Less than 48 hours after he fired Michael Flynn as his national security adviser, President Donald Trump rose to Flynn’s defense Wednesday and bemoaned the leaks that uncovered Flynn’s conversations with a Russian official.
It was an odd spectacle, the man who fired Flynn talking about how great a person Flynn is and how unfairly he’d been treated. But it was a reflection of how little is known about why the White House determined Flynn had to go, even as members of Congress repeated their calls for a deeper investigation into Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak as part of probes into Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
Flynn tendered his resignation late Monday after what the White House called an “erosion of trust.” But during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nentanyahu, Trump said the real issue wasn’t Flynn’s actions, but the torrent of leaks that forced Trump’s hand nearly three weeks after he first learned that Flynn had lied about his contacts with Kislyak.
“From intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked,” Trump said, blaming unspecified intelligence agencies for news stories that detailed how the Justice Department warned the White House Jan. 26 that Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak had been captured by the routine monitoring U.S. agencies do of Russian officials’ communications. The transcript of that call, the Justice Department warned, showed Flynn was not being truthful.
“It’s a criminal action, criminal act,” Trump said of the leak, “and it’s been going on for a long time before me, but now it’s really going on.”
The consequences were still becoming clear on Wednesday. Flynn, a career intelligence officer who’d risen to lead the Defense Intelligence Agency, had his security clearance suspended Wednesday. No official explanation for the move was offered.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer had said repeatedly that White House officials had concluded that Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak had broken no laws. “It was a matter of trust,” Spicer said to explain the decision to let Flynn go.
On Wednesday, Spicer, as had his boss, tried to bring the focus back to the leaking of classified information, something that has plagued the new administration from the day of Trump’s inauguration.
Those leaks should be the bigger concern, Spicer argued, laying blame on unnamed officials in the Justice Department and the intelligence community. The argument found support among some Republican and Democratic members of Congress.
“They are inappropriate,” said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a longtime Trump supporter. “It doesn’t matter where they are coming from. A leak is a leak. It’s disappointing and disloyal to the president.”
People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton. I think it's very, very unfair. President Donald Trump
When intelligence leaks are involved with national security, it is a big problem, said Sen. Jim Risch, R-ID, who is a member of the Senate intelligence committee.
“I can tell you that with the great body of intelligence information out there, not much has leaked out, but even a little bit of it being leaked out is way too much,” Risch said on PBS NewsHour. “It is very dangerous and un-American to leak. It puts people’s lives in jeopardy and it really endangers the United States. “
Former Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich said it’s a bad thing that Flynn misled the president of the United States, but that the country needs to “wake up” to what is happening inside the intelligence community.
“The American people have to know that there’s a game going on inside the intelligence community where there are those that want to separate the U.S. from Russia in a way that would reignite the Cold War,” Kucinich told Fox Business Network’s “Mornings with Maria.”
Spicer said Trump had been made aware weeks ago that Flynn had not told the truth, but that Flynn was entitled to due process before a decision was made on whether the offense deserved firing.
Since being sworn into office, Trump has been besieged by a series of leaks that continue to flow out of the White House and agencies. The constant stream of leaks help depict an administration in chaos.
“All of this has an impact on the president,” said Doug Heye, a veteran Republican strategist. “It’s contributing to a White House in turmoil and ultimately it hurts the president.”
Some have opined that Trump likes the chaos, and it’s all part of a plan, but on Wednesday Trump seemed to want to regain control. He repeated a claim he made after the result of the Nov. 8 vote that saw him victorious.
“People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton. I think it’s very, very unfair,” Trump said.
Anita Kumar contributed to this report.