Trump knew for weeks Flynn was being misleading over Russia: White House
The Senate intelligence committee is 'highly likely' to look at contacts between Michael Flynn and Russia's envoy to Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday. Photograph: (Reuters)
US President Donald Trump knew for weeks that national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled the White House about his contacts with Russia but did not immediately force him out, an administration spokesman said on Tuesday.
Trump was informed in late January that Flynn had not told vice president Mike Pence the whole truth about conversations he had before Trump took office with Russia's ambassador to the United States, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
Pence learnt of the "incomplete information" that he received from Flynn when news reports surfaced late last week, spokesman Mark Lotter said on Tuesday.
Flynn quit on Monday after Trump asked for his resignation, and the president hopes to pick a new national security adviser by the end of the week, Spicer said.
The departure was another disruption for an administration already repeatedly distracted by miscues and internal dramas since the Republican businessman assumed the presidency on Jan 20.
US lawmakers, including some leading Republicans, called for a deeper inquiry into not just Flynn's actions but broader White House ties to Russia. Trump has long said that he would like improved relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said Trump only moved against Flynn because of news media attention, not concern about any wrongdoing.
"The reason they lost faith or trust in General Flynn only last night when they knew for weeks that he had been lying was that it became public," Schiff told MSNBC.
A timeline of events outlined by Spicer and a US official showed that Trump had known for weeks about Flynn misleading the vice president.
Trump, a former reality TV star whose catchphrase was "You're fired!" has often boasted of his eagerness to get rid of subordinates. He was not quick to fire Flynn, a strong advocate of better relations with Russia and a hard line against Islamist militants.
The Justice Department warned the White House in late January that Flynn had misled Pence by denying to him that he had discussed US sanctions on Russia with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, a potentially illegal act, a US official said.
Flynn did talk about sanctions with the diplomat, whose calls were recorded by US intelligence officials, the official said. But Pence went on television in mid-January and denied that Flynn had discussed sanctions.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed Flynn in his early days as Trump's national security adviser regarding his conversations with the Russian ambassador, a White House official confirmed.
Spicer stressed that the administration believed there was no legal problem with Flynn's conversations with Kislyak, but rather an issue over the president's trust in his adviser.
The turning point, Spicer said, was a Washington Post story published on Thursday in which Flynn, through a spokesman, said for the first time he could not say with 100 percent certainty that he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak.
Spicer said the Justice Department sought to notify the White House counsel on Jan 26 about the discrepancies in Flynn's accounts.
"The White House counsel informed the president immediately. The president asked them to commit a review of whether there was a legal situation there," Spicer told reporters, saying it was a "trust issue."
Flynn's conversations with the ambassador took place around the time that then-President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia, charging that Moscow had used cyber attacks to try to influence the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favour.
A US official familiar with the transcripts of the calls with the ambassador said Flynn indicated that if Russia did not retaliate in kind for Obama's Dec 29 order expelling 35 Russian suspected spies and sanctioning Russian spy agencies, that could smooth the way towards a broader discussion of improving US-Russian relations once Trump took power.