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Flynn resignation sparks calls for probe into Trump's Russia ties

© Mandel Ngan, AFP | File photo of Michael Flynn (L) and President Donald Trump at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, on Feb. 6, 2017.

Video by Philip CROWTHER

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-02-15

Donald Trump's nascent presidency was plunged into crisis Tuesday as the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn triggered new calls for an independent inquiry into the Trump administration's contacts with Moscow.

Barely three weeks after Trump stepped into the Oval Office, Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser over his exchanges with Russia's ambassador buffeted a presidency already rocked by leaks, infighting and scandal.

The White House said late Monday that Trump had accepted Flynn's resignation amid allegations the retired three-star general discussed US sanctions strategy with Russia's Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump took office, a potential violation of US law.

In his resignation letter, Flynn – who once headed US military intelligence – admitted to "inadvertently" misleading Vice President Mike Pence “with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador”.

When asked whether the president authorised or knew about Flynn's discussions about sanctions, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said: "No, absolutely not. No way."

Spicer said White House legal counsel had reviewed the situation and believed Flynn's case was viewed "not as a legal issue but a trust issue".

'Erosion of trust,' says White House spokesman Sean Spicer

FRANCE 24’s Washington DC correspondent Philip Crowther said the shock resignation was bound to trigger new questions about who in the Trump administration knew about the substance of Flynn’s controversial calls.

"More questions will be asked over the next few days about the president himself and his involvement in those phone calls between his national security adviser – now his former national security adviser – and the Russian ambassador here in Washington,” he said.

Democrats on Capitol Hill were quick to demand explanations of the Trump administration’s Kremlin ties.

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

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that phone records and calls intercepted by US law enforcement showed that members of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign were in repeated contact with senior Russian intelligence officials the year before the election.

The report, citing three current and former US officials, said the communications were intercepted around the same time evidence emerged that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee in an attempt to influence the vote. The officials said, however, that there was no evidence so far that Trump’s campaign had colluded with the Russians.

Inquiries and missteps

The CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies have already investigated Moscow's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, concluding the Kremlin tried to sway the vote in Trump's favour.

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.

Republicans seemed at odds over how to proceed, with key members of the House of Representatives appearing to rule out further investigation. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz – who spearheaded investigations into Trump's presidential rival Hillary Clinton – said any problem associated with Flynn was "taking care of itself".

In the House – which has the sole power to impeach the president – Speaker Paul Ryan praised Trump's handling of the issue but refused to comment on further steps.

"I think we have to get all the information before we prejudge anything," he said.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was “highly likely” that the Senate intelligence committee would look into contacts between Flynn and Russia’s Washington ambassador.

“The intelligence committee is already looking at Russian involvement in our election ... it’s highly likely they’d want to take a look at this episode; they have the jurisdiction to do it,” McConnell told a press briefing.

Roy Blunt, a Republican senator on the intelligence committee, told a local radio station that his panel should investigate Flynn's behaviour "exhaustively so that at the end of this process, nobody wonders whether there was a stone left unturned".

Who knew what, and when?

Flynn's resignation came after details of his telephone calls to the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, were made public – increasing pressure on Trump to take action.

But several US media outlets reported Monday that top Trump advisers were warned about Flynn's contacts with the Russians early this year, reopening questions about who knew about the calls and why Trump did not move earlier to replace Flynn.

The Justice Department had warned the White House that Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the contents of his talks with Kislyak and that it could make him vulnerable to Russian blackmail, US media reported.

The message was delivered in the last days of Barack Obama's administration by then attorney general Sally Yates – who Trump sacked after she instructed government lawyers not to defend the new president's controversial travel ban.

The Kremlin on Tuesday said Flynn's resignation was "not our business".

"This is the internal business of the Americans, it is the internal business of President Trump's administration," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists in Moscow.

Possible replacements

Until quitting, Flynn had been instrumental in Trump's inner circle. He was an early supporter of Trump's improbable bid for the presidency and had encouraged tougher policies on Iran and a softer policy on Russia.

That was a sharp break from the Obama administration, which introduced sanctions over Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and what US intelligence says were its attempts to sway last year's election in Trump's favour.

Washington and Moscow had also clashed over alleged war crimes in Syria, where Russia is accused of aiding the bombing of hospitals and other civilian targets. Despite this, Flynn had argued for rapprochement.

Flynn's resignation came just a day before Trump's first official talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussions in which the president's national security adviser would normally have a key role.

After Flynn quit, the White House said Trump had named retired lieutenant general Keith Kellogg, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was serving as a director on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to be interim national security adviser.

Potential permanent replacements for Flynn reportedly include three retired military brass: Kellogg, retired general and former CIA director David Petraeus, and former vice admiral Robert Harward.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

Date created : 2017-02-14

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