The fledgling Trump administration is already dealing with a high-profile resignation.
National Security Advisor Michael Flynn stepped down on Monday night, amid reporting that he broke the law during a December phone call with a Russian ambassador, and then lied about it.
In his resignation letter, Flynn admitted only that he “inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information.”
As late as Monday afternoon, it had appeared Flynn’s job might be safe. White House advisor Kelly Ann Conway claimed on MSNBC that Flynn still enjoyed “the full confidence” of President Trump. However, as more reporting came out on the matter, Flynn’s role in the administration became untenable.
The Washington Post reported later on Monday that in late January, acting Attorney General Sally Yates, informed the Trump administration that Flynn had discussed the issue of sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, during a phone conversation at the end of last year.
Under the Logan Act, it is illegal for US citizens to interfere in foreign policy negotiations without the permission of the White House, which was under the control of President Obama at the time.
Flynn repeatedly denied that the issue of sanctions came up—a claim he allegedly repeated to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Vice President Mike Pence.
Yates, however, presented to White House counsel Donald McGahn evidence gleaned from routine wiretaps of Russian officials that proved Flynn did discuss sanctions with Kislyak. She further argued that because the Russians knew the true nature of the phone calls, Flynn could be a blackmail risk.
Yates was later fired by President Trump for her refusal to defend the administration’s Muslim Ban executive order–a travel decree that was eventually declared illegal by multiple federal judges and withdrawn by the White House.
Former and current US officials told The Washington Post that while they believed Flynn did lie to Pence, “they couldn’t rule out that Flynn was acting with the knowledge of others in the transition.”
The prolonged gap between becoming aware of the true nature of Flynn’s phone call and his resignation Monday night, plus questions about Trump’s ties to Russia still lingering from the campaign, have Democrats on Capitol speculating that the story shouldn’t end with Flynn’s ouster.
“We need to know who else within the White House is a current and ongoing risk to our national security,” Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a statement.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, accused the Trump administration of not being “forthcoming about who was aware of Flynn’s conversations with the Ambassador and whether he was acting on the instructions of the president or any other officials, or with their knowledge.”
Republican lawmakers, however, don’t appear keen on pursuing the matter any further. The chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), told reporters on Tuesday that he wasn’t interested in investigating who else in the White House may have known about Flynn’s call to Russia.
“It’s taking care of itself at this point,” Chaffetz claimed.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, defended Flynn after the resignation.
“Washington, DC, can be a rough town for honorable people, and Flynn—who has always been a soldier, not a politician—deserves America’s gratitude and respect for dedicating so much of his life to strengthening our national security,” Nunes said in a statement.
Both the House and Senate intelligence committees are currently probing allegations of Russian interference in last year’s presidential election.
President Trump, meanwhile, on Twitter attempted to deflect attention away from Flynn’s resignation.
“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 Tuesday morning.