Less than one month into office, President Donald Trump’s controversial national security advisor, Michael Flynn, abruptly resigned Monday night following revelations he had discussed sanctions with a high-level Russian official and then misinformed White House staff, including Vice President Mike Pence, about that conversation.
The news — described by one outlet as the “latest and most dramatic convulsion in the most chaotic start to an administration in modern US history” — comes as certain embarrassment for Trump, who only hours earlier was described by another top aide as having “full confidence” in Flynn.
“Gen. Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president,” said Trump’s top aide and White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway during an interview with MSNBC on Monday afternoon.
As the Huffington Post reports:
In late December, President Barack Obama announced the sanctions, which included the expulsion of 35 Russian intelligence operatives, in response to Russian interference in the November election designed to help Trump win.
Flynn at first denied that he had discussed the sanctions when he spoke with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He said the conversations concerned setting up a phone call between Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin and offering condolences after the murder of a Russian diplomat in Turkey.
But following a Washington Post report — based partially on transcripts of the conversations — Flynn’s office revised his earlier statements, and said that he couldn’t recall whether the topic of sanctions had come up. On Monday night, the plot thickened, with The Washington Post reporting that top officials at the Department of Justice warned the Trump administration weeks ago that Flynn might have been compromised by Russian influences and The New York Times reporting that the Army had investigated whether Flynn received payments from the Russian government in 2015.
In her Monday interview with MSNBC, Conway described how Flynn had originally told Pence and others that sanctions were not discussed with Kislyak, but later changed his story by saying he could “not recall” the exact content of the conversation. Though Flynn ultimately apologized to Pence — who went on national television to defend Flynn — it appears after the latest revelations and reporting on Monday night that the White House viewed the damage as too great.
As journalist Glenn Greenwald noted in a tweet early on Tuesday, “Flynn’s firing sin was not lying to the public: high officials do that constantly; that’s encouraged. It was lying to Pence.”
The Washington Post notes that whereas the average national security advisor serves for about 2.6 years, Flynn’s premature departure sets a new record for shortest stint at just 24 days.
Jon Rainwater, executive director of Peace Action, the nation’s largest grassroots peace organization, said the unceremonious departure of Flynn — whose choice for the high-level post was criticized since the moment he was mentioned as a possible candidate — should be seen as a welcome development.
“You know we’re living in strange times when a National Security Advisor’s resignation is good for national security,” Rainwater said in a statement. “Well before Michael Flynn lied to the American people and the administration about his contacts with Russian officials, concerned citizens across the nation flooded Congress with calls railing against Flynn’s appointment. They decried his Islamophobia and conspiracy theories, his reported leaking of classified information to foreign nations and his own lobbying firm, and his calls for pursuing regime change in Iran.”
Flynn’s official departure, however, will not likely be the end of the scandal that has now emerged about relations between Trump’s White House and the Kremlin. As the Guardian notes:
Flynn’s — and the Trump administration’s — problems run far deeper than the December phone calls with Kisilyak. The former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) chief is also reportedly being investigated by the army for accepting money in late 2015 for a speaking engagement in Moscow, which could have breached military rules. Furthermore, the repeated and detailed leaks by a disgruntled and alarmed US intelligence community suggested that Flynn’s contacts with Kisilyak dated back to before the election, raising more questions about whether the Trump campaign had any knowledge of the Russian effort to skew the elections.
A handful of intelligence agencies are looking into those suspicions, as are four separate congressional committees. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on one of those panels, the House intelligence committee, demanded to know when contacts with Russian officials started and how far up the Trump chain of command did responsibility for those contact rest.
Schiff said: “The Trump administration has yet to be forthcoming about who was aware of Flynn’s conversations with the ambassador and whether he was acting on the instructions of the president or any other officials, or with their knowledge.”
The idea that lawmakers in Congress will continue to pursue a probe into the Trump administration’s dealings with Russian officials was confirmed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who last week filed a “resolution of inquiry” to investigate President Trump’s ongoing conflicts of interest, which would include possible business dealings with Moscow and political ties to the Kremlin during last year’s election. In a pair of tweets overnight, Nadler indicated the latest developments, including Flynn’s surprise resignation, only bolster the case for a formal congressional investigation:
Absolutely correct. https://t.co/C9t3GnfVVA
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) February 14, 2017
Resolution of Inquiry I filed asks DOJ directly re: Russia+Trump+Flynn. With Flynn resigning, @HouseGOP must get onboard 2 protect natl sec.
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) February 14, 2017