Donald Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, resigned tonight after just 24 days on the job after revelations that he’d “misled” the administration about a phone call with the Russian ambassador, had likely committed a crime, and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail.
Flynn has had a longstanding relationship with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, going back to at least 2013. On a phone call in early January, before Trump was sworn in and before Flynn was officially in his NSA role, Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia. As a then-private citizen, Flynn likely violated the Logan Act, which makes it a crime to negotiate with a foreign government on behalf of the U.S.
After the call, reports began to circulate about what Flynn and Kislyak had discussed. To quell the reports, then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence told CBS, “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
In recent days, Flynn has backtracked from that hardline stance, instead saying that he couldn’t remember if the topic of sanctions had come up. One entity that could remember was the FBI, which was tapping Kislyak’s phone. From the Washington Post:
The search turned up Kislyak’s communications, which the FBI routinely monitors, and the phone call in question with Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general with years of intelligence experience.
From that call and subsequent intercepts, FBI agents wrote a secret report summarizing Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak.
[Sally] Yates, then the deputy attorney general, considered Flynn’s comments in the intercepted call to be “highly significant” and “potentially illegal,” according to an official familiar with her thinking.
Yates—the acting attorney general who was fired after refusing to defend Trump’s Muslim ban in court, believing (correctly) that it was illegal—and a national security official eventually informed White House counsel Donald McGahn of the FBI’s findings in late January. The White House, though, seemingly did nothing about it until media pressure became overwhelming and Flynn’s position became untenable. In other words, Flynn wasn’t fired for possibly having broken the law and/or lying, but because the media found out he’d possibly broken the law and/or lied.
Given the White House’s repeated defense of Flynn—as recently as this afternoon, professional liar and Trump counselor Kellyanne Conaway said Trump had “full confidence” in Flynn—it’s unclear whether Flynn lied to the White House about his conversation with Kislyak, the White House lied to the media, or both, or whether something else is going on.
In a lengthy and rambling resignation letter, Flynn wrote that he was “honored to have served our nation and the American people in such a distinguished way,” stretching the bounds of the definitions of both “served” and “distinguished.”
Donald Trump has named Keith Kellogg as the interim national security advisor, with reports that he, Bob Harward, and David Petraeus are candidates for the full-time job. I really hope he goes with Petraeus.