White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Tuesday that the key factor behind the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about the nature of his talks with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. last year.
“The key here is the misleading of the vice president and others — the incomplete information or the inability to completely recall what did or did not happen as reflected in his debriefing of particular phone calls,” Ms. Conway said on NBC’s “Today” program.
Mr. Flynn resigned Monday after increasing questions surrounding his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition period between the November election and President Trump’s inauguration.
Mr. Flynn said in his resignation letter that he “inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information” on what was discussed. Mr. Flynn had denied he talked about U.S. sanctions against Russia and later said he couldn’t recall for certain they hadn’t been discussed.
Mr. Pence said in a CBS interview last month that sanctions did not come up in the talks, only to have staff clarify last week that those statements were based on what Mr. Flynn had told him.
Mr. Trump has named retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg Jr. as acting national security adviser to replace Mr. Flynn for the time being.
Ms. Conway was asked about reports that the Justice Department had warned the White House last month that Mr. Flynn could have been vulnerable to Russian blackmail as a result.
“I’m telling you what the president has said, which is that he’s accepted General Flynn’s resignation and he wishes him well and that we’re moving on,” she said.
Ms. Conway said it would be a “mistake” to conclude that Mr. Flynn was not “freelancing” with the calls and was acting on behalf of the incoming administration.
“Remember, in the end, it was misleading the vice president that made the situation unsustainable,” she said.
“In this case, it is the misleading to the vice president and also the inability to remember, as General Flynn started to clarify his remarks and say, ‘I can’t remember. I can’t recall,’ ” she said.
Mr. Flynn denied to The Washington Post last week that sanctions were discussed, but a spokesman later said he couldn’t be sure.
Ms. Conway had said Monday afternoon that Mr. Flynn had the full confidence of the president, but press secretary Sean Spicer said later that they were evaluating the situation.
She said Tuesday the two sentiments were not incompatible.
“The president is very loyal. He’s a very loyal person, and by night’s end Mike Flynn had decided it was best to resign,” she said.
“He knew he’d become a lightning rod, and he made that decision,” she said.