George W. Bush opens up on Trump’s war with the media, Russia and travel ban

George W. Bush on TODAY. February 27, 2017.

In a wide-ranging interview that shied away from directly criticizing the current commander in chief, former President George W. Bush said it’s critical for the media to hold accountable “people who abuse their power.” He also rejected the current administration’s controversial immigration policy

“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. We needed the media to hold people like me to account,” Bush told TODAY in an exclusive interview. “Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.”

Bush was asked about the media’s role in light of President Donald Trump’s recent characterization of the media as “enemies of America.” He noted he spent a lot of time during his two terms trying to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to embrace an independent press.

RELATED: Chuck Todd: John McCain is concerned Donald Trump ‘crossed the line’ about media

“It’s kind of hard to tell others to have an independent free press when we’re not willing to have one ourselves,” he said.

Bush, the last Republican to occupy the White House before Trump, also was asked about President Trump’s controversial executive order that banned immigrants from mostly predominantly Muslim nations.

“I am for an immigration policy that is welcoming and upholds the law,” he said when asked if he favored or opposed the policy.

Bush won the 2000 presidential election after one of the most contentious and controversial decisions in American history. He took office after a divided Supreme Court ruled over a dispute involving a contested recount in Florida.

Bush will return later in the show to discuss his new book, “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors,” a collection of portraits of some of the military veterans he has met.

Proceeds of the book will be donated to the George W. Bush Presidential Center, a non-profit organization that helps post-Sept. 11 veterans and their families make successful transitions to civilian life.

The portraits are also currently on display as part of an exhibition at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas.



Iran’s Ahmadinejad writes open letter to Trump

Iran's ex-president Mahmud Ahmadinejad published an open letter to Donald Trump, welcoming his criticism of the US political system but taking issue with his visa ban and attitude to women Iran’s ex-president Mahmud Ahmadinejad published an open letter to Donald Trump, welcoming his criticism of the US political system but taking issue with his visa ban and attitude to women

Iran’s ex-president Mahmud Ahmadinejad

published Sunday an open letter to Donald Trump, welcoming his criticism of the US political system but taking issue with his visa ban and attitude to women.

Many Iranians see the new US president as cut from the same cloth as Ahmadinejad, who shocked the establishment with his sudden rise to power in 2005, combining hard line rhetoric and populist economic policies to win a powerful following among Iran’s lower classes.

At times in the long and rambling letter, published in English and Farsi on his website, he appears to find a kindred spirit in Trump.

“Your Excellency (Trump) has truthfully described the US political system and electoral structure as corrupt and anti-public,” he writes.

But much of the letter is spent exhorting Trump to end interventions in the Middle East and ditch the “arrogance” of past US administrations.

Ahmadinejad also takes issue with Trump’s visa ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran.

“The presence and constructive effort of the elite and scientists of different nations, including the million-plus population of my Iranian compatriots has had a major role in the development of the US… the contemporary US belongs to all nations.”

He also finishes with a short lecture on respecting women — a possible reference to Trump’s recorded claims that he has sexually assaulted some.

“The great men of history have paid the highest level of respect to women and recognised their God-given capabilities,” Ahmadinejad writes.

Ahmadinejad has a fondness for writing to world leaders, having sent letters to former US president Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the pope — as well as an 18-page missive to previous US leader George W. Bush.

When Trump was elected in November, many Iranians joked about the similarities to their former president, whose tenure ended in 2013.

“When Ahmadinejad said that he intended to export his method of managing the world, we didn’t take him seriously…” wrote one bemused commenter on social media.


Trump repeats call for US nuclear supremacy

US President Donald Trump is interviewed by Reuters in the Oval Office at the White House in WashingtonMr Trump criticized the New Start treaty between the US and Russia as a “bad deal”

President Donald Trump has said he wants the United States to expand its nuclear arsenal, in his first comments on the issue since taking office.

Mr Trump said it would be “wonderful” if no nation had nuclear arms, but otherwise the US must be “top of the pack”.

He told Reuter that the US had “fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity”.

Critics say the US and Russia already have more weapons than necessary to deter a nuclear attack.

The US has 6,800 nuclear weapons and Russia has 7,000, according to the US nonpartisan Arms Control Association.

Speaking to Reuters in a wide-ranging interview, Mr Trump said: “I am the first one that would like to see everybody – nobody have nukes, but we’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country, we’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power.”

“It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

Trump tweetImage copyrightTWITTER

His latest comments on nuclear weapons echo a tweet he sent a few weeks after his election win, in which he pledged to increase the country’s capability.

A new strategic arms limitation treaty between the US and Russia, known as New Start, requires that by 5 February of next year, both countries must limit their arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons to equal levels for 10 years.

The independent Arms Control Association non-profit group criticised Mr Trump’s remarks.

“Mr Trump’s comments suggest, once again, that he is ill-informed about nuclear weapons and has a poor understanding of the unique dangers of nuclear weapons,” the group said in a statement.

“The history of the Cold War shows us that no one comes out on ‘top of the pack’ of an arms race and nuclear brinksmanship.”

Inflatable nuclear missile
An inflatable nuclear missile at a protest in Washington

Mr Trump also told Reuters:

  • He considered China the “grand champions” of currency manipulation
  • He is “totally in favour” of the European Union
  • China could get North Korea into line “very easily”
  • Nato allies “owe a lot of money” and he will press them to contribute more
  • He prefers a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but is open to other solutions too

During Mr Trump’s campaign he referred to nuclear proliferation as the “single biggest problem” facing the world, but also said he could not rule out using nuclear weapons against Europe.

His Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, repeatedly cast Mr Trump during the campaign as too erratic and lacking in the diplomatic skills required to avoid a nuclear war.

She mocked him by saying “a man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes”.


Donald Trump’s golf hobby under scrutiny with Clinton tweet

President Donald Trump (R) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) are seen at Trump International Golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida.President Trump (pictured here with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the left) has made visits to his Florida golf courses a weekend habit during his first month in office

A Hillary Clinton retweet has drawn attention to President Donald Trump’s golf outings, which critics are hoping to turn into a political handicap.

The former Democratic White House candidate shared a graph suggesting her former rival spent 25 hours on the links during his first month in office.

Mr Trump made his sixth trip to the golf course on Sunday, joined by professional golfer Rory McIlroy.

The Republican was a frequent critic of Barack Obama’s fairway excursions.

According to an analysis of Washington Post pool reports that was retweeted by Mrs Clinton, the president has dedicated 21 hours to foreign relations, 13 hours to tweeting and six hours to intelligence briefings in his first weeks.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton’s barbs sharpen – Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC News

What do you do when your life’s goal, a dream that was nearly realised, slips away in a flash? That’s the question Hillary Clinton has faced since Donald Trump smashed her presidential hopes last November.

In the ensuing days, the former secretary of state has taken long walks in New York woods with her husband, Bill. She’s given a few speeches and caught some shows on Broadway, where she’s always warmly received. And she’s tweeted.

Haltingly, at first. A few Thanksgiving messages here, a get-well note to George HW Bush there. She stood firmly on uncontroversial ground.

Now, however, her voice is sharpening. She celebrates the anti-Trump protests that have swept across the country. She’s poked fun at the president and taken more pointed shots at his policies and positions. As the president has stumbled, she’s tiptoeing closer and closer to the land of “I told you so”.

What’s next for a woman in her life’s third or fourth act? Rumours of a run for New York swirled then receded. When the presidential prize was so close, will anything else bring satisfaction?

Given that the Clintons have been in the national spotlight for decades, a quiet exit seems increasingly unlikely.

Mr Trump joined Rory McIlroy, one of the world’s highest ranked golfers, at Trump International Golf Club on Sunday.

The Irishman later told a golf blog he had played a full 18 holes with the president, as well as the chief executive of Clear Sports and former New York Yankee Paul O’Neill.

But McIlroy’s account contradicted White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

She said Mr Trump had only “played a couple of holes” on Saturday, as well as Sunday.

Kyle Griffin tweets: Image copyrightTWITTER

When pressed about McIlroy’s comments on Monday, she said Mr Trump had “intended to play a few holes and decided to play longer”.

The White House has otherwise declined to say who plays with Mr Trump, drawing backlash from US media over how much time he spends on the green.

But the president’s golf hobby also recalls his repeated criticism of President Obama.

Mr Trump regularly accused Mr Obama of spending too much time golfing before and throughout his presidential campaign.

President Trump (2nd left) with Rory McIlroy (2nd right) on SundayPresident Trump (2nd left) with Rory McIlroy (2nd right) on Sunday

“Can you believe that, with all the problems and difficulties facing the US, President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter,” he tweeted in October 2014.

Ten days later, he tweeted: “President Obama has a major meeting on the NYC Ebola outbreak, with people flying in from all over the country, but decided to play golf!”

Mr Trump also said he would be too busy to swing at a tee if elected.

“I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf,” he said last August.

But he later softened his tone toward the game, which he said could be used as a tool of diplomacy.

US President Barack Obama (R) lines up a putt as British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) looks on at at The Grove Golf Course near Watford in Hertfordshire.
President Barack Obama (R) lines up a putt as British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) looks on near Watford in Hertfordshire, England, in April 2016

“I don’t think you should play very much,” he told the Golf Channel in July.

“But if you’re going to play, you should use it to your advantage, and the country’s advantage.”

Earlier this month, the president hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and played a full round with the foreign leader as well as professional golfer Ernie Els.

However, his foursome on Sunday did not include any political types.

Former Presidents George W Bush and his father, George HW Bush, were also criticized for their golf outings, at the outsets of the first and second Iraq wars.


Trump travel ban: Five questions ahead of new executive order

People take part in a rally called "I Am A Muslim Too" in a show of solidarity with American Muslims at Times Square on 19 February 2017 in New York CityProtesters held a rally in a show of solidarity with American Muslims in Times Square in New York City on Sunday

President Donald Trump is expected to unveil an updated executive order this week reviving his bid to ban refugees and immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the US.

The US courts have halted the implementation of his previous order, which sparked mass protests and confusion at airports.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said over the weekend that the White House was working on a “tighter, more streamlined version of the first executive order”.

But how might the new order be different? Here are five questions that could determine its future.

Who will be affected?

The original order barred people from seven majority-Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya – from entering the US for 90 days. It also halted refugee resettlement for 120 days and banned Syrian refugees indefinitely.

However, many questions remained about the detail of the ban. How would it affect people from the seven countries who were also permanent legal US residents? And what about people who already had US visas or dual nationality?

Grey line

More on Trump’s travel ban

Grey line

Speaking at the weekend, the head of Homeland Security, Mr Kelly, said the new version of the travel order would not prevent foreign nationals with either work visas or Green Card permanent residency permits from re-entering the United States. Nor would it affect foreign travellers already flying to the US when the order takes effect, he added.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press quoted a senior administration official on Monday as saying the new order would target people from the same seven countries. But it would no longer demand that border authorities singled out and rejected Syrian refugees when processing new visa applications.

This has not been confirmed and the draft could change before it is signed by the president.

How will it be implemented?

The original order triggered a lot confusion and uncertainty. Scores of people were detained at airports or in transit, with many more stranded or forced to return to where they came from.

US government officials complained that the roll-out had been chaotic, and there was a lack of guidance before the policy was announced on 27 January.

Mr Kelly said this time around, his department would ensure that “there’s no one… caught in the system of moving from overseas to our airports, which happened on the first release”.

He said there would be a “short phase-in period” and immigration officials would “make sure that people on the other end don’t get on airplanes”.

The impact on US embassies as well as airports and border crossings will be closely watched.

Will it answer legal questions?

The president’s spokesman says it will. Sean Spicer told reporters at Tuesday’s White House press briefing that the second order would be “tailored to achieve the same goals” as the first “but in accordance with what the [appeals] court said”.

One of the concerns that the judges in San Francisco cited when they refused to reinstate the original ban earlier this month was the way it was rolled out. They said the justice department had failed to show that the executive order gave enough “notice and a hearing prior to restricting an individual’s ability to travel”.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump hit out at judges who refused to reinstate his ban

Whether the “short phase-in period” described by My Kelly will be sufficient will be one thing that legal experts are likely to examine.

They will also ask whether the Trump administration can prove that the order is needed to keep the country safe. In its ruling, the appeals court judges found “no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order” had committed a terrorist attack in the US.

Meanwhile, the exclusion of Syrians in January’s order was also problematic. The Immigration and Nationality Act says no person can be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence”.

Several states have also successfully argued that they have the right to sue on behalf of their residents or on behalf of their universities, which have complained about students and staff getting stranded overseas.

So any new order would probably need to make provisions for visa holders as well as Green Card holders in order to avoid more litigation.

Will it be a Muslim ban?

The fact that the countries included in the original ban are all majority Muslim lends weight to the critics’s argument that the order is “anti-Muslim”.

On 14 February, a US district judge in Virginia ruled the the ban was unconstitutional because it had religious bias at its heart.

A source quoted by CNN said that the new order would address religious discrimination issues by removing a particular section that said that refugees’ claims should be prioritised “on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality”.

Mr Trump previously said priority should be given to persecuted Christians.

Will opponents continue to fight it?

President Trump’s hardline policies on immigration have sparked protests and several lawsuits around the country.

After the appeals court refused to reinstate his ban, Mr Trump tweeted: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that Mr Trump was still confident his initial order would prevail.

But until that time, “we will have a dual track system and make sure we implement a second executive order”, he said.

The idea of a second order does not seem to have quelled opposition. Fresh demonstrations are being organised and civil rights groups have said they will continue to challenge the president in the courts.

Depending on what is in the revised version, the Trump administration will likely now be asked to justify two orders instead of one.


Trump tracker: How much has the president achieved so far?

President Trump on the phone in the Oval Office of the White House - 28 January 2017

Donald Trump came into office promising to change the face of American politics and transfer power “back to the people”.

After four weeks in the White House, he said “incredible progress” had been made, having signed some two dozen executive actions and put his signature to several bills.

He also fired his scandal-hit national security adviser and an acting attorney general, who defied his seven-nation travel ban, which later suffered an appeals court defeat.

So what has President Trump achieved so far? In the weeks and months to come, we’ll be tracking the progress he makes on his agenda and how it is received by the American public.

What executive actions has Trump taken?

One way President Trump is able to exercise political power is through unilateral executive orders and memoranda, which allow him to bypass the legislative process in Congress in certain policy areas.

He wasted little time in taking advantage of this privilege, quickly moving to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, cut business regulations and push ahead with completing the construction of two controversial pipelines.

While it may appear that President Trump has been signing executive actions at an unprecedented rate, he has signed less than President Obama did during the same period in office.

Chart showing the number of executive orders signed by President Trump compared to President Obama

Mr Trump has used many of these actions to deliver on some of his campaign promises, but many of his promises cannot be fulfilled by executive action alone.

For example, his first executive order was designed to limit the effect of the Affordable Care Act, better know as Obamacare, but his promise of repealing and replacing it can only be enacted by Congress.

In-depth: The executive actions Trump has taken

Video: Americans assess Trump’s first month

How are his approval ratings?

When Mr Trump took the oath of office on 20 January he did so with the lowest approval rating of any incoming president.

He dismissed those polls as “rigged” but the strength of the opposition to him was evident when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets the day after his inauguration.

Most presidents begin their term with strong approval numbers, but President Trump has bucked that trend. While both George W Bush and Barack Obama were enjoying approval numbers in the 60s after one month in office, Mr Trump is around the 40% mark.

Graphic showing the approval ratings of the last four US presidents after they had been in office for one month

Donald Trump: Unchained and unapologetic

Mr Trump won the election with low approval numbers so it’s unsurprising they’re still low, but the scandal over his team’s contacts with Russia and his controversial travel ban have kept them falling.

Do the numbers matter? Maybe not, for now. Republicans control both the House and Senate so in theory he can pursue his legislative agenda without worrying about his ratings – as long as he keeps his Republican colleagues on side.

But if his ratings stay low or fall further, expect some dissenting voices to emerge in the party as Republicans start to worry about midterm elections in 2018.

For now though, there are signs that many of Mr Trump’s supporters are happy with his progress – some we spoke to in Pennsylvania said he was doing “a fabulous job”. You can hear their views here.

Russia: The scandal Trump can’t shake

How and why did Trump’s key adviser resign?

How is the economy faring under Trump?

When Barack Obama became president in 2009, the US was in the midst of its worst recession since the 1930s, with the economy shedding 800,000 jobs in his first month.

But after a few dips later that year, the US economy saw its longest ever period of job creation. In total, 11.3 million jobs were created under President Obama.

Chart showing the number of jobs lost or created in the US since 2005

President Obama and the tale of US jobs

Despite those strong numbers, President Trump described the economy as a “mess” and said he had “inherited many problems” from his predecessor.

He has vowed to create 25 million jobs over 10 years and become “the greatest jobs president… ever”. We’ll track the monthly jobs report to see what progress he makes.

President Trump has cited the strong stock market as a sign that his policies are already having an effect, saying there has been a “tremendous surge of optimism in the business world”.

Chart showing how the S&P 500 has fared since Donald Trump won the election

The Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq indexes all closed at record highs on 15 February in a partial sign at least that investors were encouraged by Mr Trump’s planned infrastructure projects, deregulation and tax cuts.

But the president will need to avoid the backlash that followed his ban on immigrants coming into the US from seven mainly Muslim countries if he wants the stock market to continue hitting new highs.

All of the three major indexes fell slightly after Mr Trump’s controversial executive order caused protests at airports across the country – and Silicon Valley lashed out at the president as well.

Latest news on the US economy

Has Trump moved to cut illegal immigration?

Immigration was President Trump’s signature issue during the election campaign and he signed two executive orders on 25 January designed to fulfil his promises.

The first declared that the US would build a “physical wall” or similar “impassable physical barrier” – to the delight of all of those Americans who spent 2016 chanting: “Build the wall!”

It remains to be seen how Mr Trump will pay it, although he has repeatedly insisted that the US will recoup the costs from the Mexican government, despite their leaders saying otherwise.

There is already some 650 miles of fencing along the border, but we’ll monitor what progress President Trump makes in turning it into what he has called the “Great Wall”.

Who is going to pay for Trump’s border wall?

Tweet by Donald Trump

Mr Trump’s second executive order on border security said 10,000 more immigration officers would be hired to track down illegal immigrants – but extra funds will need to be signed off by Congress before this can happen.

His talk of a crackdown on illegal immigrants makes it sound as if they had an easy ride under President Obama, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest the opposite is true.

Between 2009 and 2015, the Obama administration deported more than 2.5 million people – most of whom had been convicted of some form of criminal offence or were recent arrivals – leading some to label President Obama the “deporter-in-chief”.

Chart show the number of illegal immigrants being deported from the US

At one point, Mr Trump pledged to remove everyone not lawfully in the US – more than 11 million by most estimates – but he backed away from that after the election.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has launched a series of raids across the country since Mr Trump was elected, but it’s still too early to say if deportation arrests have increased.

Has Trump started a new deportation drive?

Is arrest of ‘dreamer’ a sign of things to come?

What has been done on healthcare?

Healthcare was an early test for President Trump and the Republican Party.

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act helped more than 20 million previously-uninsured Americans to finally get health cover – but Mr Trump said he would act quickly to “repeal and replace” it.

While the Republican-controlled Congress has started efforts to repeal what’s know as Obamacare, it is unclear whether they will try to replace it completely or just repair elements of it.

Chart showing how the number of Americans without health insurance in the US fell under President Obama

Can Obamacare be repealed?

US patients await Obamacare’s fate

The scheme has faced several problems along the way and premium hikes in 2016 helped the Republicans frame it as a failure during the election campaign.

But a report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that 18 million people could lose their insurance within a year if Congress repealed parts of it without having a new system in place.

Senior Republicans have said legislation to replace it will be unveiled in March.


What’s next after one month of Trump drama

Donald Trump at press conference

Four weeks. Twenty-eight days. It feels like 280 days. I feel 280. If Donald Trump is exhausting even the news-hungry political journalists, I wonder what he is doing to the rest of the world.

For the first three weeks I started the day repeating a mantra, “watch what he does, not what he says.” I’ve discarded that notion. What Mr Trump says and how he says it is an important part of his presidency. His rhetoric, both in person and Twitter, appeals to his supporters. It’s new and fresh and irreverent. But one day it could also be his undoing. He is increasingly losing respect among key Republicans, and he needs them to govern effectively.

This is my fourth American administration and we’ve never seen anything like it for sheer non-stop drama. Lewinsky was a daily feast of slightly prudish titillation, but it was one story line, and in the end it was just sex. 9/11 was far more serious and scary, and the ramifications lasted far beyond that fateful morning. But in a way it was a more conventional (though nonetheless horrifying) story of geopolitics and ideology. We journalists knew how to cover them both.

John McCain
John McCain has been a Republican critic of Trump

Sometimes now, I admit, I’m at a loss. There is so much to say and think, and even feel, about the Trump administration that I find myself curiously stuck for words.

What’s the most important story here? Is the psychodrama of a president who is both fantastically confident and oddly insecure, who publicly lashes out those who offend him and rewards those who please him? Is it the hard right turn he plans for America? Is it Russia, the curious crush Donald Trump seems to have on Vladimir Putin and what that might mean for global security? Is it America’s allies, floundering in the face of this unpredictability?

Four long long weeks ago, we speculated that this may become a normal presidency, hemmed in by the restrictions of US institutions and the customs of US political tradition. We were wrong, again.

Michael Flynn
Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor

Yes, Mr Trump has seen his agenda slowed, either by the structures of government or the realities of diplomacy. On five major national and international issues. he has either rowed back or been checked.

That’s how government functions. Even this White House, with its ambition of rapid change, has been forced to bow somewhat to business as normal. Especially on foreign policy, there is actually little difference today between the Obama and Trump policies.

This is my fourth American administration and we’ve never seen anything like it for sheer non-stop drama. Lewinsky was a daily feast of slightly prudish titillation, but it was one story line, and in the end it was just sex. 9/11 was far more serious and scary, and the ramifications lasted far beyond that fateful morning. But in a way it was a more conventional (though nonetheless horrifying) story of geopolitics and ideology. We journalists knew how to cover them both.

What’s the most important story here? Is the psychodrama of a president who is both fantastically confident and oddly insecure, who publicly lashes out those who offend him and rewards those who please him? Is it the hard right turn he plans for America? Is it Russia, the curious crush Donald Trump seems to have on Vladimir Putin and what that might mean for global security? Is it America’s allies, floundering in the face of this unpredictability?

Four long long weeks ago, we speculated that this may become a normal presidency, hemmed in by the restrictions of US institutions and the customs of US political tradition. We were wrong, again.

Michael Flynn
Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Adviser

Yes, Mr Trump has seen his agenda slowed, either by the structures of government or the realities of diplomacy. On five major national and international issues. he has either rowed back or been checked.

That’s how government functions. Even this White House, with its ambition of rapid change, has been forced to bow somewhat to business as normal. Especially on foreign policy, there is actually little difference today between the Obama and Trump policies.

But in other more profound ways this administration is anything but normal – which is precisely what Mr Trump’s voters wanted.

For a start, the president himself breaks the rules. He berates allies (Australia, Mexico,) praises despots (notably, and most worryingly, Putin) and he has dropped the filter of “behaving presidentially.” His Twitter attacks on the press, the intelligence services and individual Senators feel more schoolyard than Oval Office.

There is so much personal drama in his early morning tirades that I wake up anxious wondering who is it today and what does it all mean? But his supporters didn’t send him to Washington to play nice. All the polls suggest they still really like what they see.That his White House acts like some medieval court is not really so unusual. Jockeying for power has been a long tradition of US administrations. But it doesn’t usually play out on the front pages of the newspaper. It also doesn’t usually lead to the firing of one senior official within the first month and his potential replacement turning down the job because he fears being tainted by the dysfunction.

Whatever the president may say, that is not normal and it is not a well-oiled machine.

Trump and Pena shake hands

Candidate Trump met with Mexican president Pena Nieto during the campaign
Then there’s the issue of what to believe. We’ve never seen an administration where one official says one thing publicly and the president says another. On the two state solution, the firing of General Flynn and Russian interference in the election, this week alone saw a string of public contradictions.
It is hard to see how this is sustainable. A lot is not getting done because of the administration chaos. There is still no tax reform bill, no Obamacare replacement, no infrastructure spending plan – all things he planned to do immediately.
It is also hard to see how it ends. President Trump appears to like the chaos theory of government and it fits his narrative of change.
Four weeks in, his approval ratings are not great but they’re not disastrous. The most reliable national poll, by one of the few truly non-partisan organisations left in America, Pew Research, has him at 39%. That’s lower than his predecessors at this stage but it’s not through the floor.
In twenty years in Washington, I’ve never heard so much talk of the possibility of a President not finishing his term, even in the late 90s at the height of Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal. But for that to happen there are only two options, Mr Trump would have to resign or be impeached. For the moment neither of those look at all likely.


Flynn resignation: Republicans seek probe into leaks

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason Chaffetz and his co-signer say they are worried about potentially classified information being published

Leading Republicans in the US have called for an investigation into leaks that led to the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The heads of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees are concerned potentially classified information was released.

Mr Flynn is alleged to have discussed US sanctions with Russia’s ambassador in calls before his own appointment.

It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy.

Watch Trump’s news conference with commentary from the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher

President Donald Trump, who is also facing questions over his ties with Russia, pledged to punish the intelligence officials who leaked information.

“We’re going to find the leakers and they’re going to pay a big price,” he told reporters during a meeting with Republican lawmakers on Thursday.

Hours earlier, Mr Trump tweeted that “the spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers” who “will be caught”.

Mr Flynn, a retired army lieutenant-general, initially denied having discussed sanctions with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, and Vice-President Mike Pence publicly denied the allegations on his behalf.

But he came under mounting pressure on Monday when details of his phone calls emerged in US media, as well as reports the justice department had warned the White House about him misleading senior officials and being vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

Grey line

In a letter to the Department of Justice inspector general, chairmen of the House committees on oversight and the judiciary said information about the monitoring of Mr Flynn’s communications by intelligence agencies was likely to have been top secret.

“We have serious concerns about the potential inadequate protection of classified information here,” Reps Jason Chaffetz and Bob Goodlatte wrote.

They said the release of classified information could have “grave effects on national security”.

Their letter comes after other members of their party, including the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, John Cornyn, called instead for an investigation into Mr Flynn’s ties with Russia.

But US House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes told reporters on Tuesday he wanted to focus on the leaks, and said the FBI should explain why Mr Flynn’s conversation had been recorded.

Both the Senate and House intelligence committees – along with the FBI – are already examining Russian hacking and involvement in the US election.

In this file photo taken on 10 December 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen centre right with retired US Lt Gen Michael Flynn, centre left
Mr Flynn (center left) was pictured dining with Russian leader Vladimir Putin (center right) in December 2015

It is unclear how the allegations against Mr Flynn would be handled by the different investigators.

His conversations with the Russian ambassador took place about the time that then-President Barack Obama was imposing sanctions on Russia following reports it attempted to sway the US election in Mr Trump’s favour.

As relations between the new US president and the country’s intelligence agencies continue to sour, the New York Times reported on Wednesday that Mr Trump was planning to appoint his friend Stephen Feinberg, the billionaire co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, to lead a review of into their practices. The BBC has not been able to verify these claims.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has said that political turbulence in the United States is delaying the resumption of better relations between Washington and Moscow.

“We hope that sooner or later the process will start to resume a normal business relationship with Washington,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.

“We’re losing time in terms of solving global problems.”

He said possible plans for an investigation into Mr Flynn was an “internal affair” for the US.

Russia has dismissed concern about the former national security adviser’s communications, saying “it’s nothing to do with us”.


Five big questions after Flynn’s resignation

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

The Michael Flynn controversy went from zero to resignation in the blink of an eye.

On Friday night, Donald Trump was asked about his national security advisor’s pre-inauguration contact with a Russian ambassador and said he’d “look into” it.

“I don’t know about that,” he said. “I haven’t seen it.”

On Monday senior Trump advise Kellyanne Conway assured reporters that Mr Flynn had the president’s “full confidence”

Hours later, Flynn was gone and Conway was left explaining how the situation had become “unsustainable”.

Although this may be the end of Mr Flynn’s tenure in the White House, it’s just the beginning of the story. There are a number of questions that aren’t going away just because Mr Flynn has.

According to the Washington Post, acting Attorney General Sally Yates had informed Trump White House counsel Donald McGahn shortly after inauguration day that surveillance of Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak revealed he and Mr Flynn had discussed US sanctions imposed by the Obama administration during their 30 December phone call.

This ran directly counter not only to Mr Flynn’s public denials, but those of other Trump administration officials, including press secretary Sean Spicer and Vice-President Mike Pence.

So, if the Trump White House knew that Mr Flynn had lied – or, as he put it in his resignation letter, had “inadvertently briefed the vice-president-elect and others with incomplete information” – why did it take weeks, and multiple embarrassing media reports, for the national security adviser to be shown the door?

During his press conference on Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Mr Trump had been informed that Mr Flynn had discussed sanctions with Mr Kislyak on 26 January and had instructed the White House counsel’s office to investigate whether any laws had been violated. The conclusion was that that it was legal. Over the course of the ensuing weeks, however, Mr Trump’s trust in Mr Flynn “eroded” to the point where he could no longer be effective as national security advisor. It was then that he was sacked.

Those were weeks during which Mr Flynn was putting Iran “on notice”, conferring tableside at Mar-a-Lago as the president and Japanese Prime Minsiter Shinzo Abe dealt with a North Korean missile launch and sitting front and centre in the East Room of the White House during Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mr Trump’s joint press conference on Monday.

Will there be an investigation?

Democrats in Congress smell blood in the water and are already calling for a sweeping investigation into the circumstances behind Mr Flynn’s resignation.

“The American people deserve to know the full extent of Russia’s financial, personal and political grip on President Trump and what that means for our national security,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a press release.

Although Democrats would prefer a new congressional special committee be created to investigate the matter, that seems unlikely at this point. There are already planned investigations into the larger question of whether Russia interfered with the 2016 US presidential election, to be conducted by the House and Senate intelligence committees.

“I think we should look into it exhaustively,” said Senate intelligence committee member Roy Blunt of Missouri, “so that at the end of this process, nobody wonders whether there was a stone left unturned and shouldn’t reach conclusions before you have the information that you need to have to make those conclusions.”

The House investigation will look into Russian intelligence activities and “links between Russian and individuals associated with political campaigns”, according to a letter signed by the Republican chair and ranking Democrat on the committee.

John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two senators on the armed services committee, are also launching their own inquiry.

“General Flynn’s resignation also raises further questions about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia, including statements by the president suggesting moral equivalence between the US and Russia,” Mr McCain said in a press release.

Other Republicans in Congress seem less interested in the matter. Jason Chaffetz, the chair of the House Oversight Committee who made recent headlines with his pledge to continue investigating Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email server, has so far declined from launching an inquiry into Mr Flynn’s resignation.

Michael Flynn watches Donald Trump speak.
The Flynn controversy may sharpen the focus on Donald Trump’s past pro-Russia statements

“It’s taking care of itself,” he said.

Of perhaps greater concern for the White House is the status of a reported FBI investigation into Trump campaign ties to the Russian government. According to the Post, FBI Director James Comey was reluctant to inform the Trump White House about evidence contradicting Mr Flynn’s accounts because “it could complicate the bureau’s ongoing investigation”.

Although the BBC has reported that there is a multi-agency probe into Russia and the 2016 election, there’s never been an on-the-record confirmation of this by government officials.

Could the inquiry include a look at whether Mr Flynn violated the Logan Act, a 1799 federal law that prohibits “unauthorised citizens” from negotiating with foreign governments? Given that the law has never been used in an actual prosecution, that seems unlikely.

The more the FBI asks questions, however, the greater the temptation for Trump administration officials to mislead or misstate in order to avoid further political fallout from the matter.

That could open the door for obstruction of justice charges. It wouldn’t be the first time a cover-up of a political scandal turned into a criminal case. Or the second. Or the third.

Could this have been avoided?

As this story unfolds, Mr Flynn and the rest of the Trump team may want to look back and see whether this whole mess was preventable.

Forget, for now, the puzzler that Mr Flynn, who once served as director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, was seemingly unaware or unconcerned that phone conversations by the Russian ambassador to the US might be under government surveillance. Could he have just come out and admitted that he did, in fact, talk with Mr Kislyak about sanctions as part of a wide-ranging discussion of US policy priorities under soon-to-be-President Trump?

Vice-President Mike Pence and Michael Flynn shake hands.
Vice-President Mike Pence (left) had publicly insisted Michael Flynn did not discuss sanctions with the Russians

Perhaps. There certainly would have been political fallout. Democrats would have cried bloody murder, given their sensitivity to the outcome of the Clinton-Trump campaign. They would have accused Mr Flynn of undermining Mr Obama’s efforts to punish Russia for its alleged meddling and, in all likelihood, questioned whether the move constituted a violation of the Logan Act.

In addition, there would have been further calls for a full investigation into Mr Trump’s relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and allegations of pre-election communications between the Republican’s senior campaign officials and the Russian government.

What seemingly undid Mr Flynn, however, was that Mr Pence and other Republicans had framed their defence of the general based on his insistence that sanctions definitely were not discussed. Mr Flynn embarrassed the vice-president, who wields enormous influence in the administration.

A united White House may have been able to ride out this storm. As soon as it fractured, Mr Flynn was finished.

Who will be the next national security adviser?

Mr Flynn was one of the Mr Trump’s most trusted advisers on national security, since the early days of the presidential campaign, and he will be difficult to replace.

The president has alienated much of the conservative foreign policy establishment and appears unwilling, at least so far, to consider enlisting the aid of experienced hands who actively worked against him during the campaign.

Following Mr Flynn’s resignation, the White House announced that Keith Kellogg, who was serving as chief of staff of the National Security Council, would take over as acting national security advisor.

Retired General Keith Kellogg.
Keith Kellogg is taking over for Michael Flynn on a temporary basis.

Since retiring as a general from the Army in 2003, Mr Kellogg had worked for a variety of defense contractors and advised Mr Trump on foreign policy matters during the presidential campaign.

Although Mr Kellogg will have the advantage of incumbency while the formal search is conducted, another high-profile name has already been floated for the job – former CIA Director David Petraeus.

Once considered a rising star in the Republican Party after his success organising the 2007 US military troop “surge” in Iraq, he was forced to resign from the CIA in disgrace and charged with sharing top secret documents with a civilian reporter with whom he was having an extra-marital affair. He eventually pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information

That, it seems, has not been a career-killing event, however – even though Mr Petraeus would have to get approval from his parole officer before taking a job in Washington.

Robert Harward, a former deputy commander of US Central Command, is reportedly also under consideration.

Whomever Mr Trump selects for national security adviser will be thrust into a key role in the administration’s foreign policy team under less than ideal circumstances. The job requires the ability to co-ordinate multiple intelligence and security agencies with competing interests and priorities. The NSA has to be a diplomat and a facilitator, making sure the president is kept abreast of all relevant national security developments and his policy directives are effectively implemented.

It’s not a job for the faint of heart even in the best of times.

How does Sally Yates feel right now?

In late January Ms Yates, an Obama administration holdover who was serving as acting attorney general, advised the Trump administration of problems surrounding Mr Flynn’s role as national security adviser.

On 30 January Ms Yates announced that she would not enforce Mr Trump’s executive order barring entry to the US for individuals from seven predominantly Muslim nations, warning that she considered the action of questionable legality.

She was fired by Mr Trump later that day.

Now the president’s immigration order has been indefinitely suspended by multiple courts, which have said it may violate constitutional rights. And Mr Flynn is gone.

We already know the answer to this particular question, actually. Ms Yates probably feels pretty vindicated.


Trump travel ban: Policy adviser attacks US federal appeals court

Senior White House Advisor Stephen Miller waits to go on the air in the White House Briefing Room in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2017Stephen Miller said Mr Trump’s powers to order a travel ban were “beyond question”

A top White House adviser has attacked the US federal appeals court for upholding a ruling suspending Mr Trump’s travel ban order.

Stephen Miller told US media the court ruling was a “judicial usurpation of power” and that “the president’s powers here are beyond question”.

The court rejected Mr Trump’s attempt to reinstate the ban on Thursday.

His executive order barred citizens from seven mainly Muslim countries from entering the US.

The ban caused chaos at US airports and sparked protests across the country.

Several lawsuits have been filed against the ban, and a federal judge has issued a temporary nationwide block on the travel ban.

Mr Trump has said he may fight the case in the courts, but could also consider issuing a new executive order.

A Yemeni woman and her three year old daughter arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on 8 February, after being stranded due to the travel ban
The appeal court ruling means visa holders from seven countries, including this three-year-old from Yemen, can enter the US again

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Mr Miller accused the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the block on Mr Trump’s order, of “overreaching”.

He also told ABC’s This Week: “We have equal branches of government in this country. The judiciary is not supreme.”

Under the US system of checks and balances, courts can declare laws, or acts by the president, unconstitutional.

The US government has argued that the president is best placed to make decisions about national security, and that the ban does not discriminate against Muslims.

But upholding the suspension last week, the three appeals court three judges said that the government had provided “no evidence that any foreigner from the countries named in the order” had carried out a terrorist attack on US soil.

US system of checks and balances

Lawsuits against the ban have been launched in 14 states.

The states of Washington and Minnesota have argued that the travel ban is unconstitutional and harmful to their residents, businesses and universities.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson told ABC on Sunday the current order was “unlawful” and had an “improper motive” because it was intended to discriminate against Muslims.

If necessary, he could ask government officials to testify, and examine “documents and emails to get behind what truly motivated that executive order”, he added.

What did the executive order say?