By Rebecca Stokem, National News Writer
Michael Flynn resigned from his brief tenure as National Security Advisor on the evening of February 13 over issues arising from a phone call with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, about sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama administration.
Initially, Flynn lied to Vice President Pence about the phone conversation with Ambassador Kislyak, telling Pence that the conversation had nothing to do with the sanctions. The vice president in turn repeated this in multiple television interviews, defending Flynn against initial accusations. President Trump and the White House also denied knowledge of this incident at first, and defended Flynn as well.
President Obama put the sanctions in question in place in late December after multiple American intelligence agencies found evidence of Russian interference in the Democratic National Committee and the 2016 presidential election. In addition, the former president also “ejected dozens of suspected Russian intelligence operatives from the United States,” writes the New York Times. The phone call between Flynn and Kislyak took place on December 29, around the same time as these sanctions were put into place. The call was part of a routine wiretap of diplomats’ calls, and in the transcript Flynn asked the Russians not to retaliate over the sanctions, stating that doing so could cause damage to future relations between the two countries. While he did not specifically promise reversal of the sanctions, Flynn did imply that it was plausible. The phone call is problematic as the conversation occurred before Trump was inaugurated as president, and thus Flynn was not speaking on behalf of the administration but as a citizen, which involves the Logan Act.
When originally asked about the phone conversation with Kislyak, Flynn denied discussing sanctions at all, which Pence repeated on a few morning shows, including on “Face the Nation” on CBS on January 15. Pence told CBS that the timing of the conversation was “strictly coincidental,” and that the exchange had nothing to do with Russia’s response to the sanctions.
Historically, Flynn has been involved with Russia. He was Vladimir Putin’s guest at a dinner back in 2015, and was paid for appearing on a Russian television program.
In his January 24 interview with the FBI, Flynn also denied discussing the sanctions over the phone. Ultimately, the results of the FBI interview, along with Flynn’s history with Russia, prompted acting Attorney General Sally Yates to tell White House Counsel Donald McGahn that Flynn had been misleading senior counsel over the past month. Additionally, she conveyed concerns that the national security advisor could be blackmailed by the Russians because of the differences in his public statements and official intelligence about the call, as per the Washington Post.
President Trump asked McGahn to look into issues with the phone call, and he reached the conclusion that at the time that nothing said in the phone call was against the law. In particular, his actions have been questioned relating to the Logan Act, which prohibits American citizens from discussing controversies with foreign governments. Passed over 200 years ago, only two people have ever been charged under the act according to the Washington Post.
However, the White House later stated that Trump had been notified weeks before that Flynn had lied about the conversation with Kislyak. According to the New York Times, “a former administration official said the Justice Department had issues a warning in January to the White House, raising concerns that Mr. Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.” A few days later, on February 13, Flynn resigned from his position. In his resignation letter, he wrote that he accidentally gave Pence and others incomplete information and that he has since apologized.
Since the incident, senators and congressman on both sides of the aisle, including Republican John McCain, have called for an investigation into Flynn’s connections to Russia. Other members of the House and Senate are not as keen, including Senator Rand Paul, who feels that Republicans should not be investigating their own party. If there is any kind of investigation, it is likely that Flynn will be called on to testify.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 21st print edition.
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