Michael Flynn Is Under Fire For Conversations With Russian Ambassador
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Less than a month in, there is unrest inside the White House. President Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is under fire for new revelations about conversations he had with Russia's ambassador to Washington.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Those conversations happened in December, right after the Obama administration put sanctions on Russia for interfering in the U.S. presidential election. Last month, administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, insisted Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador had nothing to do with those sanctions.
MARTIN: Now a spokesman for Flynn says sanctions may have come up in the call after all. When NBC's Chuck Todd asked White House policy adviser Stephen Miller about it yesterday, Miller said the White House, quote, "did not give me anything to say."
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CHUCK TODD: Let me ask you this. If you were caught misleading the vice president of the United States, would that be considered a fireable offense in the Trump White House?
STEPHEN MILLER: It's not for me to answer hypotheticals. It wouldn't be responsible. It's a sensitive matter. General Flynn has served his country admirably. He served his country with distinction. And I look forward to having a conversation with you...
TODD: All right.
MILLER: ...Once you've had a chance to talk with the appropriate people in the White House who are dealing with this matter.
MARTIN: Congressman Adam Schiff of California is among the Democrats who are expressing concern over Flynn's actions. He's the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee and he joins us on the line via Skype.
Congressman, thanks for being with us.
ADAM SCHIFF: It's a pleasure.
MARTIN: If this happened - if national security adviser Michael Flynn broached the subject of sanctions with the Russian ambassador, what's the problem? What do you see as concerning here?
SCHIFF: Well, I think we have to put it in context. We just had an election in which our intelligence community has concluded that Russia intervened to hurt Secretary Clinton to essentially help elect Donald Trump. And now, with that objective accomplished, about a month and a half later, you have one of the chief surrogates of the Trump campaign having secret conversations with the Russian ambassador on the same day that the president, Obama, has announced sanctions against that country. And then the next day, uncharacteristically, the Russians decide not to respond to these new sanctions.
And then you have the national security adviser - now-national security adviser, General Flynn, misleading the vice president and the American public about the nature of those calls. If those allegations are true, it's staggering. And he ought to be, if not fired, he should be given a chance to step down. But this has to be investigated. I think the consequences are just enormous.
MARTIN: So draw that out for me. I mean, this is the president's national security adviser. This was before the inauguration. But he was his top national security adviser talking to the Russian ambassador. And President Trump, then-candidate Trump - President-elect Trump had talked a lot about wanting to warm that relationship.
SCHIFF: Yes. But here you have the president of the United States imposing sanctions and, effectively, the incoming national security adviser having a private conversation in which it's suggested that - don't worry about those sanctions - that we're going to do away with them. And this directly undermines the current president of the United States. It does something...
MARTIN: Although we don't know for sure if those were the words he used in that conversation. There's some confusion.
SCHIFF: No, we don't know. But we do know - at least it is alleged that he went on to deny even discussing sanctions. Now, why would he have the secret calls? Why would he deny the substance of it if there wasn't the implicit suggestion we're going to take care of this? You know that election you just helped us win and the sanctions that were levied on you for doing so? Don't worry about it. We're going to help those go away. If that wasn't the suggestion of the call, then why deny the discussions took place?
MARTIN: On Friday, the CIA apparently denied a security clearance for a key aide to Michael Flynn. How do you read that? Does it look to you like the administration's trying to freeze him out?
SCHIFF: No, I think the intelligence community is going to be very cautious about the denial of a security clearance for someone that the Trump administrations want in a key position. If this is something that the CIA director is going to sign off on, they know it's going to be scrutinized. They know it's going to ruffle feathers. They want to make sure that they have their ducks lined up. So if this was denied, it was denied for a reason.
MARTIN: And lastly, there are investigations into the Russian interference happening in both houses of Congress. What more - what other questions now arise for you?
SCHIFF: Well, this, I think, ought to be part of those investigations that we're doing - investigation of the House Intelligence Committee about Trump campaign contacts with Russia. This goes a bit beyond that because it took place after the campaign. But nonetheless, one of those other allegations in the articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times was that this contact on December 29 was not in isolation, that, in fact, it was part of a course of communications during the campaign. So it is very much, I think, within the scope of what we ought to be investigating.
MARTIN: Congressman Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, thank you so much for your time.
SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.