When President Donald Trump was asked Friday to weigh in on a Washington Post report that his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had discussed sanctions with Russias ambassador to the U.S. prior to the inauguration, the president claimed he was unaware of the news.
I dont know about that. I havent seen it. What report is that? I havent seen that. Ill look into that, Trump said on Feb. 10, according to a White House pool report.
But White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday that the president knew about Flynns communication with Russia for weeks. When Trump said, I dont know about that, he simply meant he didnt know about the Washington Post report specifically, Spicer claimed.
Weve been reviewing and evaluating this issue with respect to General Flynn on a daily basis for a few weeks, trying to ascertain the truth, Spicer said during a daily press briefing.
What Trump and his team have failed to explain in detail is why it took a few weeks.
Flynn spoke on the phone with Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak on Dec. 29, the day President Barack Obamas administration announced sanctions against Russia in response to its reported efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
That conversation was first reported by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius on Jan. 12. Spicer addressed the call the next day, claiming Flynn and Kislyakexchanged logistical information and did not discuss policy.
On Jan. 15, Vice President Mike Pence spoke on CBSs Face the Nation about the Trumps campaigns interaction with Russia, calling any reports that someone tied to the campaign had spoken with Russian officials bizarre rumors. He specifically denied that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed sanctions.
It was strictly coincidental that [Flynn and Kislyak] had a conversation; they did not discuss anything having to do with the United States decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia, Pence said.
Media scrutiny of Flynn died down as Trump took office and immediately began signing controversial executive orders, including the ban on refugees and visitors from Muslim-majority countries entering the U.S.
As the Post later reported, acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House counsel on Jan. 26 that she believed Flynn had misled the administration about his calls with Kislyak. She warned that Flynn could be susceptible to blackmail by the Russians. (Trump fired Yates on Jan. 30 after she declined to enforce his travel ban.)
On Tuesday, Spicer confirmed that Trump was first briefed on Flynn on Jan. 26, after Yates issued her warning about Flynns discussion with Kislyak.
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 senior advisers, Spicer said.
NBC News reported Tuesday that Pence didnt learn of the DOJ warning until Feb. 9 about two weeks after the White House had first been notified.
That same day, the Washington Postreported that, despite the Trump administrations claims to the contrary, Flynn had indeed discussed Russia sanctions with Kislyak during their December phone call.
Flynn initially denied this, until his spokesman said he couldnt be certain that the topic of sanctions hadnt come up.
On Monday, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said the president had full confidence in Flynn, and denied that he was on his way out. But a half hour later, Spicer was less certain of Flynns future at the White House, telling reporters Trump was evaluating the situation.
Hours later, Flynn resigned.
The next morning, Conway struggled to explain the timeline of events surrounding Flynns departure and would not explain why the White House failed to act immediately after learning he had misled top officials.
The fact is that I cant reveal what the White House knew or didnt know and who in the White House knew or didnt know, she said on ABCs Good Morning America.
On Tuesday, Spicer said Trump chose to keep Flynn on for more than two weeks because the White House was undergoing a very thorough review of the situation to understand the legal aspect. Spicer said the White House council determined immediately Flynn had not done anything illegal while communicating with Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, and saidthere was no legal issue with Flynns conversation with Kislyak.
That was simply concluded, Spicer said.
Then, the conversation shifted to trust.
Whether or not [Flynn] actually misled the vice president was the issue, Spicer added.The issue, pure and simple, came down to a matter of trust.
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