Flynn resigned as national security adviser on Monday evening after only 24 days on the job, after it became clear that he had discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Donald Trump’s inauguration and then lied about it. On Tuesday, three people commented on Flynn’s resignation—first Kellyanne Conway, then Donald Trump, then Sean Spicer—and none of their stories lined up.
First, Conway was grilled by hard-nosed reporter Matt Lauer on Today:
“Mike Flynn had decided it was best to resign. He knew he had become a lightning rod and he made that decision,” Conway said. “That fact is what became unsustainable, actually. I think misleading the vice president really was the key here. And I spoke with the president this morning. He asked me to speak on his behalf and to reiterate that Mike Flynn had resigned.”
It was Flynn’s decision to resign, according to Conway. He did so because news that he had spoken to the Russian ambassador about sanctions had leaked, damaging the credibility of the administration.
But only a few hours later, Sean Spicer told the press that it was Trump that asked for Flynn’s resignation and that he did so because of the erosion of trust that had resulted from Flynn (allegedly) lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador:
Spicer also said that Trump had been briefed “immediately after” the White House counsel was informed in mid-January of the nature of Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador—this contradicts Trump’s claim on Friday that he didn’t know anything about it. (Spicer later claimed that Trump was referring to a Washington Post story about the conversation, and not about Flynn’s conversation itself.)
But this means that Trump was briefed by the Department of Justice and did nothing about it, even though this means he knew that Flynn was vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians. Spicer argued that this was because the president concluded that Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador did not break the law, a question that has not been settled. But even if it was settled this doesn’t add up on two counts: 1) it is an inadequate response if Flynn was susceptible to blackmail; and 2) presumably Trump would have realized that he couldn’t trust Flynn right then and there, not weeks later.
In between Conway and Spicer’s interviews, Trump tweeted this:
This takes a totally different approach, arguing that the problem wasn’t what Flynn did, but that it leaked out. It suggests that Trump doesn’t have a problem with Flynn speaking to the Russians about U.S. sanctions. Spicer said as much, even though it is potentially illegal.
Why is this story so muddled? Trump’s tweet is telling: Flynn was let go not because of what he did, but because it was made public and started to become a problem. That is not a very good explanation for why someone was removed from their job, which explains why Conway and Spicer have done such a terrible job of explaining the timeline. But it’s also distinctly possible that their stories aren’t straight because this isn’t the whole story, and that there are more revelations to be made about the connections between Trump’s inner circle and the Russian government.