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Conway Says Flynn Quit Because He’d Become ‘Lightning Rod’

Julie Pace, Eric Tucker and Jill Colvin / Associated Press | 2/15/2017, noon
The storm over national security adviser Michael Flynn's contacts with Russia made his situation "unsustainable," prompting Flynn to resign less ...
Michael Flynn (far right) in a meeting with President Trump and the executive team.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The storm over national security adviser Michael Flynn's contacts with Russia made his situation "unsustainable," prompting Flynn to resign less than a month into the new Trump administration, a top White House official said Tuesday.

Flynn's ouster appeared to be driven more by the idea that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials than by the content of his discussions with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. Still, the matter deepened questions about President Donald Trump's friendly posture toward Russia.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told NBC's "Today" show that Flynn "knew he'd become a lightning rod" and made the decision to resign. Conway's comments came one day after she said the president had "full confidence" in Flynn.

Flynn's resignation - which one White House official said was offered at the request of the president - came after reports that the Justice Department had alerted the White House weeks ago that there were contradictions between Trump officials' public accounting of the Russia contacts and what intelligence officials knew to be true based on routine recordings of communications with foreign officials who are in the U.S.

The revelations were another destabilizing blow to an administration that has already suffered a major legal defeat on immigration, botched the implementation of a signature policy and stumbled through a string of embarrassing public relations missteps.

White House officials haven't said when Trump was told of the Justice Department warning or why Flynn had been allowed to stay on the job with access to a full range of intelligence materials.

Pence and others, apparently relying on information from Flynn, had said the national security adviser did not discuss U.S. economic sanctions against Russia with the Russian envoy during the American presidential transition. Flynn later told officials the sanctions may have been discussed, the latest change in his account of his pre-inauguration discussions with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Such conversations would breach diplomatic protocol and possibly violate the Logan Act, a law aimed at keeping private citizens from conducting U.S. diplomacy. The Justice Department had warned the White House late last month that Flynn could be at risk for blackmail because of contradictions between his public depictions of the calls and what intelligence officials.

Asked whether the president had been aware that Flynn might have planned to discuss sanctions with the Russian envoy, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said, "No, absolutely not."

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Trump made the right decision in asking Flynn to step down."You cannot have the national security adviser misleading the vice president and others," Ryan said.

Trump, who has been conspicuously quiet about Flynn's standing for several days, took to Twitter Tuesday morning and said the "real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?" He ignored questions about Flynn from reporters during an education event at the White House Tuesday morning.

Trump named retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg as the acting national security adviser. Kellogg had previously been appointed the National Security Council chief of staff and advised Trump during the campaign. Trump is also considering former CIA Director David Petraeus and Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a U.S. Navy SEAL, for the post, according to a senior administration official.