World

National security adviser Michael Flynn quits

In huge blow to Trump administration, Michael Flynn resigns over Russia scandal

WASHINGTION: US President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Mr Michael Flynn, resigned late on Monday after revelations he had discussed sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the US before Mr Trump took office, and misled Vice-President Mike Pence about the conversations.

This came hours after it was reported that the Justice Department had warned the White House weeks ago that Mr Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail for contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Mr Trump took power.

The departure could slow Mr Trump's bid to warm up relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Flynn submitted his resignation after Mr Trump, through a spokesman, declined to publicly back Mr Flynn.

Mr Flynn had promised Mr Pence he had not discussed US sanctions with Russia, but transcripts of intercepted communications, described by US officials, showed the subject had come up in conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Such contacts could be in violation of a law banning private citizens from engaging in foreign policy.

Mr Pence had defended Mr Flynn in interviews and was described by officials as upset about being misled.

"...I inadvertently briefed the vice-president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I have apologized to the President and the Vice-President and they have accepted my apology," Mr Flynn said in his resignation letter.

ACTING

Retired General Keith Kellogg, who has been chief of staff of the White House National Security Council, was named the acting national security adviser.

Gen (Ret) Kellogg, retired General David Petraeus, a former Central Intelligence Agency director, and Mr Robert Harward, a former deputy commander of US Central Command, are under consideration for the position, an official said.

A US official confirmed a Washington Post report that Mrs Sally Yates, the then-acting US attorney-general, told the White House last month she believed Mr Flynn misled them.

She said Mr Flynn might have put himself in a compromising position, possibly leaving himself vulnerable to blackmail, the official said.

Mrs Yates was later fired for opposing Mr Trump's temporary entry ban for people from seven Muslim-majority nations.

An official, describing the intercepted communications, said Mr Flynn did not make promises about lifting sanctions.

But he did indicate that sanctions imposed by former president Barack Obama on Russia for its Ukraine incursion "would not necessarily carry over to an administration seeking to improve relations between the US and Russia".

Mr Flynn, a retired US Army lieutenant-general, frequently raised eyebrows among Washington's foreign policy establishment for trying to persuade Mr Trump to warm up US relations with Russia.

An official said his departure, coupled with Russia's aggression in Ukraine and Syria and Republican congressional opposition to lifting sanctions on Russia, removes Mr Trump's most ardent advocate of taking a softer line toward Mr Putin.

Congressional Democrats called for a classified briefing by administration officials to explain what had happened.

US Representative Adam Schiff of California, ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Mr Flynn's departure does not end the questions.

"The administration has yet to be forthcoming about who was aware of Mr Flynn's conversations with the ambassador and whether he was acting on the instructions of the President or any other officials, or with their knowledge," he said. - REUTERS