National Security Adviser Michael Flynn apologized to Vice President Mike Pence following reports that he misled the vice president about his contact with Russian officials before President Donald Trump was sworn into office.
Trump is considering whether to retain Flynn in his White House position. Press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday he didn’t know how long it would take for Trump to make a decision on Flynn’s fate, but that Flynn had apologized to Pence for any confusion about the nature of his contacts.
“The president is evaluating the situation,” Spicer said. “He’s going to talk to the vice president and various other people.”
Recent news reports have accused Flynn of discussing U.S.-Russia sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but Flynn previously had told Pence that sanctions did not come up in his conversations with Kislyak. Pence later denied on television that Flynn spoke about sanctions with the ambassador.
“I know obviously he’s been made aware of the situation,” Spicer said of Trump. “He’s had a lot of things on his plate these last couple days but he’s aware of it and he’s evaluating it.”
Flynn has continued to fulfill his duties, assisting with this week’s visits of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Flynn was seated in the front row of Trump’s joint news conference with Trudeau Monday. Spicer said Flynn has not resigned.
Flynn’s troubles have consumed the White House for days. Many Trump aides remain frustrated that Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador, but appear to be more upset that he would mislead the vice president.
Spicer said Trump did not ask Flynn to speak to the Russian about sanctions. The conversation occurred on the same day President Barack Obama announced the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for what U.S. intelligence agencies was Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the November election.
“It is part of the job of national security adviser to speak to counterparts . . . that’s a routine normal expected part of the job,” Spicer said.
Spicer released a statement late Monday afternoon after getting many questions on the issue.
“The president is evaluating the situation,” he said. “He's speaking to the vice president relative to the conversation the vice president had with General Flynn, and also speaking to various other people about what he considers the single most important subject there is: our national security.”
The statement came minutes after Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said the president has “full confidence” in Flynn. “Gen. Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president,” she said on MSNBC. Spicer declined to comment on Conway’s remarks.
Trump and his aides have long been criticized for his friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ties to the country.
In 2014, the Obama administration imposed a series of sanctions on Russia following the annexation of Crimea. Then in December, it imposed sanctions against Russian intelligence services and their top officials, expelled 35 Russian officials and closed a pair of Russian-owned compounds that served as retreats in the United States for foreign hacking.
Trump has said he would consider lifting the sanctions imposed against Russia for its annexation of Crimea, along with suggesting that he’d be open to recognizing Crimea as Russian territory.
Earlier this month, the White House loosened financial sanctions against Russia’s powerful security agency that the Obama administration had imposed as punishment for Russia’s meddling in November’s presidential election and for Russia’ 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The administration downplayed the importance of the action, but the decision drew fire from Democrats and was even questioned by fellow Republicans who oppose lifting any sanctions against the Russians.