On a late December evening in 2016, Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor to the Trump administration, made a call to the Russian Ambassador to the United States. Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak discussed, amongst many things, the sanctions the Obama administration imposed on Russia due to the alleged interference the Kremlin had with the 2016 presidential election. This conversation alone was not the catalyst for Flynn’s resignation on Monday, Feb. 13. It was later announced that Flynn had misled then Vice President-Elect Mike Pence about the conversation with Kislyak. Flynn defended this, saying that due to the fast pace of the transition period as the incoming national security advisor, the flow of information inadvertently went awry.
The circumstances surrounding Michael Flynn’s resignation differ quite substantially depending on which source in the Trump Administration was being asked about it. In his statement prior to his resignation, Flynn remained confident that the President and Vice-President had accepted his apology for this mistake, and that all was back to normal. In an interview with MSNBC in the afternoon of the 13th, Kellyanne Conway claimed that Flynn had the “full confidence of the White House” behind him. However, in his press briefing on the morning of Feb. 14, Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed that “the president was very concerned that Gen. Flynn had misled the vice president and others.”
This differentiation in the information that flows from the white house is not an isolated incident in the first month of the Trump administration.
While the Flynn resignation occurred in the middle of February, the public began to get clued in on the supposed circumstances behind the phone conversation with the Russian ambassador in January — before Donald Trump was even inaugurated. On Jan. 13, Sean Spicer told reporters that the call between Flynn and Kislyak only covered a post-inaugural call between Putin and Trump; he told reports “that was it, plain and simple.” Then, Pence told Face The Nation on Jan. 15 that Flynn “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.” The cycle continued through January, with Spicer telling multiple different reporters that the phone call with Kislyak had little to do with the sanctions and only regarded pleasantries between the two countries.
It was also revealed by Sally Yates, the former attorney general, that the Justice Department had warned the White House about the conversation that Flynn had with Kislyak, saying that it may have made him more vulnerable to blackmail from the Kremlin. This risk assessment stems from the lack of communication that Flynn had with others in the transition team and later the administration. It also raises the question of what role Flynn could play in speaking to foreign officials during the transition team, since he was still considered a private citizen, despite having been chosen as the national-security advisor on Nov. 18.
Despite all of this, in an interview with The Washington Post on Feb. 8, Flynn decisively denied discussing the sanctions with the Russian ambassador. On Feb. 9, through a spokesperson to the Washington Post, Flynn backpedaled and said he “couldn’t be certain that the topic [of the sanctions] never came up.”
There are a few different ways that the resignation Michael Flynn could play into the current sphere of controversies waiting to potentially boil over in the Trump Administration. On one side, there is the possibility that President Trump sweeps this under the rug of “fake news” as he has been wont to do over the past month with circumstances that are possibly lurid to his cause. On the other side, the congressional democrats possibly have more fuel for their cries for a private investigation into Russia’s involvement with election. While the call that Flynn made to Ambassador Kislyak may not have had anything to do directly with the Russian hacking, it still puts Russian ties to the Trump administration in the front of the public’s mind and into the top of every news cycle. Having public support will be integral to the Democrats’ cause if they want to continue to press for an outside investigation in concurrence with the internal congressional investigation.