “smoking gun” evidence of collusion with Russia, others admitted the probe had entered a new phase as it hunted down members of the president’s inner circle.

Andrew Napolitano, former judge and Fox News' legal analyst, said the plea was just “the tip of the iceberg”.

“The downside for the president is this keeps the Russia story front and centre at a time when the president is beginning to move towards the achievements of his legislative agenda,” he said.

Mr Trump’s administration has laboured under the pressure of failing to secure major campaign promises — from the debacle of the travel ban to repeated stalled efforts to repeal ObamaCare. During the past week, insiders said Mr Trump had become increasingly frustrated by opposition, making him both bullish and defensive by turns.

His mood was on display in a series of explosive tweets, which were extreme even by his standards.

He offended Democratic senators who had been due to meet him at the White House, retweeted Islamophobic videos posted by an extreme Right-wing British group and insulted Theresa May, the British prime minister.

Expect more of the same diversionary tactics as Mr Mueller’s investigation closes in, said Jeanne Zaino, professor of political science at Iona College.

“We have to expect that he’s going to fight hard and will use any weapon at his disposal, whether that’s Twitter, trying to take out Robert Mueller. This is looking very, very serious for him,” she said.