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Trump Accepts Resignation Of National Security Adviser Flynn

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Donald Trump's national security adviser is out of a job this morning. Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn offered his resignation last night, and the president accepted it. This is all about Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States in December, before Trump took office, and whether Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about what they discussed. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us to talk about this. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey.

GREENE: So remind us how we got here.

KEITH: We've known for about a month about the conversations between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. But the administration's story about when the conversations happened and what they discussed has been a moving target. Then, late last week, The Washington Post reported that Flynn and the Russian ambassador talked about the sanctions that former President Obama had imposed because of Russia's alleged meddling in the presidential election. The Post based its reporting on what it said were nine current and former intelligence officials.

That call between Kislyak and Flynn was recorded and transcribed as part of sort of standard surveillance on the Russian diplomat. So there are a couple of problems with this - first, that the conversations happened in December before Trump was in the White House and it's against the law for private citizens, as Flynn was at the time, to conduct foreign policy...

GREENE: And a breach of diplomatic protocol in many ways with the whole one-president-at-a-time rule.

KEITH: Yes, the whole one-president thing that was apparently not being upheld. And the other problem is that Flynn told Vice President Pence something different. So last month, Pence went out and he did a round of television interviews where he vouched for Flynn and said that Flynn absolutely hadn't discussed the sanctions, which we now know wasn't true.

GREENE: Well - and there are officials, including Michael McFaul, the former ambassador to Russia under President Obama, saying that is the important thing. It is not about, necessarily, the conversations and what came up talking about sanctions or not. It's that Mike Pence and maybe even President Trump, you know, just - it was a matter of losing trust here.

KEITH: Yeah, losing trust and sort of hanging the vice president out to dry...

GREENE: Did Flynn own up to this?

KEITH: ...I mean, putting him in a really bad position.

GREENE: Did Flynn own up to what he did if he misled Pence?

KEITH: Sort of. He said he, quote, "inadvertently" gave Pence and others what he called incomplete information about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador and blamed the fast pace of events. That stretches credulity if you consider how many different conversations we know that Flynn had with people in the administration about those conversations with the Russian ambassador. It wasn't just Pence but also Press Secretary Sean Spicer, the White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. In the letter, Flynn says he apologized to the president and vice president and that they accepted his apology.

GREENE: Well - but there's more to work out here, right? I mean, things seem even murkier this morning. Our colleague Carrie Johnson is reporting that the White House, in fact, knew some weeks ago that Flynn's public statements weren't exactly matching what occurred. What's happening here?

KEITH: Yeah. So the central player here is Sally Yates. You might remember that she was the Obama holdover, the acting attorney general fired by President Trump when she told the Justice Department attorneys not to defend his travel order in court. But according to Carrie's sources, sometime before Yates was fired, she told Trump's White House counsel, Don McGahn that intelligence intercepts showed Flynn had in fact discussed the sanctions with Russia's ambassador.

This story was first reported by The Washington Post, which adds that a career national security official joined Yates when she spoke to McGahn. Carrie reports that it's not clear where the information went past him. But last Friday, Vice President Pence appeared surprised by reports that Flynn may have misled him.

GREENE: So what happens now? Who is taking Flynn's place?

KEITH: Another retired general, retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg has been named as the acting national security adviser. Kellogg most recently served as chief of staff for the National Security Council. And they will be looking for a long-term replacement.

But, you know, the headaches for the Trump team are not likely to go away with the resignation of Flynn. There are congressional investigations looking into ties between Russia and members of Trump's team. And the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, put out a statement last night with a line in it that really pops out. He said, quote, the Trump administration has yet to be forthcoming about who was aware of Flynn's conversations with the ambassador and whether he was acting on the instructions of the president or any other officials or with their knowledge.

GREENE: Oh, wow - you're saying that pops out because this is a Democrat hinting maybe that he is going to suggest that President Trump himself was directing Flynn in these conversations.

KEITH: That it could go deeper than just Flynn.

GREENE: OK. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Tam, thanks a lot.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.