Flynn Resigns as Security Adviser Amid Russia Contacts

Updated on
  • National security adviser under scrutiny over Russia contacts
  • Democrats call for Flynn to step down over misleading answers

Michael Flynn resigned his post as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, a senior administration official said, news that came after the Justice Department had warned the White House of its concerns over Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

This official, meanwhile, rejected reports that retired General David Petraeus was being considered for Flynn’s job. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal personnel matters.

The White House had said earlier Monday that Trump is still “evaluating” Flynn’s actions amid questions over whether he misled Vice President Mike Pence about whether he discussed sanctions with Russia’s envoy to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Pence told a TV interviewer that Flynn didn’t discuss the sanctions but now says he was basing that assertion solely on Flynn’s word.

The administration official said the White House has been reviewing Flynn’s actions for several weeks in light of the Justice Department’s warning. The Justice Department actions were reported earlier by the Washington Post, which says former acting attorney general Sally Yates and other officials warned the Trump administration that Flynn had misled them about his contacts with the Russian and might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

Trump fired Yates after she said she could not enforce his executive order limiting immigration from seven majority-Muslim nations because she didn’t consider it a lawful order.

Flynn’s ouster for having contacts with the ambassador is a sign of U.S. “paranoia” and shows that the Trump administration either isn’t independent or suffers from “Russophobia,” Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of the Russian parliament, wrote Tuesday on Facebook. Hawks in the U.S. treated readiness for dialog with Russia as an Orwellian “thought crime,” he said.

The developments come as the Trump administration sent conflicting signals Monday on its support for Flynn.

About an hour after White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said in a television interview that Flynn “does enjoy the full confidence of the president,” press secretary Sean Spicer released a statement saying President Donald Trump is “evaluating” the situation involving his top security aide.

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 in an e-mailed statement.

Just a day earlier, Trump senior policy adviser Stephen Miller declined to defend Flynn or say whether his job was safe. Miller, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said Flynn had served the country admirably, but that “It’s not for me to tell you what’s in the president’s mind.”

The administration has come under fire, mainly from Democrats, after the Post reported last week that Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak before Trump took office, contrary to statements by administration officials, including Pence.

Televised Denials

The vice president made televised denials of Flynn discussing sanctions based on personal assurances Flynn gave him, according to an administration official. A second senior administration official said that Flynn had no recollection of discussing the sanctions with Kislyak but couldn’t say for certain the issue hadn’t been raised.

Spicer said it was his understanding that Flynn apologized to Pence. He said he didn’t know whether Pence and Trump have discussed the matter and that there is no timeline for the evaluation.

Trump ignored shouted questions about Flynn’s status as he ended a news conference Monday at the White House and hasn’t commented publicly about it since the Post report. Pence ignored questions from reporters as he went into a meeting Monday at the Capitol.

Asked whether Trump knew of Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak, Spicer said, “There is no way. Absolutely not.” Spicer said such a conversation would be a “routine part” of a national security adviser’s job.

Democrat Critics

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a series of tweets on Monday that “President Trump must fire” Flynn. She accused Flynn of lying to the American public about his conversations with Kislyak. “These are not the actions of a man who can be trusted with the security of our nation.”

Senate minority leader Charles Schumer said the situation requires an independent investigation.

Many Republican lawmakers have defended Flynn, lessening the political pressure on the White House. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said it wasn’t surprising that the subject of sanctions came up in Flynn’s conversation with the Russian envoy. “It just seems like there’s a lot of nothing there.”

Both Spicer and Conway said Flynn has been an integral part of the series of Trump’s meetings with foreign leaders last week and this week, including the prime ministers of Japan and Canada and plans for an upcoming meeting with the prime minister of Israel.

Trump to Review

Flynn accompanied Trump to Mar-a-Lago, the president’s Florida retreat, over the weekend. Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Feb. 10 that he wasn’t aware of the Washington Post report, adding, “I’ll look into that.”

The Russia controversy comes as the National Security Council is still with some key positions unfilled and facing criticism that it’s been slow to translate the president’s views and rhetoric into concrete policies.

Before Trump took office, Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was already under scrutiny for his ties to Russia; for promoting conspiracy theories on social media, including false allegations about Obama, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta; and for his portrayal of Islam as radical and a “vicious cancer.”

While the White House had acknowledged that Flynn spoke with Kislyak before Trump’s inauguration, Pence said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Jan. 15 that Flynn didn’t discuss the Obama administration’s sanctions, which include those imposed after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and for Russia’s alleged hacking of Democratic Party officials during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Pence said at the time that Flynn had told him “he had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash” on Dec. 25 that killed 92 people. It was “strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence said.

— With assistance by Anna Edgerton, Steven T. Dennis, and Jennifer Jacobs

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