This segment originally aired Feb. 14, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
It’s unclear what will happen to Michael Flynn, the now ex-national security adviser, but the timeline on how we got to his resignation raises all kinds of red flags for the White House.
On Tuesday, the administration confirmed the White House counsel was made aware on Jan. 26 of contact in late December between Flynn and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. That contact has been deemed inappropriate and possibly illegal because Flynn discussed sanctions the Obama administration had levied on Russia.
This is a no-no because the Logan Act doesn’t allow Americans to attempt to influence foreign policy without being official representatives of the U.S. government. Flynn’s conversations with the ambassador took place before the Trump administration took over.
In fact, the contact happened at about the same time that the U.S. announced more sanctions against Russia, including the expulsion of diplomats. While Russia would typically be expected to respond in kind, the day after the sanctions were announced, the Kremlin instead pledged to “restore Russian-U.S. relations based on the policies of the Trump administration.”
Once the White House counsel was made aware, the issue was brought immediately to Trump. Internally, it was decided that while there was no legal problem, the fact that Flynn misled the vice president on the nature of the phone call caused a trust problem.
“We got to a point not based on a legal issue but based on a trust issue with the level of trust between the president and General Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. “The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others.”
This could become a legal problem for Flynn if it turns out he lied to the FBI in his background check process. And if the Justice Department told the White House that a person with the highest level of security clearance may be subject to blackmail by the Russians, people on both sides of the aisle will want to know why it took more than two weeks to remove him.
Those issues, along with figuring who told Flynn to have the conversation with the Russian ambassador in the first place, are things Democrats on Capitol Hill are going to be looking into for a while.