Trump faces calls for probe after National Security Adviser quits over Russia talks

There was no word on when Donald Trump will announce Michael Flynn’s replacement. New Delhi will be watching closely with perhaps a sense of frustration at having to start all over.

Donald Trump Presidency Updated: Feb 15, 2017 00:04 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Michael Flynn (left) spoke to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak multiple times on December 29, the day President Barack Obama announced a slew of sanctions against Russia for allegedly meddling in the US presidential elections(AFP File)

US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned on Monday, admitting that he gave senior officials of the Donald Trump administration an “incomplete” account of his dealings with the Russian ambassador to the US.

Lt Gen (retd) Joseph Keith Kellogg, who has been named acting NSA, former CIA director Gen (retd) David Petraeus and vice-admiral (retd) Robert Harward — all military personnel as several others in the brass-heavy Trump administration — lead the race to replace Flynn.

In his resignation letter, Flynn said: “In the course of my duties as the incoming National Security Advisor, I held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers, and ambassadors. These calls were to facilitate a smooth transition and begin to build the necessary relationships between the President, his advisors and foreign leaders. Such calls are standard practice in any transition of this magnitude.

“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador (Sergey Kislyak). I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology.”

After Flynn quit, Donald Trump named Lt Gen (Retd) Keith Kellogg, a decorated Vietnam war veteran who was serving as a director on the joint chiefs of staff, the interim national security advisor. (AP)

Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador multiple times on December 29, the day President Barack Obama announced a slew of sanctions against Russia for allegedly meddling in the US presidential elections.

When the interactions were reported — US intelligence routinely monitors all foreign embassies’ communications including and specially the Russian (and the Indian missions) as do all host countries — Flynn claimed that, one, he spoke only once to the ambassador and, two, sanctions were not discussed.

Flynn had been incorrect on both counts and with the senior-most officials in the administration, including Vice-President Mike Pence, who were fielded by the White House to defend the embattled NSA in interviews and interactions on all major television news networks.

There was no word on when President Trump will announce his pick. New Delhi will be watching closely with perhaps a sense of frustration at having to start all over. Indian NSA Ajit Doval had an extended meeting with Flynn in December and both sides had felt pleased the two, both with extensive intelligence experience, had got along well.

Questions are now being raised if Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak was cleared as part of Trump’s stated aim to improve ties with Russia and whether he was asked to bring up sanctions or he was freelanced.

Obama administration officials who knew of the conversation had told the White House, according to reports, last month that Flynn had misled the administration about his phone call, which had left him vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.

But it was not known what the Trump administration did. As questions continued to be raised, it became clear last weekend that Flynn was in trouble. Reports based on leaks said “knives were out for him” and that his position was being reviewed.

On Monday afternoon, a key Trump aide, Kellyanne Conway told a TV news anchor the president had full confidence in his national security adviser.

After some time, White House press secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement saying: “The President is evaluating the situation. He’s speaking to the vice president relative to the conversation the vice president had with Gen. Flynn, and also speaking to various other people about what he considers the single most important subject there is: our national security.”

Flynn quit a few hours later.

Flynn’s unprecedented early departure poured fuel on demands for an full independent investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s inner circle and the Kremlin.

“This. Is. Not. Normal.” said Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, insisting “Trump owes Americans a full account” of his administration’s dealings with Moscow before and after the 2016 election.

The CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies have already investigated Moscow’s influence over the 2016 vote, concluding the Kremlin tried to sway the vote in Trump’s favor.

Various committees in the Republican-controlled Congress are already looking into Russia’s election-related hacking and the Trump campaign’s links to Moscow.

But Democrats are now demanding a fuller investigation, which could bring with it the power to call Flynn and members of Trump’s inner circle to testify.

(With AFP inputs)

First Published: Feb 14, 2017 21:31 IST