The US president has responded defiantly to a guilty plea made by his former national security adviser, saying Michael Flynn’s “actions during the transition were lawful”. But he drew further scrutiny by changing his story on why he fired him.
US President Donald Trump on Saturday shrugged off the bombshell news that his former national security adviser pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and will cooperate with a special prosecutor probing Russian election meddling.
As the Russia probe overshadowed a major legislative win, the Senate's passing of landmark tax cuts, Trump again insisted he and his campaign had not colluded with Russia.
Trump also suggested he has been holding back something important regarding what he knew at the time of ex-security adviser Michael Flynn's firing.
"I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!" Trump tweeted.
The revelation changes the timeline of the drama in a potentially dangerous way for Trump.
At the time of Flynn's dismissal, the White House acknowledged only that he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence -- not the FBI -- about his discussions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak over sanctions then-president Barack Obama slapped on Russia for meddling in the election.
Trump's ties with Flynn have been under intense scrutiny since the president fired FBI director James Comey in May.
Comey testified under oath before a Senate panel in June that a day after Flynn's firing, Trump asked him to drop an investigation into the former national security director.
What Trump knew
Trump also repeated his denials of collusion with Moscow.
"What has been shown is no collusion. There's been absolutely no collusion. So we're very happy," he told reporters as he left for a day trip to New York.
Special prosecutor Robert Mueller's focus goes beyond possible collusion with Russia to shady business dealings and whether Trump himself tried to thwart the investigation.
If Trump's latest statement on Twitter is accurate, it would mean that when he pressed Comey to drop the probe into Flynn, Trump already knew that Flynn had lied to Comey's agency.
A lingering part of the drama has been that after the White House learned through the Justice Department that Flynn lied to the White House about discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador, Trump still waited 18 days to fire him.
Trump fired Comey in May and said he had the Russia probe in mind when he did it. The move backfired and led the Justice Department to appoint Mueller as the special prosecutor.
Trump's tweet about Flynn lying to both Pence and the FBI prompted Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, to pose some follow-up questions.
"If that is true, Mr. President, why did you wait so long to fire Flynn? Why did you fail to act until his lies were publicly exposed? And why did you pressure Director Comey to 'let this go?'" he asked on Twitter.
Comey himself seemed to be addressing the latest developments in an Instagram message: "To paraphrase the Buddha -- Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun; the moon; and the truth."
The Washington Post reported late Saturday, citing two people familiar with the matter, that Trump's tweet had been written by the president's lawyer John Dowd.
That calls into question what Trump knew about Flynn's lies, but also raises questions about the president's legal PR strategy.
The explosive new developments in the Russia probe have overshadowed the tax cuts approved Friday by the Senate in a step toward what would be Trump's first major legislative victory.
In an early morning Twitter post, Trump said his Republican Party would now work with the House of Representatives, which has passed its own tax bill, to produce a common version.
"Thank you to House and Senate Republicans for your hard work and commitment!" Trump wrote.
During a session that stretched into the night, the chamber voted 51 to 49 in favor of the most significant US tax overhaul in 31 years.
Both the Senate and House versions lower the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent, and include more modest tax cuts aimed at individuals across all income levels.
Democrats argue that the plan is too expensive and will accommodate only the rich, and that it could ultimately impact cherished US entitlement programs like Medicare.
The Senate bill was, just 24 hours earlier, on the brink of collapse when a handful of Republican deficit hawks balked at the plan's $1.5 trillion price tag for 10 years.
Trump hopes to sign a final bill before Christmas. That would be a sweet victory for the president, who has delivered on hardly any of his major campaign promises, including repealing the health care law known as Obamacare.
Also this week, Trump engaged in an extraordinary, testy cross-Atlantic spat triggered by his retweeting of anti-Muslim videos posted by a British far-right extremist group.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said what Trump did was "wrong." The US leader responded by telling May to focus on her own country and the threat of Islamist terror instead of him.