Flynn Out as National Security Advisor, Admits Telling VP 'Incomplete' Story of Russia Contacts
WASHINGTON -- President Trump's national security advisor, Michael Flynn, stepped down late Monday after only three weeks on the job in the wake of reports that he had discussed sanctions with Russia's ambassador and could be vulnerable to Kremlin blackmail.
Trump named Flynn's retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg, Jr., as the acting national security advisor. Kellogg is a former director of the Command, Control, Communications, and Computers Directorate of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gen. David Petraeus, who was at one point a candidate for secretary of State, is reportedly visiting the White House on Tuesday. The former CENTCOM commander and CIA director testified on Capitol Hill at the beginning of the month that "we especially need Muslim allies" and that Trump's travel ban could be counterproductive. "Our Muslim country partners are the ones who are on the front lines and it is, again, a struggle within their civilization, even more than it is between our civilizations -- and we don't want to heighten the differences between those civilizations," Petraeus told the House Armed Services Committee.
National security advisor is not a position that requires Senate confirmation, so Trump can fill the position as quickly as he likes.
Flynn, a retired three-star Army general and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, campaigned for Trump and spoke at the Republican National Convention. On Dec. 29, after the president-elect appointed Flynn as the incoming national security advisor, then-President Obama levied additional sanctions on Russia in response to the intelligence community finding that the Kremlin waged an influence operation, including hacking, against the U.S. presidential election. That same day, Flynn spoke with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Flynn claimed he and Kislyak exchanged holiday greetings and didn't talk about sanctions, but soon after their conversation Russian President Vladimir Putin raised eyebrows by announcing he wouldn't retaliate for Obama's expulsion of Russian diplomats. Vice President Mike Pence also publicly denied that sanctions were discussed on the call.
The Washington Post and New York Times both reported that Flynn did talk sanctions with the Russian envoy, information reportedly gleaned from intelligence services' transcripts. The Post reported today that Sally Yates, the acting attorney general recently fired by Trump for refusing to defend his travel ban, had warned the White House while still at the Justice Department that Flynn was not telling the truth about his conversations with Russian officials and was vulnerable to Kremlin blackmail.
In a statement released by the White House, Flynn said that during the transition he "held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers, and ambassadors" to "facilitate a smooth transition and begin to build the necessary relationships between the president, his advisors and foreign leaders."
"Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology," Flynn said.