As The Washington Post reported just hours before Mr Flynn resigned, the White House was told weeks ago that he had apparently misled them about his talks with Russia's ambassador to the United States.
Yet the situation didn't come to a head until the public disclosures last week of Mr Flynn's faulty recollection of the call — and specifically, the fact that it included talk about sanctions, which both he and Vice President Pence had both denied.
Which leads to the question: Was the White House concerned that Mr Flynn had apparently lied to them — or at least done something he shouldn't have and failed to disclose it? Would it ever have taken corrective action if the situation hadn't been made public?
It's a fair question, especially since the administration had, until late Monday, given no indication that Mr Flynn's job was in jeopardy. Appearing on MSNBC early Monday evening, Mr's Trump counsellor Kellyanne Conway even said the administration had “full confidence” in him. Yet just minutes later, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Mr Trump was “evaluating the situation.” Hours later, Mr Flynn resigned.
It's a bit of a complex situation. So it's worth deconstructing with a timeline:
Late December: Mr Flynn, a former lieutenant general who had been selected as Mr Trump's national security adviser, holds a phone call with Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
Despite Mr Flynn's later denials, the two of them discuss sanctions and the possibility of relieving them once Mr Trump is president — this despite the Obama administration preparing new sanctions for Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 election.
Jan. 13: For the first time, Mr Flynn's talks with the Russian ambassador are reported, though there are few details.
Jan. 14: Mr Flynn assures Mr Pence, who was then the vice president-elect, that the two of them didn't discuss sanctions, according to Mr Pence.
Jan. 15: Mr Pence tells “Fox News Sunday: “I talked to General Flynn yesterday, and the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to the new US sanctions against Russia or the expulsion of diplomats.”
Late January: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who would later be relieved of her duties by Mr Trump because she declined to defend his travel ban, informs the White House counsel of Mr Flynn's misleading statements and warns that they were so egregious that he could open himself up to Russian blackmail, given Russia knew he had mischaracterised the call to his superiors. The White House does not amend its false statements.
Feb. 8: In an interview with The Post that would be published the following day, Mr Flynn categorically denies having discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
Feb. 9: The Post reports that Mr Flynn did, in fact, discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador. In response, a spokesperson amends Mr Flynn's previous denial, saying that he “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
Feb. 10: Mr Trump says in brief comments aboard Air Force One that he is unaware of the reports but that he will “look into” it.
A few questions on this:
1. Was the administration planning to take any action based off the Justice Department's late-January news of Flynn having misled them?
2. Mr Trump professes ignorance about Mr Flynn having misled his administration as recently as 10 February. Did the White House counsel really not inform the president about what the Justice Department had told them? Or was it perhaps disregarded once Ms Yates, an Obama appointee, was dismissed in a separate matter?
3. Does the White House truly accept Mr Flynn's contention that he simply forgot about discussing sanctions? Conway's comments Monday suggest they do. But Russian sanctions were one of the biggest stories in US foreign policy at the time.
4. Even if Mr Flynn did truly forget, would it be okay that he discussed something he wasn't supposed to during the phone call?
Much will play out in the hours ahead. For now, though, Mr Flynn's resignation likely won't do anything to tamp down questions about what the White House knew when and just how seriously it was taking the matter.
Copyright Washington Post
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