Here's a twist that has top GOP sources buzzing: On Jan. 26, Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, tells the White House that national security adviser Mike Flynn -- who has just been grilled by FBI agents -- had, in fact, discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the transition, despite denying it, and therefore is vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
Four days later, on Jan. 30, Trump fires Yates, citing her unwillingness to enforce his border order.
Two weeks after her heads-up to the White House, the Flynn secret explodes.
"They had to know she was radioactive, and that there would be consequences," said a West Wing confidant. "It was either reckless, or totally incompetence. It leads back to the fact that nobody is in charge."
A top source described "borderline chaos" in the White House.
"Some staff is in survival mode ... scared to death," the source said.
Internal leaks distract a White House. What we're seeing now is something much more consequential: leaks from throughout the government, plus a host of Obama alumni emptying their clips.
The news eruptions are gaining a Watergate aura -- constant, complicated revelations from intelligence agencies and federal law enforcement; White House denials; frenzied competition among the great news organizations.
Chuck Todd said at 5 p.m. on MSNBC (as quoted by Brian Stelter): "Welcome to Day 1 of what is arguably the biggest presidential scandal involving a foreign government since Iran-Contra. ... [H]unker down, because this is a Class 5 political hurricane that's hitting Washington."
And Trump has known that since the transition, per CNN's Pamela Brown, Jim Sciutto and Evan Perez: "President-elect Trump and then-President Barack Obama were both briefed on details of the extensive communications between suspected Russian operatives and people associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump business."
The Russia connection now becomes a consequential, ongoing story -- with not just threads for Dems to pull, but a whole new big ball of yarn.
Axios's Jonathan Swan reports that Pence's spokesman, Marc Lotter, said the V.P. only learned of Flynn's misleading statements from the Washington Post's story Thursday night.
And Swan reminds us of an overarching unanswered question: "Why did it take so long for the President to request Flynn's resignation?"
In a twist, Bloomberg's well-wired Eli Lake takes up for Flynn (and gets a "POLITICAL ASSASSINATION" Drudge banner): "[F]or a White House that has such a casual ... relationship with the truth, it's strange that Flynn's 'lie' to Pence would get him fired. It doesn't add up. It's not even clear that Flynn lied."
So does this change now? An AP overnighter ... "For GOP, a dimmed zeal for investigations in Trump era," by Erica Werner: "Rather than go along with Democrats' call for an independent outside investigation [of Flynn resignation -- what Trump knew, and when], Senate Republicans insisted ... that the Intelligence Committee could look at the circumstances as part of an existing probe into Russia's interference in the presidential election."
A stop-action New York Times front-pager by Michael Shear, "'Unbelievable Turmoil': Trump's First Month Leaves Washington Reeling," rewinds the past three weeks: "In record time, the 45th president has set off global outrage with a ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries, fired his acting attorney general for refusing to defend the ban and watched as federal courts swiftly moved to block the policy, calling it an unconstitutional use of executive power."
"The president angrily provoked the cancellation of a summit meeting with the Mexican president, hung up on Australia's prime minister, authorized a commando raid that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL member, repeatedly lied about the existence of millions of fraudulent votes cast in the 2016 election and engaged in Twitter wars with senators, a sports team owner, a Hollywood actor and a major department store chain. His words and actions have generated almost daily protests around the country."'
And all that was before firing his national security adviser on Day 25.
Leon Panetta, a Democrat who served as chief of staff, secretary of defense and C.I.A. director during a 50-year career that spanned nine presidents from both parties, to Shear: "I've never been so nervous in my lifetime about what may or may not happen in Washington."
"I don't know whether this White House is capable of responding in a thoughtful or careful way should a crisis erupt .... You can do hit-and-miss stuff over a period of time. But at some point, I don't give a damn what your particular sense of change is all about, you cannot afford to have change become chaos."
ABC's Jonathan Karl tweets that at yesterday's briefing when he asked about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, Sean Spicer "stood by earlier denials. Or I think he did."
Spicer said: " I don't have any -- there's nothing that would conclude me -- that anything different has changed with respect to that time period."
Well, now he does. The N.Y. Times drops combustible new information under a two-column lead headline, "Trump Aides Had Contact With Russian Intelligence: U.S. Officials Tell of a Flurry of Phone Calls Intercepted Before the Election," by Mike Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo: "
USA Today White House correspondent Greg Korte, who focuses on executive power as part of his portfolio, reports in the paper's lead story today, "White House posts wrong orders": "The White House has posted inaccurate texts of President Trump's own executive orders on the White House website, raising further questions about how thorough the Trump administration has been in drafting some of his most controversial actions."
Axios' Caitlin Owens, who's constantly on the Hill (ran into her yesterday when I was boarding the Senate subway), paints the GOP's trouble ahead in the starkest terms we have seen: "Despite Republican leaders' insistence that the Obamacare repeal effort is making steady progress, deep rifts have split the caucus. Hardliners in both the House and the Senate have threatened to oppose any repeal that isn't aggressive enough, which could kill the effort in both chambers if a bill loses either conservatives or moderates."
And now, the backstory on how we got here ... Robert Draper's cover story of the upcoming N.Y. Times Magazine, "Will Obamacare Really Go Under the Knife?," adds to evidence that Trump's base is headed for disappointment, with the GOP unlikely to end up with "a single gargantuan replacement bill."
Get smart fast:
Big banks, after nearly a decade of defensiveness, have roared back since the election. A Wall Street Journal front-pager, "Boom Time for Bank Stocks As Goldman Regains Peak," by Liz Hoffman and Christina Rexrode, captures the post-crisis milestones:
When Jim VandeHei, Roy Schwartz and I were doing our listening tour as we refined the big idea for Axios, one of the most frequently recommended sources of tech news was the Stratechery newsletter by Taiwan-based Ben Thompson, who focuses on tech companies' business strategy.
Recode's Peter Kakfa interviewed Ben at yesterday's Code Conference in California, with highlights in "How Ben Thompson built Stratechery into a one-man publishing empire":
With requests and complaints from the Hill piling up as the customary post-inaugural suspension stretched on, First Lady Melania Trump announced that White House tours will return March 7:
Esquire says Daniel Humm, a Swiss 40-year-old, is the greatest chef in America -- and that his Eleven Madison Park (11 Madison Ave., in the Flatiron District/Midtown South, at East 24th Street) is the best restaurant in America and may soon be #1 in the world. Jeff Gordinier, the magazine's Food and Drinks Editor, in the March issue:
"Eleven Madison Park ... is celebrated around the world for a casual clockwork opulence ... a vein of white-tablecloth grandeur that supposedly went out of style a long time ago. When people talk about the food there, they talk about a delirium of pleasure, a rush of extravagance that's usually associated with the Old World. ...
"Eat at Eleven Madison Park and a bartender will wheel a cocktail cart alongside your table to make you a manhattan as deftly balanced as Philippe Petit on a tightrope; a snowy globe of celery root will come hot and tender out of an inflated pig's bladder before being bathed in a truffled sauce; a sommelier will open a bottle of wine by firing up a pair of tongs with what looks like a Bunsen burner and then squeezing the hot tongs right below the cork to melt the glass; for dessert, a torrent of blue flame will pour down the white slopes of your Baked Alaska."