President Donald Trump knew for weeks that retired Gen. Michael Flynn had withheld the truth about his dealings with Russia before asking him to resign Monday as national security adviser, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday.
"We've been reviewing and evaluating this issue with respect to Gen. Flynn on a daily basis for a few weeks trying to ascertain the truth," Spicer told reporters at the White House press briefing. "The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation and a series of other questionable incidents is what led the president to ask Gen. Flynn for his resignation.
"We got to a point not based on a legal issue, but based on a trust issue with a level of trust between the president and Gen. Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change," he added. "The president was very concerned that Gen. Flynn had misled the vice president and others."
As national security adviser, Spicer said that President Trump must have "complete and unwavering trust for the person in that position."
Flynn, 58, who was named national security adviser last month, stepped down late Monday — days after The Washington Post reported that Flynn had talked with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on the day the Obama administration slapped sanctions on Moscow for election-related hacking, along with other times during the transition.
Flynn's discussions with the Russians raised questions about whether the retired Army general offered assurances about the incoming administration's new approach.
Such conversations would have breached diplomatic protocol and possibly violated the Logan Act, a law aimed at keeping citizens from conducting diplomacy.
Spicer said Tuesday that Flynn either mislead Vice President Mike Pence and others, or forgot "critical details" about his call with the ambassador, which was flagged 17 days ago — in late January — by the Justice Department.
On Jan. 15, Pence told "Face the Nation" on CBS News that Flynn did not discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
Trump was briefed by his advisers shortly thereafter — and the White House counsel determined that Flynn did not create a legal dilemma with the conversation, he said.
"Immediately after the Department of Justice notified the White House counsel of the situation, the White House counsel briefed the president and a small group of his senior advisers," Spicer said.
Flynn later apologized to the vice president.
"When the president heard the information as presented by White House counsel, he instinctively thought that Gen. Flynn did not do anything wrong — and the White House counsel's review corroborated that," Spicer said.
"The issue here was that the president got to the point where Gen. Flynn's relationship — misleading the vice president and others, or the possibility that he had forgotten critical details of the important conversation, had created a critical mass and an unsustainable situation.
"That's why the president decided to ask for his resignation and he got it."
The Justice Department had warned the White House that contradictions between the public depictions and the actual details of the calls could leave Flynn in a compromised position.
Pence, apparently relying on information from Flynn, initially said that sanctions were not discussed with the Russian ambassador, though Flynn had since told White House officials that the topic might have come up.
Spicer reiterated Tuesday that the issue facing Flynn was of trust between him and President Trump "pure and simple."
"We went through a deliberate process, a thorough review," he told reporters. "The first part of it was to discuss the legal aspects of this.
"What was concluded was that there were no legal aspects. Then, what happened was the president evaluated the trust aspect of it.
The president asked him to conduct a review of whether there was a legal situation there. That was what the president believed at the time from what he had been told, and he was proved to be correct.
"The issue, pure and simple, came down to a matter of trust," Spicer said. "The president concluded that he no longer had the trust of his national security adviser."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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