President Donald Trump was told in late January that his top national security aide, Michael Flynn, had misled Vice President Mike Pence.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump was told in late January that his top national security aide had misled his vice president, three weeks before Trump ousted adviser Michael Flynn amid a swirling public controversy over Flynn's contacts with a Russian official, a White House spokesman said Tuesday.
Press secretary Sean Spicer said Flynn's firing on Monday was prompted by a gradual "erosion of that trust" and not any concern about the legality of the retired general's calls with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Spicer said the president withheld judgment on Flynn until after the White House counsel's office conducted a review of the legal issues raised by the calls.
Flynn's ouster appeared to be driven more by the idea that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials than by the content of his discussions with the Russian. Still, the matter deepened questions about Trump's friendly posture toward Russia.
"This was an act of trust — whether or not he misled the vice president was the issue and that was ultimately what led to the president asking for and accepting the resignation of Gen. Flynn," Spicer said.
Flynn's resignation came after reports that the Justice Department had alerted the White House weeks ago that there were contradictions between Trump officials' public accounting of the Russia contacts and what intelligence officials knew to be true based on routine recordings of communications with foreign officials who are in the U.S.
Spicer said White House counsel's office reviewed the situation after it was flagged by the Department of Justice, and along with the president, the counsel determined that it did not pose a legal problem.
The revelations were another destabilizing blow to an administration that has already suffered a major legal defeat on immigration, botched the implementation of a signature policy and stumbled through a string of embarrassing public relations missteps.
White House officials haven't said when Trump was told of the Justice Department warning or why Flynn had been allowed to stay on the job with access to a full range of intelligence materials.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a longtime Russia critic, said Congress needs to know what Flynn discussed with the ambassador and why.
"The idea that he did this on his own without any direction is a good question to ask," Graham added.