US national security adviser Michael Flynn said Monday that he may have discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the US before President Donald Trump Trump was sworn into office, despite previously insisting he hadn’t.
One of Trump’s top advisers said he still had “full confidence” in his national security adviser, but the White House press secretary said later that Trump was “evaluating the situation.”
Flynn’s admission came in the form of an apology to Vice President Mike Pence, USA Today reported, citing a White House official. Pence had defended Flynn in an interview with CBS last month, saying he “didn’t discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
Reports emerged over the weekend and into Monday that Flynn was on thin ice with the president and could be ousted from his position. But Trump’s senior counselor, Kellyanne Conway, seemed to told MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki that Flynn continues to “enjoy the full confidence of the president.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a subsequent statement that Trump is “evaluating the situation” involving Flynn.
Trump “is speaking to Vice President Pence relative to the conversation the Vice President had with General Flynn and also speaking to various other people about what he considers the single most important subject there is — our national security,” Spicer said.
When pressed by Kornacki about whether Trump was bothered by the fact that Flynn may have lied to White House officials, including the vice president, about the calls, Conway replied that Kornacki was “asking hypotheticals.”
“What if it’s not true?” she asked, saying that Flynn had merely said he could “not recall” whether sanctions were discussed on the calls.
The Washington Post and New York Times reported on Thursday night, citing nearly a dozen current and former officials in total, that Flynn had spoken with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, about sanctions before Trump was sworn in. Those talks included at least one call on the day President Barack Obama imposed new penalties on Russia for its election-related meddling, according to the reports.
Counterintelligence officials told the Times they had transcripts of the conversations. Flynn denied the allegations through Wednesday, according to the Post, but then backed away from those denials through his spokesperson on Thursday.
Flynn, the spokesperson said, “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
Federal officials who have read the transcript of the call were “surprised by Mr. Flynn’s comments, since he would have known that American eavesdroppers closely monitor such calls,” the Times reported. “They were even more surprised that Mr. Trump’s team publicly denied that the topics of conversation included sanctions.”
Top Democrats have called for Flynn to step down, noting that he may have violated the Logan Act by discussing sensitive topics such as sanctions with a foreign official. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Monday became the latest Democrat to call for Trump to fire Flynn.
The Logan Act prohibits private citizens from engaging in diplomacy on behalf of the United States, but it is unclear if that would extend to a president-elect’s transition team, Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said last month.
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