President Donald Trump is evaluating the situation surrounding U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn over his Russian contacts, Trump’s spokesman said on Monday, pointedly declining to make a public show of support for his embattled aide.
A statement from White House press secretary Sean Spicer, read to reporters crowded around his office, suggested that the review into Flynn’s activities stretched beyond the conversations he had with Russian officials before Trump took office on Jan. 20.
Flynn had told Vice President Mike Pence he had not discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Russian officials, prompting Pence to defend him in subsequent television interviews.
In recent days Flynn has acknowledged he might have discussed sanctions but could not remember with 100 percent certainty, which officials said had upset Pence.
“The president is evaluating the situation. He is speaking to … Vice President Pence relative to the conversation the vice president had with General Flynn and also speaking to various other people about what he considers the single most important subject there is, our national security,” Spicer said.
Beyond his Russian contacts, some news reports have focused on accusations of dysfunction in the National Security Council with Flynn at the helm.
An hour before Spicer read his statement, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s closest aides, had told reporters that Flynn had the full confidence of the president.
Still, it was notable that Trump did not use the opportunity of a joint news conference with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday to make a public show of support for Flynn.
Top White House officials have been reviewing Flynn’s contacts with the Russians and whether he discussed the possibility of lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia once Trump took office. That would potentially be in violation of a law banning private citizens from engaging in foreign policy, known as the Logan Act.
Conway said Flynn had spoken twice to Pence about the incident on Friday, including once in person. An administration official had said Flynn had apologized personally to Pence, who is said to be troubled by the possibility he was misled.
There was no indication from transcripts of Flynn’s conversations that he had promised to lift the sanctions but rather that he made more general comments about hoping for better U.S.-Russian relations with Trump, a U.S. official said.
(Editing by Sandra Maler and Jonathan Oatis)