White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that President Donald Trump has known for several weeks that his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, may have been untruthful about his communications with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
"We've been reviewing and evaluating this issue with respect to General Flynn on a daily basis for a few weeks trying to ascertain the truth," Spicer said.
According to Spicer, then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed the White House last month that Flynn may have misled the administration about the nature of his December phone calls with Kislyak. "Immediately after the Department of Justice notified the White House counsel of the situation, the White House counsel briefed the president and a small group of senior advisers," Spicer said.
Spicer maintained that the decision to remove Flynn did not stem from legal concerns but a "trust" issue.
The statement that Trump has known about the issue for weeks appears to directly contradict the administration's previous comments on the controversy, including Trump's own remarks aboard Air Force One last week. On Friday, Trump claimed he was unfamiliar with the allegations—raised in a Washington Post story—that before Trump took office, Flynn had discussed easing sanctions against Russia with Kislyak.
"What do you think about reports that Gen. Flynn had conversations with the Russians about sanctions before you were sworn in?" a reporter asked Trump on Friday.
"I don't know about it, I haven't seen it," he responded. "What report is that?"
After a reporter mentioned the Post story, Trump added, "I haven't seen that. I'll look into it."
When asked about that exchange on Tuesday, Spicer insisted that the president was not denying that he knew about the Justice Department's warning, but was instead simply claiming not to have seen the specific Post story in question.
During Tuesday's press briefing, Spicer also said that Trump had asked Flynn to step down from his post because of the "evolving and eroding level of trust" between Flynn and the president. Hours earlier, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway made multiple media appearances in which she claimed Flynn resigned on his own.
Shortly after Tuesday's briefing, the New York Times reported that the had FBI interviewed Flynn during his brief tenure as national security adviser about his conversation with Kislyak. As the Times noted, the revelation "raises the stakes of what so far has been a political scandal" because "if he was not entirely honest with the FBI, it could expose Mr. Flynn to a felony charge."
And now another headline with the Trump administration and FBI in it https://t.co/i6JZPOtgje— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) February 14, 2017