Trump’s National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, resigned at presidential request on Monday, February 13 for his contacts with Russia before the inauguration and concealment of information from the White House.
Flynn was appointed as National Security Advisor in Trump’s cabinet on November 18, 2016. The position did not require Senatorial confirmation, as it is part of the Executive Office of the President.
On December 29, 2016 Flynn spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak This was the same day that former-President Obama announced retaliatory sanctions against Russia for their suspected manipulation in the 2016 presidential election.
Flynn was subsequently investigated by counterintelligence personnel for these communications. In addition, a separate Army investigation is underway into whether he had received money from the Russian government during a 2015 Moscow visit.
When evidence regarding his meeting emerged, Flynn later said that he couldn’t be certain the topic didn’t come up. He also claimed that his omission to the Trump administration was accidental, though critics voiced their doubts.
Flynn also admitted to numerous communications with foreign officials, ostensibly to ease the transition of power between administrations on an international level.
“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador,” Flynn wrote in his resignation letter. “I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology.”
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned the Trump administration about Flynn’s lack of full disclosure regarding his sanction discussions with Russia. She also stated that she believed him vulnerable to blackmail.
Trump has repeatedly asserted that no one in his campaign had taken part in contacts with Russia, and denied any interference by the Kremlin on numerous occasions during and after the election. He and Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that it was an issue of trust that led to his dismissal, not the communication allegations.
“We got to a point not based on a legal issue,” Spicer said in a press briefing, “but based on a trust issue, where a level of trust between the President and General Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change.”
Flynn spent 24 days in office, the shortest ever for any National Security Advisor in history.
Flynn was met with criticism from both sides of the aisle for his Russian communications, with Democrats objecting more vigorously.
“We want to know by what authority did General Flynn have these conversations,” Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.
“Flynn’s departure only matters if 1) he’s followed by a mainstream, experienced replacement, 2) we get to bottom of the Trump/Russia story,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) wrote in a tweet.
“General Flynn’s decision to step down as National Security Advisor was all but ordained the day he misled the country about his secret talks with the Russian Ambassador… [National Security Advisor] is certainly no role for someone who plays fast and loose with the truth,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said in a statement.
“But Flynn’s departure does not end questions over his contacts with the Russians, which have been alleged to have begun well before December 29,” Schiff continued. “Moreover, 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.”
Republican response was more muted, with calls for investigation into Flynn’s alleged wrongdoings.
“The Intelligence Committee is already looking at Russian involvement in our election and they have broad jurisdiction over the intel community at large,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, as quoted by CBS News,. “And they can look at whatever they choose to.”
Republican Senator John McCain (R-AZ) framed the issue in terms of competency, stating the need for trustworthiness and experience in future appointments.
“At the same time, General Flynn’s resignation is a troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus,” McCain said, as quoted by The Hill. “As our nation confronts the most complex and diverse array of global challenges since the end of the World War II, it is imperative that the president select a new National Security Adviser who is empowered by clear lines of authority and responsibility and possesses the skills and experience necessary to organize the national security system across our government.”
Trump reframed the issue not as a cabinet problem, but as one with whistleblowers, a sentiment echoed by other conservatives.
“The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?” Trump tweeted. “Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?”