The White House knew about Michael Flynn's secret conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak for several weeks, but did nothing to remove him until the public knew that he'd lied about them, begging the question about whether the calls were supported by President Donald Trump, Rep. Adam Schiff said Tuesday.
"It wasn't Flynn's lie that brought him down, it was the public exposure of the lie," the California Democrat, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program. "This is either a White House that was knowledgeable and supportive of the secret conversations with the Russians about sanctions, or that simply has a high tolerance for a patent falsehood."
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway commented earlier on Tuesday on other network interviews that Flynn had been "misleading the vice president" concerning the calls, Schiff continued, but he doesn't think that was the case.
"It was the vice president misleading the entire country," said Schiff. "They were okay with that when it wasn't exposed by the press. It begs the question whether the calls Flynn had with the Russian ambassador were known to other people in the White House, known to the president, whether they had the support of the president as part of a changed policy toward Russia."
Congressional Republicans have been "completely silent" on the Flynn matter, said Schiff, and he would like House Speaker Paul Ryan to call on the White House to explain who was aware of Flynn's conversations, whether the president had been informed, and "indeed, whether these conversations were sanctioned by the administration."
"Nothing would be surprising about that, as appalling as that fact may be," said Schiff.
Flynn will also be brought before the Intelligence Committee to face questions about the nature of his contacts with Russia, Schiff told the program.
Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, also appearing on the "Morning Joe" program, said he also wants to know if Trump instructed Flynn to make the calls "and make those offers about holding off on the sanctions a tit for tat."
McFaul noted that Flynn and Russian President Vladimir Putin were photographed last year at a dinner, and he'd like to know if there discussions even then.
"Was there coordination between the campaign and the dump of the data at WikiLeaks?" said McFaul. "I have zero information about that. I want to be clear about that. I have seen, you know, innuendos and things that were released. I don't know the facts. When something like this happens and you don't know the facts before, it makes you want to question all the contacts before. I think we need an independent investigation to get to the bottom of all this."
McFaul said the resignation is a setback for Putin, as Flynn "was considered somebody sympathetic to the Kremlin, sympathetic to Russia. They have lost one of their allies."
Schiff said what bothers him the most is that the day former President Barack Obama was announcing sanctions to punish Russia over its interference in the presidential race, Flynn was "potentially telling the Russians, 'don't worry about it. We'll take care of it. Don't overreact.'"
He agreed with McFaul that the latest contacts could be part of a longer series of communications.
However, Schiff said he couldn't go into details on briefings the Intelligence Committee received on the election interference, or Flynn's role in the phone calls.
"We were in the process of requesting the transcripts or recordings of the conversations," said Schiff. "We were dealing with the published reports so we didn't have confirmation there were transcripts, yet. They are things that ought to be briefed to the Intelligence Committee."
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