What Flynn's Ouster Means For Netanyahu and Trump

Feb 15, 2017
Originally published on February 15, 2017 8:18 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here are the headlines from the Trump White House over just the last day or so - National security adviser Michael Flynn resigns; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a big meeting with President Trump today; and reports that the Trump campaign was in touch with senior Russian intelligence officials during last year's campaign, when Russia was accused of trying to influence the outcome. Let's talk through all of this with NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.

Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, David.

GREENE: So we're learning this morning that these stories are kind of interrelated in a way. I mean, Michael Flynn is out as national security adviser because of conversations with Russia's ambassador. That came to light because U.S. intelligence was monitoring the ambassador's phone calls, sounds like that's not all they were monitoring.

HORSLEY: That's right. The New York Times is reporting that the FBI is now sifting through a large volume of telephone records and intercepts that show repeated contacts between Russian intelligence officials and several Trump associates, including his former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Now, this information is separate from the conversation that Michael Flynn had with the Russian ambassador. That happened late last year, during the transition. These earlier contacts go back to a time during the presidential campaign, when intelligence officials in this country also say Russians were involved in cyberhacking on the Democratic National Committee and other organizations in an effort to help elect Donald Trump.

Now, we should say Paul Manafort denies having any knowing conversations with Russian intelligence officials, and the Times says it's possible those contacts were inadvertent.

GREENE: Yeah. And the Times also says that there is no evidence at this point that the Trump campaign was somehow colluding with Russia to influence the outcome of the election - no evidence of that at this point at all.

HORSLEY: Right.

GREENE: You know, we're going to be talking a lot about that story throughout the morning and throughout the day. But let's turn to this big meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli media reporting that Michael Flynn's ouster from the White House as national security adviser has really rattled Prime Minister Netanyahu, who considered the former national security adviser a real ally - right?

HORSLEY: Right. And, you know, Netanyahu, who had a famously frosty relationship with former President Obama was really hoping to get a much warmer welcome from this new administration. If you think back just before Christmas, the outgoing Obama administration opted not to use its veto power at the U.N., clearing the way for a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement activity as a flagrant violation of international law.

And at that time, Donald Trump got on his Twitter feed and said things will be different after January 20. He's nominated a very pro-settlement ambassador to Israel. It looked, for a time, as if Israel was going to get a blank check from the incoming administration. But in more recent days, Trump and his team have moderated their stance just a bit. So it's going to be very interesting to see what comes out of today's meetings.

GREENE: What do you mean moderated its stance?

HORSLEY: Well, for example, Trump now says he wants to move cautiously on moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something his nominee for ambassador has talked about doing. The Trump administration also put out a rather mixed statement not long ago on Israeli settlement activity. It said while settlements are not an impediment to peace, expansion of settlements beyond their current boundaries may not be helpful.

It sort of sounds as if the Trump White House is reverting to an old George W. Bush formulation, where settlements in areas that are more or less contiguous with Israel might be OK but more remote settlements are not because they could jeopardize the prospects for a future Palestinian state.

GREENE: Well, Scott, if we look at this broadly, I mean, there have not been any direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for almost three years now. Is there hope at this moment, as Benjamin Netanyahu sits down with Donald Trump, for those talks to restart at any point?

HORSLEY: There's hope on Donald Trump's side. He said he'd like to see a new round of talks. He says he wants to put his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of brokering what he's called the ultimate deal. Some Israelis however, including some members of Netanyahu's own governing coalition, are wary of a new round of negotiations. And they've cautioned the prime minister not to even talk about a Palestinian state while he's here in Washington.

So this could be a question for both leaders when they hold their joint news conference at noontime today. Are they still committed to the two-state solution?

GREENE: And briefly, we have the Iran nuclear deal as another backdrop for these meetings.

HORSLEY: This is an area where Trump has been very closely aligned with Netanyahu. He was very critical of the nuclear deal, as Netanyahu was, although - for the moment at least - Trump continues to abide by that deal. His administration is talking tough about cracking down on Iran's other troublemaking in the region. They put Iran on notice. That warning was issued earlier this month by now-former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

GREENE: OK. Lots to talk about at the White House. That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.

Thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.