President Donald Trump said in a press conference Thursday that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was “just doing his job” when he discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the US in December.
Trump said Thursday that he did not direct Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But he added that he would have if he had know the nature of their discussions, “because that’s his job.”
“I don’t think he did anything wrong — if anything, he was doing something right,” Trump said. “He didn’t just call Russia, he called, and spoke to both ways, I think, 30-odd countries. He was just doing his job.”
Flynn resigned four days after The Washington Post and New York Times reported, together citing nearly a dozen current and former officials, that he had spoken with the Russian ambassador about sanctions before Trump was sworn in, despite Flynn’s repeated denials that anything sensitive was discussed on the calls.
Trump criticised the press for publishing “classified” information, though the reports never specified whether the sources came from within the intelligence community.
“The first thing I thought of when I heard about [Flynn] is how does the press get this information that’s classified?” Trump said. “How do they do it? You know why? Because it is a illegal process and the press should be ashamed of themselves.”
Intelligence officials began looking into potential contact between Trump’s team and Russian officials when Russian President Vladimir Putin decided not to retaliate against sanctions introduced by President Barack Obama in December, The Washington Post reported. Officials discovered that Flynn called the Russian ambassador the day Obama imposed the new penalties and gave him “the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time.”
The White House was briefed on the content of these calls on January 23, when Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general — backed by the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the director of national intelligence — reportedly warned the president that Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail by the Kremlin, which knew about the secret conversations.
Yates, who, along with top US intelligence officials, obtained transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak in late December, considered Flynn’s comments in at least one of his calls with Kislyak to be “highly significant” and “potentially illegal,” The Washington Post reported, citing a US official close to her.
The Defence Intelligence Agency has suspended Flynn’s security clearance, CNN reported on Wednesday, pending a review of his communication with the Russian ambassador before Trump was sworn in.
Trump insisted, however, that the only reason he asked for Flynn’s resignation is because he “didn’t tell our Vice President properly and then he said he didn’t remember, so either way that wasn’t very satisfactory to me.”
Vice President Mike Pence was reportedly “incensed” at Flynn for misleading him about the calls, The New York Times reported on Monday. Pence had defended Flynn in an interview with CBS on January 15, saying Flynn “didn’t discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador,” Flynn wrote in his resignation letter Monday night. “I have sincerely apologised to the president and vice president, and they have accepted my apology.”
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