Just hours after National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned on Monday night, Today Show anchor Matt Lauer asked White House counselor Kellyanne Conway how the Donald Trump administration could continue to stand by Flynn, even after the Justice Department reportedly warned that he was vulnerable to Russian blackmail. He said it “makes no sense” how Flynn could have the president’s complete trust if the White House knew about this.
Lauer was referring to a Washington Post report published just hours before Flynn resigned after it was revealed that Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of a December phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The Post reported that former interim Attorney General Sally Yates, who Trump fired after she refused to defend his immigration executive order, sent a message to the White House about Flynn’s conversation with the ambassador. They warned that he could be blackmailed by Russia.
In the conversation, Flynn talked about sanctions President Barack Obama planned to impose on Russia after learning about the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 election. However, the Post reports that he told Pence and others within the transition team that they didn’t discuss the sanctions.
In the interview with Conway, Lauer asked how the president could continue to have Flynn as his national security adviser even after receiving this message from the Department of Justice.
“That’s one characterization,” Conway said after Lauer explained the Post report. “But the fact is, General Flynn continued in that position and was in the presidential daily briefings and was part of the leader calls as recently as yesterday. He was there for the prime minister’s visit from Canada yesterday. And as time wore on, obviously, the situation becomes unsustainable and General Flynn…”
“Kellyanne, that makes no sense,” Lauer interrupted. “Last month, the Justice Department warned the White House that General Flynn had misled them and that as a result, he was vulnerable to blackmail. And at that moment, he still had the complete trust of the president?”
“Matt, I’m telling you what the president has said, which is that he’s accepted General Flynn’s resignation and he wishes him well and that we’re moving on.”
“In the end, it was misleading the vice president that made the situation unsustainable,” Conway told Lauer. “The incomplete information or the inability to completely recall what did or did not happen as reflected in his debriefing of particular phone calls — that really is what happened here.”
As for Flynn, he didn’t say if he intentionally misled Pence in his resignation. Rather, he said he “inadvertently briefed” Pence and others “incomplete information” regarding the phone calls. “I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology,” Flynn wrote.
NBC News reports that a senior official told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that Trump himself and top advisers were “agonizing” over Flynn for days. However, after the Post report was published, Trump told reporters on February 10 that he hadn’t heard of it.