Trump hits in­tel of­fi­cials, me­dia over Flynn, Rus­sia

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Pace

WASH­ING­TON >> Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Wed­nes­day blamed the me­dia and “il­le­gally leaked” in­tel­li­gence in­for­ma­tion for bring­ing down his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn, one day af­ter the White House said Trump had asked Flynn to re­sign be­cause he mis­led Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence about his contacts with Rus­sia.

Flynn’s ouster has sparked a new swirl of con­tro­versy over Trump’s po­ten­tial ties to Moscow. Flynn re­signed Mon­day night — at the be­hest of Trump, the White House later said — af­ter re­ports that he had dis­cussed sanc­tions with Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to the U.S. be­fore the in­au­gu­ra­tion, de­spite pre­vi­ously deny­ing those con­ver­sa­tions to Pence and other top of­fi­cials.

But in Trump’s first pub­lic com­ments on Flynn, he ap­peared to side with his for­mer aide, say­ing it was “re­ally a sad thing that he was treated so badly.”

Trump is said to fa­vor Vice Ad­mi­ral Robert Har­ward, a for­mer Navy SEAL, as his next na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, ac­cord­ing to a White House of­fi­cial. Har­ward met with top White House of­fi­cials last week and has the back­ing of De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis.

Flynn’s ouster was a blow to a White House strug­gling to find its foot­ing in Trump’s first weeks in of­fice. The ques­tions about Rus­sia only deep­ened late Tues­day when The New York Times re­ported that U.S. agen­cies had in­ter­cepted phone calls last year be­tween Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and mem­bers of Trump’s 2016 cam­paign team. Cur­rent and with the Rus­sians on hack­ing or other ef­forts to in­flu­ence the elec­tion.

Trump didn’t di­rectly ad­dress the ve­rac­ity of the re­port dur­ing a news con­fer­ence with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, but lashed out at what he called the “crim­i­nal act” of leak­ing in­for­ma­tion. Ear­lier Wed­nes­day, Trump tweeted that “clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion is il­le­gally given out by ‘in­tel­li­gence’ like candy. Very un-Amer­i­can!”

The pres­i­dent ig­nored shouted ques­tions about whether his ad­vis­ers were in touch with Rus­sian of­fi­cials. His spokesman Sean Spicer said he wasn’t aware of any such contacts and panned the Times re­port for re­ly­ing on “un­named sources.”

Democrats called for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Trump’s Rus­sia ties and urged Repub­li­cans to join them.

“This is a mo­ment for Repub­li­cans to put coun­try ahead of party,” Con­necti­cut Sen. Chris Mur­phy said. “There’s only one or two times like this your party.”

GOP law­mak­ers, led by Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, re­sisted, say­ing that the ex­ist­ing con­gres­sional com­mit­tees will con­tinue their in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Flynn main­tained for weeks that he had not dis­cussed U.S. sanc­tions in his con­ver­sa­tions with Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador. He later con­ceded that the topic may have come up.

Trump ini­tially thought Flynn could survive the con­tro­versy, ac­cord­ing to a per­son with di­rect knowl­edge of the pres­i­dent’s views, but a pair of ex­plo­sive sto­ries in The Wash­ing­ton Post in re­cent days made the sit­u­a­tion un­ten­able. As early as last week, he and aides be­gan mak­ing con­tin­gency plans for Flynn’s dis­missal, a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said. While the pres­i­dent was said to be up­set with Flynn, he also ex­pressed anger with other aides for “los­ing con­trol” of the story and mak­ing his young ad­min­is­tra­tion look bad.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu par­tic­i­pate in a joint news con­fer­ence in the East Room of the White House in Wash­ing­ton, Wed­nes­day.

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