WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump learned weeks ago about communications on U.S. sanctions between his now-ousted national security adviser and the Russian ambassador to the U.S., and determined that trust — not the law — was broken, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday.
Trump asked for Michael Flynn’s resignation late Monday because Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence on the contents of his late December call with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Spicer said.
“The level of trust between the president and General Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change,” Spicer said at a briefing of reporters.
Trump was “immediately informed” on Jan. 26 when former acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates warned his White House counsel about Flynn’s communications and his potential susceptibility to blackmail by Russia, Spicer said.
Flynn’s is the first high-profile departure for the three-week-old administration. The White House struggled to clarify who knew what and when as calls for investigations mounted on Capitol Hill.
“It’s likely that General Flynn will be at some point asked to come and talk to the committee about both post-election activities and any other activities that he would be aware of,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“Was General Flynn directed or authorized to do what he did? . . . And why wasn’t General Flynn fired as soon as the administration found out? Why did they act only when they were caught misleading the media?” asked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) separately.
The Washington Post first reported on Thursday that Flynn had discussed the sanctions imposed by former President Barack Obama with Kislyak before Trump took office. The conversation may violate a law barring unauthorized U.S. citizens from involvement in U.S. disputes with foreign governments.
Trump told reporters Friday on Air Force One that he had not read reports of the communications and would “look into it.”
Spicer said Trump “absolutely” did not ask Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he spoke with Trump, Pence and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus at a bill-signing Tuesday and came away with the impression they were unsatisfied with Flynn’s performance notwithstanding the scandal.
King said he believes Flynn was already on his way out.
“I feel that even if it had not made it to the press, sometime soon they would have done the same thing,” King told Newsday. “It’s a sad ending to a very outstanding career.”
A Pence spokesman said the vice president was first made aware of the Justice Department warning last Thursday, though Trump knew late last month, NBC News reported.
The New York Times reported that FBI agents had interviewed Flynn in his first days as national security adviser about his conversations with Kislyak.
Trump, in his only public comment since Flynn’s resignation, sought Tuesday to cast “illegal leaks” by government employees, apparently to the news media, as the “real story.”
The president did not mention Flynn in his tweet.
“The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N. Korea etc?” he posted.
Trump on Monday night appointed Keith Kellogg, who like Flynn is a decorated retired Army lieutenant general, as acting national security adviser.
Kellogg and former CIA Director David Petraeus are among the candidates lined up to permanently replace Flynn, administration officials said.
With Tom Brune