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Trump’s national security advisor in trouble over Russia links

Donald Trump Presidency Updated: Feb 13, 2017 21:35 IST
Yashwant Raj
Michael Flynn

President Donald Trump passes National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as he arrives at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida on February 12.(AP)

Just three weeks in office, the Trump administration is said to be reviewing whether or not to continue with national security adviser Michael Flynn, one of the president’s closest advisers, after he was found to have misled senior officials about his phone calls to the Russian ambassador to the US.

His position has seemed even more tenuous as neither President Donald Trump, who is quick to defend embattled aides, and aggressively so, nor senior officials speaking for the White House in recent media interviews and interactions have defended him. Trump has only said so far he would look into it.

Flynn spoke multiple times with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak on phone on December 29, the day then President Barack Obama announced a slew of sanctions against Russia for its alleged meddling in the US presidential elections, by hacking computer systems of the Democratic party.

During the calls, contrary to Flynn’s earlier assertion that there was only one when they were several, they had discussed the sanctions, which went beyond a routine call. And if he promised lifting the sanctions once Trump was in office, he could have breached an obscure and little-used 1799 US law that prohibits private citizens from engaging in foreign policy.

On Flynn’s earlier stance, senior White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence had vigorously defended him in multiple media interactions and interviews, repeating his claims that he had only spoken once and that sanctions did not come up in that call. He has since apologised.

New Delhi would be watching these developments closely as Flynn and the Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval had an exceedingly good first meeting in December, according to Indian officials, which lasted much longer than scheduled.

Flynn may still continue as talk about his impending ouster may turn out to be just that. There is speculation about other staff changes — some are calling it a shakeup — about chief of staff Reince Priebus and press secretary Sean Spicer.

Flynn’s situation appeared direr than most because he has been a controversial figure known for pursuing an extremely hard position against Muslims — he has likened Islam to “cancer” — and has been an avid consumer of conspiracy theories.

His son, Michael Flynn Junior, who was expected to be his father’s chief of staff as NSA, was removed from the Trump transition team following outrage over an attempt to push unfounded allegations against Hillary Clinton.

Now the senior Flynn finds himself in the crosshairs. The Washington Post cited a White House official saying “knives were out for Flynn”. And The Wall Street Journal said some White House officials would like to see him go himself.

Trump’s powerful chief strategist in the White House, Steve Bannon, is reported to have said that though Flynn should continue, the administration must “be ready” to let him go, according to the Wall Street Journal.