Late on Monday, Feb. 13, the acting national security advisor to the president of the United States, Michael T. Flynn, resigned under mounting pressure from the press and the public.
Days before President Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, a report surfaced that Flynn had been in contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, as early as Dec. 29—the same day that then-President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia following their involvement in the hacking of U.S. political groups. The fact that the call was made on the same day that the White House reprimanded Russia raised eyebrows and heightened speculation about the phone call between Flynn and Kislyak. While it’s not unusual for White House officials to contact ambassadors to the U.S. during transitional periods, it would be a massive violation of protocol for Flynn to have discussed President Obama’s sanctions with the ambassador—and if Flynn made any promises of contrary action after the inauguration, his activity could be deemed illegal under the 1799 Logan Act.
Trump officials, at the time the report surfaced, confirmed the phone call, but said that their understanding was that the sanctions had not been discussed. When questioned in an interview about the content of the phone call, Flynn stated twice that he had not discussed the sanctions with Kislyak, but later backtracked, claiming that he could not recall exactly what the conversation had entailed. As recently as this month, Vice President Mike Pence also denied the claim that Flynn had spoken of specific policy imposed by the Obama administration, noting that he (Flynn) had briefed the vice president and other White House officials on the matter.
This was all in spite of the fact that, last month, acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that Flynn had misled officials on what had been discussed, and asserted that the Justice Department worried that the situation could expose the national security advisor to blackmail by Russia. The White House chose not to act. Yates was fired soon after for refusing to defend President Trump’s refugee ban. The issue eventually boiled over as a result of increased media attention and growing mistrust of Flynn within White House circles.
The question many are asking now is whether or not Flynn was receiving direction on what to discuss with the Russian ambassador, and if other senior advisors or even the president himself were aware of what was a possibly-illegal exchange. The House Oversight Committee, however, has stated that they will not pursue an investigation into Flynn’s actions.
General Keith Kellogg is now serving as the temporary national security advisor while the White House searches for a permanent replacement.