Trump aides considered new Twitter rules after troublesome Flynn tweet

Donald Trump's tweet last weekend about fired national security adviser Michael Flynn sparked consideration among the President's staff of imposing new rules on how messages are posted on his social media accounts amid consternation by his aides and lawyers, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Trump vented privately at the time that the message had caused more trouble on a topic -- the Russia investigation -- that has clouded his presidency. He expressed indignation that the tweet, combined with Flynn's guilty plea itself, had obscured the Senate's approval of a sweeping tax cut package.

It's not clear whether new restrictions on Trump's Twitter were put in place. In the days since, the President has largely steered clear of tweeting about controversial matters like the Russia probe. But as with past pauses in his Twitter habits, there's little expectation among Trump's staff that he'll be quiet for long.

 

 

As the Flynn message raised questions about whether Trump had admitted to obstructing justice, the President dressed down aides for not catching the implication of the tweet before it went online.

After his post about Flynn, Trump continued tweeting in angry bursts about the Russia investigation and the FBI, whose reputation he claimed was in "Tatters."

But since Monday, the President has largely avoided controversial posts on Twitter, his favorite method for conveying thoughts on policy, the news or seemingly anything else that enters his mind. Instead, his tweets have stuck largely to his administration's script, including messages about his decisions to shrink two national monuments in Utah and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

'I had to fire General Flynn'

Like many of his most incendiary tweets, Trump's message about firing Flynn came on a Saturday. As he was being ferried between fund-raisers in Manhattan, this message posted: "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!"

That raised immediate questions about what Trump had known about Flynn's lies when he fired FBI Director James Comey -- who ran the agency during Flynn's January interviews where he later admitted to lying.

Hours after the post appeared, Trump's outside attorney John Dowd said he had drafted the tweet. The sources familiar with the matter said Trump wanted to weigh in on Flynn's guilty plea, which had been unveiled a day earlier. Dowd, who doesn't have access to Trump's Twitter account, sent the language to Dan Scavino, the White House social media director, who oversaw its posting online.

The greater fear among some of Trump's aides was the tweet's potential as evidence in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which is looking into possible collusion between Moscow and Trump's presidential campaign.

That led to some aides advocating a more stringent approach to sending messages on Twitter, though a formal overhaul of the process does not appear to have transpired.

Trump gets messages on Twitter a variety of ways. During last year's campaign, Scavino told CNN that Trump dictated his messages to staff members sitting outside his office.

"When he wants to get something out, he'll dictate it out to the girls," Scavino said in 2016. Scavino himself took the dictation on the campaign trail, where he usually accompanied Trump.

Long-frustrated advisers

Trump has long frustrated some of his advisers by tweeting unvarnished thoughts that can fuel news cycles. There was a push earlier in his presidency to provide greater vetting to the tweets -- including the possibility of running them past a team of lawyers before they're posted -- but the feasibility of such a system was deemed impractical in most cases.

His first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, told an audience at Duke University this week that he had lobbied the President to little avail on how he should tweet during last year's campaign. He said Trump's arguments in favor of the medium were hard to rebut.

"He can say, 'Most of you in a million years never thought I'd be sitting here, and I am. I've got 100 million people that are following me and I won by a razor's edge. Without these tweets ... and constant public debates, I don't think I'd be president.' And it's a hard thing to argue with," Priebus said.

Trump is proud of his online following, and even bragged to professional golfer Brad Faxton last month that he had "158 million" followers on Twitter (his actual total: 44.2 million).

Most in the White House -- including Priebus' successor, John Kelly -- have largely given up the idea they can stop Trump from making provocative remarks on social media. Instead, they say, they work around the tweets.

"Believe it or not -- I don't follow the tweets," Kelly said during Trump's trip last month in Asia. "We develop policy in the normal, traditional staff way."

Kelly and his deputies have largely discovered that the key to keeping Trump from damaging himself and hampering his agenda on Twitter is to keep him busy with meetings and briefings. On his foreign trips, Trump has stuck closely to script as he jets between foreign capitals. The presence of his wife, Melania, has also seemed to act as a moderating factor, though not always.

This week, as Trump flies to Florida for a campaign rally in support of embattled Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and a weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort, there are few expectations among his aides that the Twitter quiet will last.

Melania Trump isn't expected to accompany him. Her spokesperson said instead that the first lady would remain in Washington.