National Security Adviser Michael Flynn abruptly resigned Monday evening, amid an uproar over conversations with a Russian ambassador to the US and his broader dealings with Russia.
The news comes after an earlier report that Flynn could be susceptible to Russian blackmail, according to an assessment from the Department of Justice that was compiled late last month, and after he faced new scrutiny over a call with Russia’s ambassador during which the pair apparently discussed US sanctions.
President Donald Trump named Lt. Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg the acting national security adviser.
A report from The Washington Post on Monday night said former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that Flynn had misled officials about his correspondence with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak.
Yates was fired by Trump at the end of January after she defied him on his now-suspended travel ban.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan both said at the time that “Flynn had put himself in a compromising position,” with Russia and agreed that Vice President Mike Pence deserved to know he had been misled, according to officials cited by The Post. It remains unclear what White House counsel Donald McGahn did with that information.
Flynn said he apologized on Monday to Pence, saying that he may have discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions with Kislyak before Trump was sworn in. Prior to this, Flynn contended that US sanctions never came up during his conversations with Kislyak.
“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 Monday night. “I have sincerely apologized to the president and vice president, and they have accepted my apology.”
President Barack Obama announced new sanctions on Russia in late December for that country’s role in election-related cyberattacks.
As the evidence of Flynn’s discussions mounted, including transcripts of calls, a spokesman said that Flynn “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
The damage had already been done, however, as The New York Times reports that three administration officials familiar with the situation reportedly said Pence, who made several television appearances to defend Flynn, was incensed at the national security adviser for allegedly withholding information.
Earlier Monday, press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement that the White House was “evaluating the situation” with Flynn. A senior Trump administration official also said that they were aware of the matter and that they were “working on this for weeks.”
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers had urged Flynn to resign. On Monday, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado released this statement:
“As national security advisor, Michael Flynn is responsible to the President, Vice President, and the American people. It is his duty to be fully transparent and forthright in his actions — anything less is unacceptable. If in fact he purposely misled the President, he should step down immediately.”
Rumors of Flynn’s removal were also fueled when sources close to the White House told Politico on Monday that Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner was taking party in the search for potential replacements for Flynn. One of these replacements could be retired Gen. David Petraeus, according to Politico, is scheduled to meet with Trump this week.
“They are trying to figure out the solution to Flynn right now,” said one of Politico’s sources. “The problem is they don’t have it yet. They need to get a solution.”
Here’s the full text of Flynn’s resignation letter:
In the course of my duties as the incoming National Security Advisor, I held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers, and ambassadors. These calls were to facilitate a smooth transition and begin to build the necessary relationships between the President, his advisors and foreign leaders. Such calls are standard practice in any transition of this magnitude.
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. I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology.
Throughout my over thirty three years of honorable military service, and my tenure as the National Security Advisor, I have always performed my duties with the utmost of integrity and honesty to those I have served, to include the President of the United States.
I am tendering my resignation, honored to have served our nation and the American people in such a distinguished way.
I am also extremely honored to have served President Trump, who in just three weeks, has reoriented American foreign policy in fundamental ways to restore America’s leadership position in the world.
As I step away once again from serving my nation in this current capacity, I wish to thank President Trump for his personal loyalty, the friendship of those who I worked with throughout the hard fought campaign, the challenging period of transition, and during the early days of his presidency.
I know with the strong leadership of President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and the superb team they are assembling, this team will go down in history as one of the greatest presidencies in U.S. history, and I firmly believe the American people will be well served as they all work together to help Make America Great Again.
Michael T. Flynn, LTG (Ret)
Assistant to the President / National Security Advisor