WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump asked for Michael Flynn’s resignation after he lost trust in his national security adviser for misleading Vice President Mike Pence over his calls with Russia’s ambassador, the White House said Tuesday.
Trump was also made aware of the Justice Department’s concerns about Flynn’s calls with the Russian ambassador, according to White House spokesman Sean Spicer.
The president’s counsel, Don McGahn, convened a meeting with Trump and a small circle of advisers.
“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.
Spicer insisted that Flynn had done nothing illegal but had lost the confidence of the president in an escalating drama that has focused scrutiny on Trump’s handling of the issue and his ties with Moscow.
“The level of trust between the president and Gen. Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change,” Spicer told reporters. “The president was very concerned that Gen. Flynn had misled the vice president and others.”
Trump therefore felt he could not trust his top foreign policy right-hand and on key national security issues like China and the Middle East, Spicer said.
Spicer said there had been “a series of other questionable instances” in Flynn’s conduct that led to Trump losing confidence in him but he did not elaborate on what they were.
The White House spokesman was also asked about another key point in the saga — whether the president had asked Flynn to bring up the issue of sanctions with the Russian envoy that were imposed by the Obama administration to punish Moscow’s alleged interference in the presidential election.
“Absolutely not; no, no, no,” Spicer said.
The drama over Flynn now threatens to morph into a much wider and more damaging controversy for the White House, that could involve congressional investigations and possibly shake loose even more allegations about the administration’s conduct and relationship with Moscow.
Top GOP senators have already started beating the drum for investigations.
“I think everybody needs that investigation to happen,” Sen. Roy Blunt, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on KTRS radio.
Joining his call were Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican, and Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“I think Congress needs to be informed of what actually Gen. Flynn said to the Russian ambassador about lifting sanctions,” Graham said. “And I want to know, ‘Did Gen. Flynn do this by himself or was he directed by somebody to do it?'”
Democrats on Capitol Hill already smell blood in the water, demanding congressional probes.
“Let’s be clear — right now, there are way more questions than answers on President Trump’s relationship with Russia,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told reporters.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said, “The American people deserve to know at whose direction Gen. Flynn was acting when he made these calls, and why the White House waited until these reports were public to take action.”
But the president and some House Republicans launched a fight back, trying to focus attention on the source of disclosures about Flynn’s contacts with Russia that appear to have emerged from intelligence surveillance of the Russian embassy.
“The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?” Trump tweeted in his first public reaction to Flynn’s departure.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said the focus of any investigation should be how news of Flynn’s calls leaked out.
But the gravity of questions left by Flynn’s resignation meant it was unlikely that the president’s initial defense on the issue will hold up for long.