Does the White House stand by Michael Flynn? 'That's a question for the president'
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn faced strong criticism on Sunday for allegedly discussing U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country's ambassador to the United States, with even a top White House official declining to say whether the president stands by the former general.
In a series of appearances, Trump's top domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller demurred when asked about Flynn amid reports that the national security adviser spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Inauguration Day and urged Moscow to show restraint in its response to sanctions implemented by the Obama administration. Those conversations were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal overture to the Kremlin.
"I don't have any news to make you today on this point," Miller said on ABC's "This Week" when anchor George Stephanopolous asked about Flynn's interactions with Kislyak. That prompted Stephanopoulos to ask, "Then why are you coming on if you can't answer the questions being posed about the White House?"
On NBC's "Meet the Press," when moderator Chuck Todd asked whether Trump still had confidence in Flynn, Miller said he did not know. He said his colleagues at the White House "did not give me anything to say."
"It's not for me to tell you what's in the president's mind," Miller told Todd. "That's a question for the president, that's a question for our chief of staff."
Flynn's contact with Russian officials contradicts past public statements by several top officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, who in a series of television interviews before Inauguration Day acknowledged that Flynn had limited contact with Kislyak late last year, but that the issue of sanctions was never raised.
When Todd asked if he thought lying to the president or vice president would be a fireable offense, Miller replied: "It's not for me to answer hypotheticals, it wouldn't be responsible. It's a sensitive matter. Gen. Flynn has served his country admirably, he served his country with distinction."
On Saturday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the longest-serving member on the House Intelligence Committee, called for Trump to suspend and revoke Flynn's security clearance.
"Once again, I am calling on the FBI to investigate the financial, political and personal ties between President Donald Trump and Russia. The American people deserve the truth," she said in a statement. "President Trump's kowtowing to Vladimir Putin is endangering our national security and emboldening a dangerous tyrant. What do the Russians have on President Trump that he would flirt with lifting sanctions and weakening NATO?"
On ABC, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., agreed that suspending Flynn's clearance be "an appropriate action."
Cummings added that any investigation of Flynn would have to also account for whether Trump authorized his top security adviser to discuss sanctions with Russian officials.
"Did he know about it? If he knew about this conversation, when did he know it? That, to me, that is the key question. And we need to find out what that answer is," Cummings told "This Week."
Speaking aboard Air Force One on Friday, Trump told reporters that he planned to "look into" reports about Flynn.
"I don't know about that. I haven't seen it," Trump said during a flight to Florida from Washington.
Last week Flynn initially denied to The Washington Post that he discussed sanctions with Kislyak, but a spokesman later said that Flynn "couldn't be certain that the topic never came up."
Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., doubted that explanation.
"I don't think you want a guy who would forget that. Your national security adviser would forget that he was talking about lifting the sanctions with the Russian ambassador," he said. "I don't think you want a guy in either of those scenarios to be in that position."
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told "Fox News Sunday" that Flynn's conduct suggests "that's not the type of person you want to have around you giving you advice. So, I think he has very much questioned his credibility. We need to get to the bottom of this."
Cardin added that Russia's involvement in last year's presidential election warrants a broader independent investigation.
"I'd call for an independent commission similar to what we had in 9/11," Cardin told Fox. "Russia attacked us. We need to have an independent investigation, and Gen. Flynn's comments just add to our concern about the relationship with Russia."
Trump was set to meet on Sunday with his nominee for treasury secretary, Steven T. Mnuchin, and other advisers, before flying back to the White House from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.