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Trump White House Changes Its Story on Michael Flynn – The New York Times

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Trump White House Changes Its Story on Michael Flynn – The New York Times_5ebe2918a0569.jpeg
michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

[music]

Today: Federal prosecutors are asking a court to throw out their own criminal case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Mark Mazzetti on what led to that decision.

It’s Thursday, May 14.

Mark, remind us where the Michael Flynn story starts.

mark mazzetti

Well, Michael Flynn was a three-star Army general who had a quite distinguished career, became the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency under the Obama administration. And then he gradually sort of moves into the Trump orbit in 2016 when Trump was running for president. During the Republican convention —

archived recording (michael flynn)

We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law.

mark mazzetti

— he famously leads a chant —

archived recording (crowd)

Lock her up!

archived recording (michael flynn)

Yes, that’s right, lock her up!

mark mazzetti

Of “lock her up,” meaning to Hillary Clinton.

michael barbaro

Right.

archived recording (michael flynn)

If I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.

mark mazzetti

And after Trump is elected, he announces that he’s going to make Flynn his national security adviser. So it’s during this time when there’s a series of events that get Michael Flynn into trouble.

[music]

It’s shortly after Christmas in 2016 when the Obama administration announces a number of sanctions against Russia for its efforts to sabotage the 2016 campaign. It was soon after that —

archived recording

The Washington Post reports that Trump’s incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn, repeatedly called the Russian ambassador to the U.S. —

mark mazzetti

— that The Washington Post reported that Flynn had been on a number of phone calls with the Russian ambassador —

archived recording

— on the exact same day —

mark mazzetti

— on the same day the Obama sanctions were announced, which raised questions about whether the incoming Trump administration was trying to meddle with the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

archived recording (mike pence)

I talked to General Flynn about that conversation. Actually, it was —

mark mazzetti

Vice President-elect Mike Pence goes on “Face the Nation.”

archived recording (mike pence)

They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to impose a censure against Russia.

mark mazzetti

Pence says that Flynn had told him the sanctions never came up on the call. But the Justice Department had transcripts of the calls in which Flynn had actually urged the ambassador not to overreact to the Obama administration’s sanctions.

archived recording

F.B.I. agents interviewed Michael Flynn about whether he discussed U.S. sanctions with Russian —

mark mazzetti

So F.B.I. agents are sent to the White House to interview Flynn.

archived recording

What has he told investigators?

mark mazzetti

He tells them that the sanctions never came up on the call.

michael barbaro

Right, he’s lying to the F.B.I.

mark mazzetti

Right. This all becomes public, and in February 2017 —

archived recording

General Michael Flynn suddenly resigned late last night.

mark mazzetti

— Flynn is forced to resign.

archived recording

He is the shortest serving national security adviser now in modern history.

[music]
michael barbaro

And what happens to Flynn once he’s pushed out of the White House?

mark mazzetti

The F.B.I. continues to investigate Flynn, but very little is heard from him for a number of months. And during this time, President Trump starts leaning on James Comey, the F.B.I. director, in essence, to drop the Flynn investigation.

michael barbaro

Right.

mark mazzetti

And that raised this idea that the President of the United States was trying to obstruct justice. And that’s this kind of cataclysmic moment that ultimately sets off a chain of events that leads to not only Comey being fired, but also the appointment of Mueller as the special counsel.

michael barbaro

Right. In many ways, the Flynn saga is the beginning of the Mueller saga, and the beginning of a very dark chapter for the Trump administration.

mark mazzetti

That’s correct.

michael barbaro

What ends up happening to Michael Flynn?

mark mazzetti

Well —

archived recording

Flynn pled guilty to repeatedly lying to the F.B.I.

mark mazzetti

Flynn ends up pleading guilty to lying to the F.B.I.

archived recording

— says that he is cooperating —

mark mazzetti

Becomes a cooperating witness in the Mueller investigation. He’s awaiting sentence.

archived recording

Court documents make clear that Flynn was not acting alone.

mark mazzetti

And the significance was that he was the first top White House official to plead guilty as part of the Mueller investigation.

archived recording

Court papers say Flynn could get up to six months behind bars, but he was under —

michael barbaro

Mark, I feel like, for many people, that is where the Michael Flynn story pretty much ends, right? I mean, you have this three-star general, national security adviser who just totally falls from grace after lying to his bosses and the F.B.I., and now he’s headed to prison.

mark mazzetti

That’s right. And the Mueller investigation marches on, and the next significant point is the end of 2018 into 2019 when Flynn is set to be sentenced by a federal judge. And the Mueller team weighs in —

archived recording

Breaking news right now. Bob Mueller’s office is recommending to the judge that Michael Flynn actually not receive any prison time.

mark mazzetti

— and says Flynn’s been a good witness.

archived recording

Michael Flynn cooperated plenty with the special counsel.

mark mazzetti

They recommend very little, if any, jail time.

archived recording

The defendant provided firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the transition team and Russian government officials.

mark mazzetti

And something curious happens then, where Flynn’s legal team, which had been very cooperative towards the Mueller investigation, clearly — they cut what seemed to be a pretty good deal with the Mueller team — decide to take a more combative stance. They enter into the public record this idea that maybe Flynn had been railroaded, that the F.B.I. may have set him up. So this angers the judge. He really reads Flynn and his team the riot act, saying, are you now saying you’re not remorseful? And why are you now accusing the F.B.I. of misconduct? And basically says, let’s take a pause. We’re going to put this off for a few months and come back to me when you’ve found some remorse. In the intervening time, the ground starts to shift.

[music]
archived recording

William Barr has just been sworn in as the new attorney general, gaining broad control of the special counsel, Robert Mueller’s, Russia investigation.

mark mazzetti

William Barr takes over as attorney general.

archived recording (william barr)

I believe it is vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation.

mark mazzetti

He, during his confirmation hearing, pledges that he’s not going to interfere with the Mueller investigation. So Mueller famously then delivers his report to Barr in March of 2019.

archived recording (william barr)

The deputy attorney general and I concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.

mark mazzetti

And Barr writes a very short summary of sorts that he says summarizes Mueller’s findings, which we now know misinterprets the Mueller report. It’s quite clear starting at that point that Barr has great issues with not only the Mueller investigation, but how this all began — how the Russia investigation began at the F.B.I. and whether there was real misconduct.

archived recording (william barr)

I’ve been trying to get answers to questions, and I found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate, and I also —

mark mazzetti

So he makes no secret of the fact that he’s going to start investigating the investigation. He is going to launch a campaign to get to the bottom of what happened and whether there really was a political effort to go after Donald J. Trump and his advisers.

michael barbaro

And what does that mean for Michael Flynn awaiting sentencing for lying to the F.B.I.?

mark mazzetti

As the ground shifts, and as it’s clear that Barr is going to look at the predicate for the entire investigation, Flynn decides to get a new lawyer.

archived recording (sidney powell)

Nothing about this case was done right. They violated every rule, every protocol.

mark mazzetti

Who is not only a lawyer, but also a pundit of sorts.

archived recording (sidney powell)

The entire prosecution was false. It must be dismissed.

mark mazzetti

This is a Texas lawyer named Sidney Powell who has made no secret of the fact that she thinks the entire thing is a witch hunt.

archived recording (sidney powell)

Their prosecution of General Flynn was needed to keep the obstruction hoax going against the president, because they already knew the Russia hoax had fallen apart.

mark mazzetti

Very much in line with what the President of the United States has said.

archived recording (sidney powell)

So the whole thing was orchestrated and set up within the F.B.I.

mark mazzetti

And days before she takes over as Flynn’s lawyer, she writes a secret letter to Attorney General Barr where she writes, quote, “It is increasingly apparent that General Flynn was targeted and taken out of the Trump administration for concocted and political purposes.”

michael barbaro

Wow. So you’re saying Flynn recognizes the winds are changing, recognizing that there’s literally a new sheriff, attorney general in town, who’s skeptical of the entire Russia investigation, and so Flynn hires a lawyer who fits quite nicely into that dynamic.

mark mazzetti

Yes. And during that period of time, Attorney General Barr decides to appoint another prosecutor who’s going to examine the case and see whether there had been any misconduct that had taken place.

michael barbaro

So just to be clear, in addition to examining the roots of the Russia investigation broadly, Barr appoints a specific prosecutor inside the Department of Justice just to examine the Flynn case?

mark mazzetti

That’s right.

[music]

And that leads to the release of a number of documents to the public in recent weeks that have led both Flynn’s lawyers and the president to make the case that Michael Flynn was indeed railroaded and set up by the F.B.I.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

Mark, tell us what’s inside these documents.

mark mazzetti

In essence, the documents are internal F.B.I. and Justice Department communications around the time that Flynn was interviewed by the F.B.I. And what they show, kind of broadly, are that there was concern about the decision to interview Flynn. One of the documents that got a lot of attention was written by Bill Priestap, who at the time was the head of the F.B.I.‘s Counterintelligence Division, which was running the whole Russia investigation. And this is January 24, four days after the Trump administration takes over, and right before there is this decision to go send F.B.I. agents to interview the national security adviser. And Priestap writes, quote, “What’s our goal, truth/admission or to get him to lie so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”

michael barbaro

Wow.

mark mazzetti

In another document, he seems to understand the risks of conducting this interview, and he says, “Protect our institution by not playing games. And if we are seen playing games, the White House will be furious.”

michael barbaro

Some of that language is quite potentially inflammatory, the idea that the person running the investigation is wondering if their goal might be to get the national security adviser fired — essentially, to get him in trouble.

mark mazzetti

It raises this question of whether Sidney Powell, Flynn’s lawyers, had a point, that they were trying to set him up, right? And finally, there’s also interesting divide that is revealed between the F.B.I. and the Justice Department, and what some of the documents show is that there was some concern of Justice Department about what the F.B.I. was up to.

michael barbaro

So there’s some concern about whether or not interviewing Flynn is at all a good idea.

mark mazzetti

Right. And we find out that the F.B.I. only tells the Justice Department they’re going to go do this while the agents are on their way to the White House.

michael barbaro

Huh. Mark, what happens once these internal F.B.I. documents are released? What’s the reaction?

mark mazzetti

This unleashes a torrent of criticism.

archived recording (sidney powell)

He should dismiss the case for egregious government misconduct without a doubt.

mark mazzetti

By Flynn’s lawyer, Sidney Powell —

archived recording (sidney powell)

— that the government has been hiding this evidence that shows their own crimes while they were accusing Mr. Flynn falsely of any crimes because they made it all up.

mark mazzetti

— by other commentators on the right —

archived recording 1

A lot of people close to this feel like Michael Flynn was setup, never lied.

archived recording 2

Admitting that they got things completely wrong, and actively worked to defame —

archived recording 3

Instead, it looks like two systems of justice in terms of how the F.B.I. handled Hillary Clinton and how they handled Donald Trump.

mark mazzetti

— by President Trump —

archived recording (donald trump)

When I looked at what they did to him, they tormented him. Dirty cops tormented General Flynn.

mark mazzetti

— making the case that Flynn should never have been interviewed, and the case should now be dropped.

[music]
michael barbaro

And what would be the legal basis for that argument? What in the documents do Flynn’s lawyers seize on and say makes his prosecution illegitimate?

mark mazzetti

Well, they’re saying that these documents reveal that there was real concern in the F.B.I. about whether the interview should have taken place in the first place.

michael barbaro

Mm-hmm.

mark mazzetti

And if the interview doesn’t take place, then there’s no lies to worry about. And if there’s no lies, then there’s nothing to prosecute Flynn on. And therefore, there is no case period, and Michael Flynn should walk free. You have no predicate to be there in the beginning, then whatever you find is immaterial to the investigation. And this is what Barr seizes on when he makes this incredibly dramatic decision last week.

archived recording

Just in this afternoon, the Justice Department is dropping its criminal case against President Trump’s former national security adviser, retired General Michael Flynn.

mark mazzetti

To drop the charges against Michael Flynn.

archived recording

The Justice Department today is holding that there was not a legitimate basis to do an investigation of Flynn.

mark mazzetti

Barr said there was never any good reason to interview Michael Flynn in the first place, and so whatever Flynn said during the interview was irrelevant. And Barr even goes further than that.

archived recording (catherine herridge)

Attorney General Barr, thank you for speaking first to CBS news.

archived recording (william barr)

Hi, Catherine.

mark mazzetti

In an interview last week, he not only criticizes the decisions that were made at the time to interview Flynn —

archived recording (william barr)

There was not, in our view, a legitimate investigation —

mark mazzetti

— but he also goes to bat for Flynn going all the way back to Flynn’s phone calls with the Russian ambassador.

archived recording (william barr)

And it is very typical and very common for the national security team of the incoming president to communicate with foreign leaders. And that call, there was nothing wrong with it whatever. In fact, it was laudable. And it was nothing inconsistent with the Obama administration’s policies, and it was in U.S. interest. He was saying to the Russians, don’t escalate.

mark mazzetti

He actually says that the phone calls were laudable, and that it was perfectly understandable that Flynn would talk to the Russian ambassador to try to lower tensions in a very tense environment.

archived recording

When history looks back on this decision, how do you think it will be written?

archived recording (william barr)

Well, history is written by the winners, so it largely depends on who’s writing the history.

michael barbaro

I mean, what’s fascinating about what Barr is doing is that it does not feel like every day when the Department of Justice sides with a defendant in a criminal prosecution over its own prosecutors who have successfully gone after that defendant.

mark mazzetti

And it’s in keeping with what William Barr has done for a year. From the time that Robert Mueller presented his report to barr, Barr has questioned the legitimacy of the investigation and any fruits of that investigation. He has questioned whether those prosecuted were done so fairly, or whether the F.B.I. overreached. He has also backed decisions to lower sentences of others.

michael barbaro

Mark, is Barr’s legal analysis in the Flynn case sound? Is it in dispute?

mark mazzetti

Barr’s decision has been widely criticized. Plenty of legal experts say that prosecutors in general have wide discretion to decide which aspects of the investigation they want to pursue, what is germane to the case, and in this specific instance, the fact that there was an ongoing investigation into contact between Trump aides and the Russians would make Flynn’s calls germane to this particular investigation. That is not to say that now looking back, there haven’t been instances of F.B.I. abuse over the course of the Russia investigation.

michael barbaro

Mark, given everything you’ve just said, and reading these documents that have been released from the Department of Justice about the debate that went on inside the F.B.I. — these notes from an agent about how to conduct this interview, whether they might, basically, trap Flynn in a lie and get him fired — I mean, is there a version of this where what Bill Barr has done is exactly what any justice system should do when there are serious questions about the legitimacy of a prosecution, which is kind of give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant?

mark mazzetti

You always want greater transparency when it comes to how an investigation was conducted. That’s true if the target is Michael Flynn, or if the target is someone far less famous. The concern, of course, is whether there is abuse going on in the other direction.

michael barbaro

What do you mean?

mark mazzetti

That what the attorney general is doing is, in effect, launching a campaign to discredit the investigation, to discredit the Mueller probe, to discredit its results in a way that will ultimately benefit his boss, President Trump. Remember, President Trump, who’s been railing against the quote unquote “witch hunt” for years, will be using this for his re-election campaign. So the concern, of course, is that Bill Barr is kind of acting as a proxy warrior for the president.

michael barbaro

But Mark, is it possible that both things can be true — that the Attorney General Bill Barr may be trying to discredit the entire Russia investigation, and in the process, very much oversimplify things, and that the prosecution of Michael Flynn might be flawed?

mark mazzetti

Yes, both of those things can be true.

[music]

And this is why the passions are so intense on this issue, because both sides want to control the narrative, and because of that, can’t allow, necessarily, any gray area in this argument. Either Michael Flynn is a hero or he’s a traitor. Either the Mueller investigation was a just pursuit, or it was a witch hunt. And of course, there is a lot of space between those characterizations and nuance that gets lost because the political debate is black and white.

michael barbaro

So Mark, what’s going to happen to Michael Flynn now?

mark mazzetti

Well, of course, given what William Barr decided, there is a very likely scenario that Michael Flynn soon is a free man and he is brought back into the fold, and in the coming months, we see him once again campaigning for Donald Trump.

michael barbaro

Thank you, Mark.

mark mazzetti

Thanks, Michael.

[music]
michael barbaro

On Wednesday night, The Times reported that before the Department of Justice sought to throw out the case against Michael Flynn, it had interviewed the F.B.I. official whose notes have been interpreted as potentially seeking to entrap Flynn. In that interview, the official, Bill Priestap, said that his notes had been misconstrued and that there was no effort to set Flynn up.

[music]

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today.

archived recording (jerome powell)

The scope and speed of this downturn are without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since World War II. We are seeing a severe decline in economic activity —

michael barbaro

In a speech on Wednesday, the chairman of the Federal Reserve warned that the pandemic could permanently damage the American economy if Congress does not act to prevent a wave of bankruptcies and prolonged unemployment.

archived recording (jerome powell)

Long stretches of unemployment can damage or end workers’ careers as their skills lose value and professional networks dry up and leave families in greater debt.

michael barbaro

The message from Jerome Powell suggested that the trillions of dollars that Congress has already pumped into the economy may not be enough.

archived recording (jerome powell)

Additional fiscal support could be costly, but worth it if it helps avoid long-term damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.

michael barbaro

And the House of Representatives is poised to temporarily change its rules to allow lawmakers to vote and hold committee hearings remotely, so that they can avoid traveling to Washington during the pandemic. The rules, expected to pass tomorrow, would mark a major change for a body long defined by the tradition of meeting and voting in person.

[music]

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

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Cabinet slashes budgets to pay for 6 new ministries, including ‘alternate PM’ – The Times of Israel

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Cabinet slashes budgets to pay for 6 new ministries, including ‘alternate PM’ – The Times of Israel_5ed43a3d6fdc5.jpeg

The cabinet on Sunday approved widespread fiscal reforms that will cut the budgets of most ministries in order to fund the establishment of six new ministries, including the office of the “alternate prime minister,” in a series of controversial decisions.

A unity coalition deal between Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz ended over a year of political deadlock when the most minister-rich government in Israel’s history was sworn in earlier this month. New ministerial positions were created to accommodate the cabinet’s 33 ministers, who number over a quarter of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers.

The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government has been estimated as high as a billion shekels ($285 million) over its three-year span. There have been widespread accusations that the government is overlarge and costly at a time when the economy is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the new offices created Sunday was the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office, which will be held by Defense Minister Gantz for 18 months and then be transferred to Netanyahu as part of a power-sharing deal designed to allow him to keep the prime ministerial title even after vacating the post. Unlike other ministers, a prime minister can remain in his post even after he is indicted on criminal charges.

Other offices are Ze’ev Elkin’s Water Resources and Higher Education ministries; Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Ministry of Community Empowerment; David Amsalem’s Cyber Ministry; and Tzipi Hotovely and Tzachi Hanegbi’s Settlements Ministry.

Gantz — who is currently defense minister, in addition to the new post of alternate premier — is set to take over as prime minister in 18 months under the coalition deal, at which point Netanyahu will become alternate prime minister.

As the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office was approved, Netanyahu on Sunday denied reports that the alternate prime minister would also be granted an alternate prime minister’s residence. “It’s not true. It didn’t come up and it won’t,” he said.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are seen at the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (ALEX KOLOMOISKY/POOL)

In order to create the new posts, ministers approved a government decision that will see a 1.5% cut to the budgets of all government offices, specifically at the upper personnel level. The move will slash 300 posts from the various offices to free up some NIS 100 million ($28.5 million).

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi opposed the budget cuts to foreign service, whereupon the cuts to his ministry were reduced from NIS 11.5 million ($3.2 million) to NIS 4.8 million ($1.3 million), the Walla news site reported.

Incoming Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, right, with his predecessor, incoming Finance Minister Israel Katz, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 18, 2020 (Foreign Ministry)

On the 22-item agenda, the cabinet was also voting on filling the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, led by Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn, and other ministerial panels; appointing directors general of the defense and economy ministries; and giving the green light to new Finance Minister Israel Katz’s program to encourage employment amid the pandemic.

In a Saturday night address, Katz presented his new Finance Ministry plan aimed at encouraging employers to take back employees placed on unpaid leave during the height of the pandemic in March. For every employee called back, places of business will receive a grant of NIS 7,500 ($2,141) starting on June 1, according to the plan. An additional grant of some NIS 3,500 ($1,000) will be handed out to employers for employees called back in May. Katz said some NIS 500 million ($142 million) have been allocated for businesses that would put employees back to work.

Economy Minister Amir Peretz opposed the treasury proposal during the meeting, arguing that it rewards employers who dropped their workers while harming those who kept their employees on the payroll even at a loss, according to the Globes business daily.

Katz retorted: “There is an alternate prime minister. There is no alternate finance minister. I am the finance minister and I will lead the implementation of the government decisions, which I proposed, and which were accepted by an overwhelming majority,” the Ynet news site reported.

Incoming Economy Minister Amir Peretz at a changeover ceremony in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sunday’s cabinet meeting also saw Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri receive building and planning powers that were previously under the treasury’s purview, while the Health Ministry was granted additional powers to combat the coronavirus.

The meeting on Sunday was held in the Foreign Ministry’s auditorium as the regular cabinet meeting rooms were not large enough to accommodate all the ministers while maintaining social distancing, according to reports.

Opposition chairman Yair Lapid issued a statement blasting the government after ministers approved funding for the newly formed offices created by the Gantz-Netanyahu coalition deal.

“The government handed half a billion shekels to itself today. Not for the self-employed, not for the unemployed, not for small businesses, but for itself,” said Lapid.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid at the Knesset as the 35th government of Israel is presented on May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Adina Veldman)

“For redundant offices like the Water Resources Ministry, the nonexistent Community Empowerment Ministry and for deputy ministers that no one needs. Detached lawmakers, we’ve had enough of you.”

Separately, last Wednesday,  a bill allowing ministers to give up their positions as Knesset members in order to enable a different member of their party slate to take their spot in parliament passed its preliminary Knesset plenary reading. The so-called Norwegian Law — which still requires three more votes to become law — would allow any MK who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting the next candidate on the party’s list to enter parliament in his or her stead.

The opposition has blasted the bill, and the coalition’s rush to pass it, as a way of pushing more people into sweetheart jobs on the taxpayers’ dime.

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Tapper: Some of Trump’s allies think he’s not up to the task – CNN

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In Days of Discord, President Trump Fans the Flames – The New York Times

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In Days of Discord, President Trump Fans the Flames – The New York Times_5ed43a2a0f874.jpeg

WASHINGTON — With a nation on edge, ravaged by disease, hammered by economic collapse, divided over lockdowns and even face masks and now convulsed once again by race, President Trump’s first instinct has been to look for someone to fight.

Over the last week, America reeled from 100,000 pandemic deaths, 40 million people out of work and cities in flames over a brutal police killing of a subdued black man. But Mr. Trump was on the attack against China, the World Health Organization, Big Tech, former President Barack Obama, a cable television host and the mayor of a riot-torn city.

While other presidents seek to cool the situation in tinderbox moments like this, Mr. Trump plays with matches. He roars into any melee he finds, encouraging street uprisings against public health measures advanced by his own government, hurling made-up murder charges against a critic, accusing his predecessor of unspecified crimes, vowing to crack down on a social media company that angered him and then seemingly threatening to meet violence with violence in Minneapolis.

As several cities erupted in street protests after the killing of George Floyd, some of them resulting in clashes with the police, Mr. Trump made no appeal for calm. Instead in a series of tweets and comments to reporters on Saturday, he blamed the unrest on Democrats, called on “Liberal Governors and Mayors” to get “MUCH tougher” on the crowds, threatened to intervene with “the unlimited power of our Military” and even suggested his own supporters mount a counterdemonstration.

The turmoil came right to Mr. Trump’s doorstep for the second night in a row on Saturday as hundreds of people protesting Mr. Floyd’s death and the president’s response surged in streets near the White House. While most were peaceful, chanting “black lives matter” and “no peace, no justice,” some spray painted scatological advice for Mr. Trump, ignited small fires, set off firecrackers and threw bricks, bottles and fruit at Secret Service and United States Park Police officers, who responded with pepper spray.

The police cordoned off several blocks around the Executive Mansion as a phalanx of camouflage-wearing National Guard troops marched across nearby Lafayette Square. A man strode through the streets yelling, “Time for a revolution!” The image of the White House surrounded by police in helmets and riot gear behind plastic shields fueled the sense of a nation torn apart.

Mr. Trump praised the Secret Service for being “very cool” and “very professional” but assailed the Democratic mayor of Washington for not providing city police officers to help on Friday night, which she denied. While governors and mayors have urged restraint, Mr. Trump seemed more intent on taunting the protesters, bragging about the violence that would have met them had they tried to get onto White House grounds.

“Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence,” the president wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. “If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action.”

His suggestion that his own supporters should come to the White House on Saturday foreshadowed the possibility of a clash outside his own doors. “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???” he wrote on Twitter, using the acronym for his first campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Asked about the tweet later, he denied encouraging violence by his supporters. “They love African-American people,” he said. “They love black people. MAGA loves the black people.” By evening, however, Mr. Trump’s supporters were not in evidence among the crowds at the White House.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington responded sharply on Saturday morning, saying her police department will protect anyone in Washington, including the president, and by Saturday evening her officers were out in force around the White House.

But she called the president a source of division. “While he hides behind his fence afraid/alone, I stand w/ people peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder of #GeorgeFloyd & hundreds of years of institutional racism,” she wrote. “There are no vicious dogs & ominous weapons. There is just a scared man. Afraid/alone …”

After his morning barrage, Mr. Trump tried to recalibrate later in the day, devoting the opening of a speech at the Kennedy Space Center following the SpaceX rocket launch to the unrest in the streets and clearly trying to temper his bellicose tone.

“I understand the pain that people are feeling,” he said. “We support the right of peaceful protesters and we hear their pleas. But what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or peace. The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters and anarchists.”

The days of discord have put the president’s leadership style on vivid display. From the start of his ascension to power, Mr. Trump has presented himself as someone who seeks conflict, not conciliation, a fighter, not a peacemaker. That appeals to a substantial portion of the public that sees in him a president willing to take on an entrenched and entitled establishment.

But the confluence of perilous health, economic and now racial crises has tested his approach and left him struggling to find his footing just months before an election in which polls currently show him behind.

“The president seems more out-of-touch and detached from the difficult reality the country is living than ever before,” said Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Florida who has been critical of Mr. Trump. “At a moment when America desperately needs healing, the president is focused on petty personal battles with his perceived adversaries.”

Such a moment would challenge any president, of course. It has been a year of national trauma that started out feeling like another 1998 with impeachment, then another 1918 with a killer pandemic combined with another 1929 given the shattering economic fallout. Now add to that another 1968, a year of deep social unrest.

It is fair to say that 2020 has turned out to be a year that has frayed the fabric of American society with an accumulation of anguish that has whipsawed the country and its people. But in some ways, Mr. Trump has become a totem for the nation’s polarization rather than a mender of it.

“I am daily thinking about why and how a society unravels and what we can do to stop the process,” said Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University. “The calamity these days is about more than Trump. He is just the malicious con man who lives to exploit our vulnerabilities.”

As the nation has confronted a coronavirus pandemic at the same time as the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, whatever unified resolve that existed at the beginning of the twin crises quickly evaporated into yet another cultural clash. And the president has made everything into just another partisan dispute rather than a source of consensus, from when and how to reopen to whether to wear a mask in public.

Mr. Trump led no national mourning as the death toll from the coronavirus passed 100,000 beyond lowering the flags at the White House, posting a single tweet and offering a passing comment on camera only when asked about it. Rather than seek agreement on the best and safest way to restore daily life, he threatened to “override” governors who prevented places of worship from resuming crowded services.

“Crisis leadership demands much more from the White House than irresponsible threats on social media,” said Meena Bose, director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University.

Mr. Trump’s initial response to the rioting in Minneapolis, where a police officer has been charged with murder after kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he cried out that he could not breathe, underscored the president’s most instinctive response to national challenges. Threatening to send in troops, he wrote early Friday morning that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Only after a cascade of criticism did he try to walk it back, posting a new tweet 13 hours later, suggesting that all he had meant was that “looting leads to shooting” by people in the street.

“I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means,” he said, a reformulation that convinced few if any of his critics.

Even some of Mr. Trump’s usual allies were distressed at the original shooting tweet. Geraldo Rivera, the television and radio host who often spends time with Mr. Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, decried “the recklessness” of that message and called on the president “to self-censor himself.”

“Come on, what is this, sixth grade?” Mr. Rivera said on Fox News. “You don’t put gasoline on the fire. That’s not calming anybody.” He added: “All he does is diminish himself.”

But many of the president’s defenders rejected the idea that he had mishandled the crises, pressing the argument that Democrats and the news media were to blame for the turmoil in the streets, which spread from Minneapolis to New York, Atlanta, Washington, Louisville, Portland and other cities.

“Keep track of cities where hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and serious injuries and death will take place,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has served as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, wrote on Twitter on Friday night. “All Democrat dominated cities with criminal friendly policies. This is the future if you elect Democrats.”

Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who was pardoned by Mr. Trump for tax fraud earlier this year, amplified the point on Twitter. “It should be no surprise that every one of these cities that the anarchist have taken over, are the same cities run by leftist Democrats with the highest violence, murder and poverty rates,” he wrote on Twitter. “They can’t handle their cities normally, so how are they going to deal with this?”

Mr. Trump, who this past week retweeted a video of a supporter saying that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” (though the supporter insisted he meant that in a political sense), picked up the theme on Saturday.

With crowds visible from his upstairs windows, Mr. Trump reached for his phone and again assailed the “Democrat Mayor” of Minneapolis for not responding more vigorously and called on New York to unleash its police against crowds. “Let New York’s Finest be New York’s Finest,” he wrote. “There is nobody better, but they must be allowed to do their job!”

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