Opinion Editorial

A look at President Trump's administration and the rest of Washington:

White House is keeping doubts alive about the future of national security advisor Michael Flynn

 (Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency)
(Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency)

The ominous silence around the Trump administration's national security advisor, retired Gen. Michael T. Flynn, deepened Sunday as a senior White House official in a televised interview declined to say if the president still has confidence in him.

"That's the question that I think you should ask the president, the question you should ask Reince [Priebus], the chief of staff," Stephen Miller, the White House senior policy advisor, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" when asked if Trump still has confidence in Flynn.

"So the White House did not give you anything to say," asked the show's host, Chuck Todd.

"They did not give me anything to say," Miller responded.

Miller's silence on Flynn was significant because the White House had booked him on several of the major Sunday television interview programs as the administration's spokesperson this weekend.

White House officials appear to have deliberately chosen Miller, whose portfolio does not include foreign policy, in part to avoid having to give a definitive answer about Flynn.

Flynn's future with the administration is at issue because of indications that he may have misled his colleagues, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the weeks before Trump's inauguration. That would normally be a severe problem for someone in Flynn’s position, but Trump may not want to appear to be dropping an aide under pressure from the media and Democratic critics. 

The FBI has been examining Flynn’s contacts with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, according to multiple news reports. Agents are looking at whether Flynn tried to undermine the Obama administration’s move to toughen sanctions against Moscow after concluding that Russia had meddled in the U.S. election.

Flynn had publicly denied discussing sanctions with Kislyak. But on Thursday, a Washington Post account, citing nine current or former U.S. officials, flatly contradicted those denials. The article quoted a representative for Flynn as backing away from his previous statements, saying that though Flynn “had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

Since the Post published its report, the White House has passed up several opportunities to publicly back up Flynn. Trump, asked about the report on Friday, said he was unaware of it.

Shortly after Miller's appearances on "Meet the Press" and ABC's "This Week," Trump tweeted his approval of Miller's statements, again without mentioning Flynn.


Aides to Pence, who had publicly repeated Flynn’s denials in a television interview, have signaled their boss' unhappiness with the national security advisor. After the Post published its account, a White House official pointedly told the paper that Pence had made his statements based on what Flynn had told him.

Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak may not have broken any laws; the relevant one, the Logan Act, which bars private citizens from interfering with U.S. diplomacy, is an 18th century statute that is periodically waved around as a threat, but has never been used for a prosecution.

But if Flynn misled Pence and other colleagues about what he did, that could make his continued presence in the national security job untenable.

Several leading Democrats in Congress have said the reports suggest Flynn should be fired.

7:52 a.m.: This post was updated with Trump's tweet.

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