Flynn departure erupts into a full-blown crisis for the Trump White House
President Trump’s ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn, and the circumstances leading up to it, have quickly become a major crisis for the fledgling administration, forcing the White House on the defensive and precipitating the first significant breach in relations between Trump and an increasingly restive Republican Congress.
Even as the White House described Trump’s “immediate, decisive” action in demanding Flynn’s resignation late Monday as the end of an unfortunate episode, senior GOP lawmakers were buckling under growing pressure to investigate it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that it was “highly likely” that the events leading to Flynn’s departure would be added to a broader probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election. Intercepts showed that Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions in a phone call with the Russian ambassador — a conversation topic that Flynn first denied and then later said he could not recall.
McConnell’s comments followed White House revelations that Trump was aware “for weeks” that Flynn had misled Vice President Pence and others about the content of his late-December talks with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
White House counsel Donald F. McGahn told Trump in a briefing late last month that Flynn, despite his claims to the contrary, had discussed U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration in late December, press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday. That briefing, he said, came “immediately” after Sally Q. Yates, then the acting attorney general, informed McGahn on Jan. 26 about discrepancies between intercepts of Kislyak’s phone calls and public statements by Pence and others that there had been no discussion of sanctions.
Trump brought in senior strategist Stephen K. Bannon and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to join the discussion with McGahn, according to two officials familiar with the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
McGahn then conferred with Yates again the following day, Jan. 27, to try to glean more information, these two officials said. Within the White House, the matter was viewed skeptically, and Trump, Bannon, Priebus and McGahn for several days remained among the few people briefed, they said.
Over the next two weeks, the officials said, Flynn was asked multiple times about what exactly he had said. He brushed aside the suggestion that he had spoken about sanctions with the ambassador — denials that kept him afloat within the White House even as he was being actively evaluated, they said.
It was not until a Washington Post report last Thursday, in which Flynn was quoted as saying that he had no “recollection” of discussing sanctions but couldn’t be sure that he hadn’t, that the downward slide culminating in Monday’s forced resignation began, several administration officials said.