White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was based on trust and not legal reasons at Tuesday's briefing with the media. Spicer said President Trump "absolutely" did not tell Flynn to bring up sanctions in his conversations with Russian officials. There was a conflict based on what Flynn said publicly and privately to the Russian ambassador and what he told the Vice President.
"We have been reviewing and evaluating this issue with respect to General Flynn on a general basis for a few weeks trying to ascertain the truth," Spicer told reporters. "We got to a point not based on a legal issue, but based on a trust issue with the level of trust between the president and General Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change. The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others."
SPICER: We have been reviewing and evaluating this issue with respect to General Flynn on a general basis for a few weeks trying to ascertain the truth. We got to a point not based on a legal issue, but based on a trust issue with the level of trust between the president and General Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change. The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others.
He was also very concerned in light of sensitive subjects dealt with by that position of national security advisors like China, North Korea, and the Middle East, that the president must have complete and unwavering trust for the person in that position. The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation and a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for a General Flynn's resignation.
Immediately after the Department of Justice notified the White House counsel of the situation. The White House counsel briefed the president and a small group of his senior advisors. The White House counsel reviewed and determined that there is not a legal issue, but rather a trust issue. During this process, it's important to note the president did not have his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who he trusts immensely, approved by the Senate.
When the president heard the information as presented by White House counsel, he instinctively thought that General Flynn did not do anything wrong and the White House counsel's review corroborated that. It is not ordinary for an incoming national security advisor to speak with his counterparts about the issues of concern to them. In fact, he spoke with over 30 of his counterparts throughout the transition.
As Charles Krauthammer said last night, it was quote, "Perfectly reasonable for him to do so." The issue here was that the president got to the point where General Flynn's relationship -- misleading the vice president and others or the possibility that he had forgotten critical details of this important conversation had created a critical mass and an unsustainable situation. That's why the president decided to ask for his resignation and he got it.
The irony of this entire situation is that the president has been incredibly tough on Russia. He continues to raise the issue of Crimea which the previous administration allowed to be seized by Russia. His ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, stood before the U.N. Security Council on her first day and strongly denounced the Russian occupation of Crimea. As Ambassador Haley said at the time, to quote, "Dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions." President Trump has made it very clear he expects the Russian government to de-escalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea. At the same time, he fully expects to and wants to be able to get along with Russia, unlike previous administrations, so that we can solve many problems together facing the world such as the threat of ISIS and terrorism.
Spicer said President Trump was "proved instinctively correct":
QUESTION: Let me come back to what you said at the beginning. You said the White House Counsel's Office reviewed this and determined that there was nothing illegal. What evidence did they look at in making this determination? And secondly, Democrats up on the Hill say that they want an investigation of this. They're looking into what did the president know and when did he know it.
So can you tell us, whatever it is you looked at, at the White House Counsel's Office, and what did the president know about all of this and when was he aware of it?
SPICER: Well as I mentioned, the first day that the Department of Justice made White House Counsel available - or sought to notify White House Counsel was January 26. The president was immediately informed of the situation. As I said, based on the information that was provided at the time, his view was that this was not a violation. He was proved instinctively correct and White House Counsel at that time undertook an extensive review both of materials and questioning - I'm not going to get into the specifics.