WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed ex-senior White House aide Michael Flynn on his phone calls with the Russian ambassador days into his job, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
The contents of the interview were unknown. But the Times said that if Flynn, who resigned from his position as President Donald Trump’s top national security aide late Monday, had not been truthful with the agents about those conversations, he could face charges.
Citing current and former government officials, the Times said that after the FBI interviewed Flynn on January 26, the justice department’s top official at the time, acting attorney general Sally Yates, reported to the White House that there were significant differences between what intelligence officials knew of the calls and what Vice President Mike Pence had said publicly.
Yates reportedly told the White House that the discrepancies left Flynn potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.
Trump asked Flynn to resign on Monday after the retired army general admitted having misled Pence on whether his discussions in December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak involved US sanctions on Moscow.
Pence insisted in television interviews in mid-January that Flynn hadn’t spoken about sanctions with Kislyak. But last week, it came to light that transcripts of those calls show the topic was broached.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Flynn had lost Trump’s confidence.
“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 told journalists.
Flynn is the third Trump aide to step back amid questions about his ties to Russia since the mogul began his improbable White House bid.
His departure follows those of election campaign manager Paul Manafort and Carter Page, an early foreign policy advisor to the candidate.
The unprecedented early resignation of a key member of staff has rocked an administration already buffeted by leaks, infighting and legal defeats.
Trump took to Twitter Tuesday to insist that “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?”
The White House also insisted that Trump — despite repeatedly professing admiration for Vladimir Putin and suggesting sanctions could be lifted — “has been incredibly tough on Russia.”
In a new hardening of the US line on Russia, Spicer added that “President Trump has made it very clear he expects the Russian government to de-escalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea.”
The State Department meanwhile expressed concern that Russia is in breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, after reports that Moscow had deployed an operational ground-launched cruise missile unit.
Inquiries and missteps
The White House’s efforts are likely to do little to assuage concerns on Capitol Hill about Russia’s influence in US politics.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress have now called for an investigation into what occurred, although they differ sharply on the scope and powers.
“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 US Senate’s top Republican Mitch McConnell said it was “highly likely” that Flynn would have to testify before an intelligence panel, potentially heaping pressure on Trump.
The CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies have already investigated Moscow’s influence over the 2016 vote, concluding the Kremlin tried to sway it in Trump’s favor.
Various committees in the Republican-controlled Congress are looking into Russia’s election-related hacking and the Trump campaign’s links to Moscow.
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.