White House press secretary Sean Spicer spent much of his Tuesday press briefing insisting that Michael Flynn resigned from his post as national security adviser Monday because of a “trust” issue, and not due to a legal problem.
“There’s nothing that the general did that was a violation of any sort,” Spicer said. “What this came down to was a matter of trust.”
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, resigned Monday after just three weeks on the job following a series of bombshell reports that surfaced about his communications with a Russian ambassador prior to President Donald Trump taking office.
Multiple outlets reported Monday that former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and a senior career national security official told Donald McGahn, White House counsel, in late January about strong concerns related to Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Yates said she believed Flynn misled senior administration officials about his December phone call with the ambassador, during which Flynn reportedly urged Kislyak to not overreact to the latest round of sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama, who levied them in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.
The acting attorney general warned that Flynn was perhaps vulnerable to Russian blackmail, sources told The Washington Post. Flynn had told Vice President Mike Pence that he did not discuss the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russia with Kislyak. Pence later repeated Flynn’s claim in a CBS News interview.
When the stories began to break last week about the existence of transcripts of the calls, Flynn backtracked and said he could not be sure of what was discussed.
Additionally, it was reported by The New York Times Tuesday that the FBI interviewed Flynn during his first days in the White House.
Spicer said trust had been “eroded” between Flynn and the president. He added the administration has “been reviewing and evaluating this issue with respect to Gen. Flynn on a daily basis for a few weeks trying to ascertain the truth.” That included whether Flynn misled Pence.
In addition to the phone call with Kislyak, Spicer said there were “a serious number of other instances” involving Flynn that contributed to the dwindling trust of him by the administration, but he did not outline what those instances were.
The White House press secretary, contradicting the statements from other top administration officials from earlier, said Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation, not that Flynn offered to resign on his own.
Asked about when Trump was first notified of the late-January warning by Yates to McGahn about Flynn, Spicer said the president was made aware “immediately.” The White House then had McGahn review the situation, Spicer said, to see if any legal problems were afoot. The White House determined there were not.
“When the president heard the information as presented by White House counsel, he instinctively thought Gen. Flynn did not do anything wrong and the White House counsel’s review corroborated that,” Spicer said.
Others were not as certain that the discussion between Flynn and Kislyak was completely legal if the possible removal of sanctions were discussed. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said “there are potential criminal violations here,” and politicians on both sides of the aisle have asked for further questioning of Flynn, possibly embarking on an investigation into his Russian correspondences.
Trump did not advise Flynn to discuss the sanctions with Kislyak, Spicer said in the press briefing, adding that Trump “had no problem with the fact that he [Flynn] acted in accord to what his job was to be doing.”
“Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” Trump tweeted on December 30 after Russian President Vladimir Putin decided not to retaliate for the sanctions placed on his country the day before by the Obama administration. Flynn and Kislyak reportedly spoke several times on December 29 following the announcement of the new sanctions.
When asked Friday about the Post story that Flynn had misled administration officials about the content of his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Trump said he did not know of the story.
“I haven’t seen it,” he told reporters on Air Force One. “What report is that? I haven’t seen that. I’ll look into that.”
Spicer clarified Tuesday that Trump was only speaking about the Post story, not about the overall situation surrounding Flynn.
“The irony of this entire situation is that the president has been incredibly tough on Russia,” Spicer said, pointing to some of the Trump administration’s early moves in office.
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