WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Wednesday blamed the
media and "illegally leaked" intelligence information for bringing down
his national security adviser Michael Flynn, one day after the White
House said Trump had asked Flynn to resign because he misled Vice
President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia.
ouster has sparked a new swirl of controversy over Trump's potential
ties to Moscow. Flynn resigned Monday night — at the behest of Trump,
the White House later said — after reports that he had discussed
sanctions with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. before the inauguration,
despite previously denying those conversations to Pence and other top
But in Trump's first public comments on Flynn, he
appeared to side with his former aide, saying it was "really a sad thing
that he was treated so badly."
Trump is said to favor Vice
Admiral Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL, as his next national
security adviser, according to a White House official. Harward met with
top White House officials last week and has the backing of Defense
Secretary Jim Mattis.
Flynn's ouster was a blow to a White House
struggling to find its footing in Trump's first weeks in office. The
questions about Russia only deepened late Tuesday when The New York
Times reported that U.S. agencies had intercepted phone calls last year
between Russian intelligence officials and members of Trump's 2016
campaign team. Current and former U.S. officials who spoke to the Times
anonymously said they found no evidence that the Trump campaign was
working with the Russians on hacking or other efforts to influence the
Trump didn't directly address the veracity of the report
during a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, but lashed out at what he called the "criminal act" of
leaking information. Earlier Wednesday, Trump tweeted that "classified
information is illegally given out by 'intelligence' like candy. Very
The president ignored shouted questions about
whether his advisers were in touch with Russian officials. His spokesman
Sean Spicer said he wasn't aware of any such contacts and panned the
Times report for relying on "unnamed sources."
Democrats called for an independent investigation into Trump's Russia ties and urged Republicans to join them.
is a moment for Republicans to put country ahead of party," Connecticut
Sen. Chris Murphy said. "There's only one or two times like this in
your political career where you face a moment like this where what's
good for your country may not be good for your party."
lawmakers, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, resisted, saying that
the existing congressional committees will continue their
investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election.
maintained for weeks that he had not discussed U.S. sanctions in his
conversations with Russia's ambassador. He later conceded that the topic
may have come up.
Trump initially thought Flynn could survive the
controversy, according to a person with direct knowledge of the
president's views, but a pair of explosive stories in The Washington
Post in recent days made the situation untenable. As early as last week,
he and aides began making contingency plans for Flynn's dismissal, a
senior administration official said. While the president was said to be
upset with Flynn, he also expressed anger with other aides for "losing
control" of the story and making his young administration look bad.
vice president, who had vouched for Flynn in a televised interview, is
said to have been angry and deeply frustrated. Pence spokesman Marc
Lotter said Pence became aware that he had received "incomplete
information" from Flynn only after the first Washington Post report
Thursday night. At about the same time, Pence learned that the Justice
Department had warned the White House last month regarding Flynn's
conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Flynn, in an
interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation, said Monday "there
were no lines crossed" in his conversations with Kislyak.
officials and others with knowledge of the situation were not authorized
to discuss the matter publicly and requested anonymity.
the Jan. 20 inauguration, Pence and other officials insisted publicly
that Flynn had not discussed sanctions in his talks with the Russian
ambassador. On Jan. 26, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates contacted
White House counsel Don McGahn to raise concerns about discrepancies
between the public accounting and what intelligence officials knew to be
true about the contacts based on routine recordings of communications
with foreign officials who are in the U.S.
The Justice Department
warned the White House that the inconsistencies would leave the
president's top national security aide vulnerable to blackmail from
Russia, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion. The
president was informed of the warnings the same day, Spicer said.
Flynn was interviewed by the FBI around the same time, according to a U.S. official who was briefed on the investigation.