Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 12 2017. Picture: Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 12 2017. Picture: Reuters

Washington — Donald Trump’s White House was in crisis mode on Tuesday following the resignation of a top aide, as it emerged the president knew for weeks about Michael Flynn’s controversial Kremlin contacts before deciding to act.

Questions were swirling on several other fronts: a possible ethics breach by another top adviser, and the president’s alleged use of an unsecured smartphone.

But the White House also grabbed headlines with a striking move on the diplomatic front, saying it would not insist on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Here are five takeaways from the day: As pressure mounted for an independent investigation into allegations that Flynn discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador, the White House revealed that Trump was told three weeks ago that his aide may have misled colleagues about the calls.

Trump’s national security adviser was finally asked to resign after what the White House said was a weeks-long internal investigation that turned up no evidence of wrongdoing but "eroded" trust.

The White House indicated that Trump’s final decision was based on Flynn having misled Vice-President Mike Pence about the substance of his calls with Sergey Kislyak.

But in a further twist, it emerged late on Tuesday that Trump kept his deputy — who publicly defended Flynn — in the dark for two weeks.

If indeed Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy, it could have breached US law on negotiating with foreign powers, and at minimum was a significant break with the norm that incoming administrations accept the US has "one government at a time". The US senate’s top Republican Mitch McConnell said it was "highly likely" that Flynn would be asked to testify before an intelligence panel on the subject.

Trump himself has remained uncharacteristically silent on the scandal rocking his young administration — although he took to Twitter early on Tuesday to insist that "The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?"

On the eve of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House signalled a sharp break with decades of support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior White House official said the US would no longer seek to dictate the terms of any eventual peace settlement, but would support what the two sides agree to together.

"A two-state solution that doesn’t bring peace is not a goal that anybody wants to achieve," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"Peace is the goal, whether that comes in the form of a two-state solution if that’s what the parties want or something else if that’s what the parties want."

For the better part of half a century, successive US governments — whether Republican or Democrat — have backed a two-state solution.

But since coming to office, Trump has sought to show that the US is an unwavering ally of Israel, trying to draw a contrast with president Barack Obama. Obama often warned that Israeli settlement construction could make a two-state solution impossible, and that a one-state solution would put the future of the Jewish state in question.

The US Office of Government Ethics has urged the White House to investigate Trump’s key aide Kellyanne Conway for plugging the fashion brand of his daughter Ivanka — saying she should probably face disciplinary action.

Conway sparked an uproar last week when she gave Ivanka Trump’s clothing a rave review on television.

The White House said after the fact that Conway had been "counselled" over the potential ethics breach.

But on Monday, Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub wrote to the White House stating that: "Under the present circumstances, there is strong reason to believe that Ms Conway has violated the standards of conduct and that disciplinary action is warranted.

"I recommend that the White House investigate Ms Conway’s actions and consider taking disciplinary action against her," he said.

Conway had urged shoppers to "go buy Ivanka’s stuff" after retailer Nordstrom announced it was dropping the first daughter’s line.

The president had previously hit out at the high-end store, saying his daughter had been treated "unfairly". Alarmed by reports that Trump was still tweeting from an old Android handset, two US senators said they had requested details on the president’s smartphone security, fearing he could jeopardise national secrets.

"Did Trump receive a secured, encrypted smartphone for his personal use on or before January 20? If so, is he using it?" senator Tom Carper asked in a series of tweets.

"Trump should be well aware by now of the appropriate and necessary protocol to safeguard our nation’s secrets."

Carper and fellow Democrat Claire McCaskill released a letter they sent to the administration, dated February 9, requesting information on the president’s device.

"The national security risks of compromising a smartphone used by a senior government official, such as the president of the US, are considerable," they warned in the letter to defence secretary James Mattis, homeland security chief John Kelly and National Security Agency director Michael Rogers.

The New York Times reported in January that while Trump received a new, secure device after his inauguration, he still relied on his older device despite protests from aides — and warnings from numerous security experts.

Since Trump took office on January 20, the White House has been closed to the public — with no news on when it might reopen — triggering rumblings of complaint in some quarters.

Melania Trump lifted the suspense by announcing that public tours of the 224-year-old presidential residence would resume March 7.

White House tours are highly popular with visitors to Washington, a perk arranged by members of congress for their constituents and foreign embassies for their nationals — and some legislators had begun complaining about the long delay in restarting tours.

The first lady, who plans to continue living at Trump Tower in New York until her 10-year-old son Barron finishes the school year, stressed her dedication to the "remarkable and historic site".

"We are excited to share its beauty and history," she said.

AFP

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