Ryan: When Trump Saw White House 'Being Misled' by Flynn, Resignation Requested
WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters today that President Trump "was right to ask for" former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's resignation while GOP senators want more answers about his contacts with Russia.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told the Today show this morning, though, that Flynn was the one to offer his resignation.
"He knew he had become a lightning rod and he made that decision," Conway said.
Flynn resigned Monday night after reports that he had spoken about sanctions with the Russian ambassador on the day that then-President Obama levied new penalties against Moscow for their influence campaign during the U.S. presidential election. Flynn originally said sanctions were not part of the transition-period conversation, and Vice President Pence publicly repeated the same in Flynn's defense.
"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 in a statement released by the White House. "I am tendering my resignation."
The Washington Post reported 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.
Conway told NBC that the DOJ warning was "one characterization."
"But the fact is that General Flynn continued in that position and was in the presidential daily briefings, was part of the leader calls as recently as [Monday] … and as time wore on, obviously the situation had become unsustainable," she said.
Outside a closed caucus meeting on Capitol Hill today, Ryan told reporters that "national security is perhaps the most important function or responsibility a president has, and I think the president made the right decision to ask for his resignation."
"You cannot have a national security adviser misleading the vice president and others. So I think the president was right to ask for his resignation and I believe it was the right thing to do," he added.
"Let's speak about Russia for a second. I've always been a Russia skeptic and hawk. New administrations these days try to get better relations with Russia. The Bush administration tried to get better relations with Russia. The Clinton administration -- Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration did the reset. So I understand it's reasonable and rational to try to improve relations with Russia. That's what new administrations inevitably do. But I'll leave it to the administration to describe the circumstances surrounding what brought to this point," Ryan continued. "I think the key is this, that as soon as this person lost the president's trust, the president asked for his resignation, and that was the right thing to do."
Despite the DOJ warning to the White House at the beginning of the administration and Conway's admission that the situation "wore on," the House speaker said "it's really important that as soon as they realized that they were being misled by the national security adviser, they asked for his resignation."
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) told CNN this morning that "what's clear is that Michael Flynn was acting in a way that was inappropriate, and that's why the action that was taken was taken."
"I think the decision happened very quickly yesterday in response to information that they received, and information, I think, that Vice President Pence had received in briefings with General Flynn and I think it was an appropriate action to take. I think it was the right thing for the general to resign," Thune said. "It was the right thing for the president to accept his resignation, and now, they've got -- you know, an important decision to make about who replaces him and, also, what we're going to do to keep the country safe."
Thune added that "there are going to be members of the team sometimes who get out over their skis and have to be reined in," while "many of us are interested and obviously awaiting the responses" to questions surrounding Flynn's actions and departure.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who served with Flynn in Afghanistan, told CNN he wants to see the transcripts of calls between Flynn and the ambassador.
"What did General Flynn say to the Russian ambassador about lifting sanctions? Did he say anything at all or is this just being spun by the media?" Graham said. "So I think Congress needs to be informed of what actually General Flynn said to the Russian ambassador about lifting sanctions. And I want to know, did General Flynn do this by himself or was he directed by somebody to do it?"
"I'd have a hard time believing that General Flynn would get on the phone with the ambassador and suggest that, don't worry, we will go -- we will revisit this when we get to be president in terms of executive sanctions without some understanding that the administration would be sympathetic to the idea," the senator added. "Now, I may be wrong. Maybe he did this in a rogue fashion. Maybe General Flynn went rogue... but I think most Americans have a right to know whether or not this was a General Flynn rogue maneuver, or was he basically speaking for somebody else in the White House?"