Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn resigned his post as national security adviser late Monday after admitting he had "become a lightning rod" through his dealings with Russia, and senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway denied she was left out of the loop when she said Flynn had President Donald Trump's "full confidence" earlier in the day.
"The president is very loyal," Conway told NBC's "Today" anchor Matt Lauer. "By night's end, Mike Flynn had decided it was best to resign. He knew he had become a lightning rod, and he made that decision."
Conway told MSNBC that Gen. Michael Flynn had Trump's "full confidence" Monday — before Flynn's resignation as national security adviser was announced later.
An hour later, however, Trump was being asked by reporters if he did have "full confidence" in Flynn, NPR reported.
Trump deferred to press secretary Sean Spicer, who read a statement, saying Trump has been "speaking to Vice President [Mike] Pence, relative to the conversation the vice president had with Gen. Flynn and also speaking to various other people about what he considers the single most important subject there is, our national security."
Earlier on Tuesday, MSNBC's "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough accused Conway of being "out of the loop" in Trump's White House and said she was often a "free agent" whose comments often needed cleaning up from other Trump staff.
Conway told Lauer that Flynn resigned because it became "unsustainable" he had misled Vice President Mike Pence concerning his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
"I spoke with the president this morning, and he asked me to speak on his behalf and to reiterate that Mike Flynn had resigned because he decided the situation had become unsustainable for him, and of course, the president accepted that resignation," she said.
"You're saying that was the straw that broke the camel's back, but the White House knew about that last month when the Justice Department warned the White House that Gen. Flynn had not been completely honest in characterizing that conversation with the Russian ambassador, and they even went further to say as a result of that dishonesty he was at risk for blackmailing by the Russians," said Lauer, commenting her explanation made "no sense."
"Well, that's one characterization," Conway replied. "But the fact is that Gen. Flynn continued in that position and was in the presidential daily briefings, was part of the leader calls as recently as [Monday], was there for the prime minister's visit from Canada yesterday, and as time wore on, obviously the situation had become unsustainable."
Conway told Lauer there are at least three "very strong candidates" to replace Flynn, and Gen. Keith Kellogg will serve as acting national security adviser, starting Tuesday.
Conway, also appearing on Fox News' "Fox & Friends," denied she had made her "full confidence" remarks shortly before Flynn resigned, but it was many hours earlier.
However, the situation reached a "fevered pitch" Monday, and later in the day, it became "unsustainable," Conway said.
"In the end, it really was the misleading or the forgetfulness about characterizing that conversation that I think was the linchpin here," Conway said. "I just want to say to everyone that Gen. Flynn has a three decade plus record of service as an intelligence officer, as a military official. That should not be overlooked."
She would not comment on whether Trump tried to get Flynn to stay, but it "just became a situation that needed to be rectified, and I think it's Gen. Flynn who made that decision and tendered his resignation."
Meanwhile, several major newspapers received leaked transcripts of Flynn's calls, and Conway called such leaks "always disturbing."
"Leaks, when it has to do with security intelligence situations, are that much more concerning hypothetically," Conway said. "But what I would say in this case, if you read these reports, and then you realize that in this specific instance, what became unsustainable long term was just the particular characterization contacts between Gen. Flynn and others as he relayed them to the highest officials in our land."
Conway repeated Trump had asked her to explain the resignation came not only because of a particular contact, but because of the "cumulative effect of that leading to incomplete or misleading, forgetful information, frankly, and completely misleading information that really was the key here."
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