Flynn Resigns as Top National Security Adviser

Flynn Resigns as Top National Security Adviser
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President Trump publicly distanced himself from Michael Flynn, his controversial national security adviser, on Monday, and hours later accepted his resignation.

Retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg Jr. was named acting national security adviser, the White House announced late Monday night.

The latest tumultuous chapter in West Wing intrigue included leaked intelligence eavesdropping, months of news media revelations, and renewed questions about Trump’s public admiration for Russia. His adviser’s contacts with Moscow, initially described as warm exchanges of holiday greetings and benign outreach on Dec. 29, became a scandal that posed a threat to Trump’s own credibility.

“No,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said when asked if the president learned from Flynn in December that U.S. sanctions were discussed with Russia as the Obama administration continued to govern. Trump’s spokesman also denied that Flynn, at Trump’s behest, raised the subject during his conversations.

“General Flynn’s decision to step down as National Security Adviser was all but ordained the day he misled the country about his secret talks with the Russian ambassador,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement.

“Flynn’s departure does not end questions over his contacts with the Russians,” Schiff said, noting the committee’s ongoing investigation into Trump’s ties to the Kremlin.

TV networks and major newspapers were nearing their nightly deadlines Monday, poised to reveal new details challenging Flynn’s judgment and veracity late last year, when Trump reached his decision to publicly cut Flynn loose. The president opted to send his aide an unmistakable message, and in a manner official Washington recognized as a political amputation.

Boxed in by negative news coverage, detailed leaks, and intelligence-gathering that the West Wing did not control, the president forced his national security adviser to resign after issuing a statement that he was evaluating Flynn’s actions and accounts of his outreach to Moscow with Vice President Mike Pence, and others.

Senior White House aides said Monday that Trump was unaware before he took the oath of office that Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions with Russia – sanctions President Vladimir Putin hopes the new administration will one day remove.

Until Friday, the president avoided questions about Flynn and his Russia connection, despite numerous events in the White House and in Florida that brought Trump and Flynn together.

Separately, the FBI continues to examine Trump’s ties to Russia during his campaign.

Monday’s drama occurred as the president concluded meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and prepared for talks on Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president has been lurching from crisis to crisis for three weeks, including his firing of the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, who refused to defend Trump’s executive order imposing an immigration and refugee ban.

As Trump, wearing a suit and a purple necktie, walked alone the few yards from the Oval Office toward the West Wing exit Monday evening, he encountered a flock of reporters near the press secretary’s office. With an amused expression, the president paused as his audience lunged closer. Standing beside a wall of photographs taken during his inauguration, he pointed to a favorite image, which shows a crowd of people blanketing acres of Washington from the Capitol to the Mall.

“Look at this picture!” the president said playfully. “All those people.

That’s amazing--the view! Where did all these people come from?”

Ignoring the photo, a reporter asked the question Trump knew he would hear: “Mr. President, what are you going to do about General Flynn?”

“You’re going to see. We’re going to put out a statement,” he said matter-of-factly.

Asked if he supported Flynn – an assurance voiced by White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway to NBC News an hour earlier – Trump would say nothing more about the NSC director known for his fiery rhetoric describing radical Islamic terrorism.

When asked about his embattled chief of staff,  Trump voiced high praise for Reince Priebus and resumed walking down the hallway.

Seconds later, Priebus and Spicer moved through the cluster of journalists, and the chief of staff ducked inside the spokesman’s office. The press secretary, holding a piece of paper containing an emailed statement, read it aloud to reporters while standing in the hallway: “The president is evaluating the situation. He’s speaking to Vice President Pence relative to the conversation the vice president had with General Flynn, and also speaking to various other people about what he considers the single most important subject there is: our national security.”

Spicer then hastily followed Priebus behind the black door.

Flynn, who spoke twice with the vice president on Friday, apologized to Pence for inaccurately recalling his telephone conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during Trump’s December transition, Spicer clarified later in the evening.

In his resignation letter, later released by the White House, Flynn cited “the fast pace of events” during the transition period as the reason he “inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador.”

Trump’s challenges with Flynn, a retired three-star Army general and defense intelligence expert who loyally backed the GOP nominee last year, came to a head in part because the Washington Post reported Monday night that the Justice Department advised the Trump White House counsel in late January that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail after he misrepresented his conversations with Kislyak.

Flynn initially assured Pence that he had not discussed with the Russians the U.S. sanctions imposed by President Obama as punishment for Russia’s theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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