White House declines to publicly defend Flynn
A top White House aide sidestepped repeated chances Sunday to publicly defend embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn following reports that he engaged in conversations with a Russian diplomat about U.S. sanctions before Trump’s inauguration.
The uncertainty comes as Trump is dealing with North Korea’s apparent first missile launch of the year and his presidency, along with visits this week from the leaders of Israel and Canada.
Trump has yet to comment on the allegations against Flynn, and a top aide dispatched to represent the administration on the Sunday news shows skirted questions on the topic, saying it was not his place to weigh in on the “sensitive matter.”
Pressed repeatedly, top policy adviser Stephen Miller said it wasn’t up to him to say whether the president retains confidence in Flynn.
“It’s not for me to tell you what’s in the president’s mind,” he said on NBC. “That’s a question for the president.”
The White House said in an anonymous statement Friday the president had full confidence in Flynn. But officials have been mum since then amid fallout from reports that Flynn addressed U.S. sanctions against Russia in a phone call late last year.
The report, which first appeared in The Washington Post, contradicted both Flynn’s previous denials, as well as those made by VicePresident Mike Pence in a televised interview.
Trump has been discussing the situation with associates, according to a person who spoke with him recently. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie, who led Trump’s transition planning before the election, said Flynn would have to explain his conflicting statements about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to Trump and Pence.
“Gen. Flynn has said up to this point that he had not said anything like that to the Russian ambassador. I think now he’s saying that he doesn’t remember whether he did or not,” Christie said on CNN. “So, that’s a conversation he is going to need to have with the president and the vice-president to clear that up, so that the White House can make sure that they are completely accurate about what went on.”
The comments came as the White House continues to weigh its options following a legal blow last week to Trump’s immigration order suspending the nation’s refugee program and barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
Miller, one of the architects of the order, maintained in a round of Sunday show interviews that the president has sweeping executive authority when it comes to barring foreigners he deems pose a risk to the country. He said Trump will do “whatever we need to do, consistent with the law, to keep this country safe” and slammed judges who’ve stood in his way.
“This is a judicial usurpation of the power. It is a violation of judges’ proper roles in litigating disputes. We will fight it,” Miller said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
White House strategist Stephen Bannon, middle, and national security adviser Michael Flynn, right, prepare to board Air Force One on Sunday.