© 2021 WKSU
Public Radio News for Northeast Ohio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

DOJ Warned White House Flynn Could Be Vulnerable To Russian Blackmail

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Trump White House says that national security adviser Michael Flynn did nothing illegal, and the president didn't know about Flynn's discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador until about a month later. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, was chosen to be national security adviser back in November. Last night, he resigned.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SEAN SPICER: We got to a point not based on a legal issue but based on a trust issue where the level of trust between the president and General Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change.

SIEGEL: That's Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaking today. We'll talk to NPR's Mara Liasson in a moment about what happens now.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

But first we want to catch you up on the long and sometimes twisting timeline of how that trust between the president and his adviser eroded. Adam Entous his colleagues at The Washington Post were the first to report on this story.

It goes back to late-December when Flynn talked on the phone to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. It was the same day that then-President Obama put sanctions on Russia for meddling in the U.S. election. And when Russia didn't retaliate, that got the attention of the American intelligence community. Here's Entous on what happened next.

ADAM ENTOUS: Whenever something unusual happens, the intelligence community will start looking through the intelligence, intercepts collected by the NSA. It would also include the wiretaps of the Russian ambassador here in Washington. And so they look at this. They see this conversation between Flynn and Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, and some top officials at the Justice Department were alarmed by what they saw in the intel report.

MCEVERS: Entous says what they saw is that Flynn talked to the ambassador about those sanctions on Russia, specifically that he told the ambassador not to overreact, and they could revisit once Trump was in office. But that is not how Flynn described the conversations to fellow members of the incoming Trump administration. So officials like Vice President-elect Mike Pence were out in public saying Flynn's calls never touched on the sanctions. Here's Pence on "Face The Nation" in mid-January.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: What I can confirm having spoken to him about it is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

MCEVERS: Adam Entous of The Washington Post says it was these public statements that worried people inside the Justice Department and the intelligence community. John Brennan, the CIA director, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence and Sally Yates, at the time the deputy attorney general for the Obama administration and soon to be the acting attorney general - they knew what Pence was saying was untrue.

ENTOUS: They knew this to be incorrect, and they also knew that Kislyak had reported on his conversation with Flynn to Moscow. So Moscow also knew that this was incorrect.

MCEVERS: In other words, they worried Flynn might be at risk for blackmail by Russia.

ENTOUS: Those public statements by Pence and the others prompted a debate where basically Yates, John Brennan and James Clapper thought that the Trump team, once they took office, needed to be told that Flynn had mischaracterized apparently what he had discussed with Ambassador Kislyak so that the Russians wouldn't have this information and potentially try to use it as leverage in the future in their contacts with Flynn.

MCEVERS: That's Adam Entous of The Washington Post. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.