The White House said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump had known for some time his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had not been truthful about his phone call with the Russian ambassador to the US, but asked him to resign on Monday after it became clear the senior aide had lost his trust and that of vice-president Mike Pence.
''The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation is what led the president to ask for General Flynn's resignation,'' White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at his daily briefing, clarifying for the first time Trump had fired the NSA, who according to an earlier account from the administration had seemed to have resigned voluntarily (See: Trump's security advisor Michael Finn quits over Russian links). Flynn, who has admitted only to providing ''incomplete information'' and not lying, could be looking at more trouble as he is reported to have not been completely forthcoming when FBI agents interviewed him about the call in the early days of the Trump administration, which could pose him legal problems.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has indicated it was ''highly likely'' the intelligence committee of the chamber could investigate this ''episode'' as part of its larger probe of alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election.
Flynn, a retired lieutenant general who was an early supporter of Trump, resigned on Monday night, admitting to providing ''incomplete information'' to senior White House officials, including Pence, about the phone conversation he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak on 29 December, the day President Barack Obama announced sanctions against Russia for allegedly meddling in the election, including the eviction of 35 Russian diplomats from the US.
After reports appeared of the conversation, which was recorded by US intelligence that routinely monitors high-level foreign targets, Flynn denied to Pence and Spicer that sanctions were discussed. In fact, sanctions did indeed come up.
He told The Daily Caller, a conservative news site, in an interview hours before he was fired, ''It wasn't about sanctions. It was about the 35 guys (Russian diplomats) who were thrown out. So that's what it turned out to be. It was basically, 'Look, I know this happened. We'll review everything.' I never said anything such as, 'We're going to review sanctions,' or anything like that.''
The Justice Department, which knew exactly what had been discussed in the call, warned the White House on 26 January that the NSA could have left himself vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow as there was a difference between what he was admitting to and what actually happened.
Trump was informed immediately and he ordered the legal team to look into the issue and they concluded after an extensive review that no federal law had been violated in the call. But there was the issue of trust.
''We got to a point not based on a legal issue, but based on a trust issue, with the level of trust between the president and General Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change,'' Spicer said. ''The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others.''