White House counselor Kellyanne Conway joined Matt Lauer on the Today show Tuesday morning to talk about the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The takeaway from the back and forth: confusion.
Lauer tried to get to the bottom of what was decided at the White House on Flynn. Conway maintained that Flynn stepped down of his own accord after it became clear that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about a conversation he had in December with a Russian diplomat. Conway also noted that Flynn’s responsibilities hadn’t been cut back in the last month. When Lauer pointed out that the White House had known about the conversation weeks ago, and asked why Flynn is stepping down now — and why he was kept in place all that time — Conway couldn’t square the circle. “Kellyanne, that makes no sense,” Lauer concluded.
It’s worth reading a longer portion of the exchange to get a full picture:
LAUER: So had he not resigned, the president would continue with him as national security adviser, even though he misled the vice president and the administration about the contents of that call?
CONWAY: That fact is what became unsustainable, actually. I think misleading the vice president really was the key here. And I spoke with the president this morning, he asked me to speak on his behalf, and to reiterate that Mike Flynn had resigned. He decided that the situation had become unsustainable for him, and of course the president accepted that resignation.
LAUER: But wait a second. 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 Mr. Flynn — or Gen. Flynn — had not been completely honest in characterizing that conversation with the Russian ambassador. And they even went further to say that as a result of that dishonesty, he was at risk for blackmailing by the Russians.
CONWAY: Well, that’s one characterization, 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 yesterday. He was there for the prime minister’s visit from Canada yesterday. And as time wore on, obviously the situation had become unsustainable, and Gen. Flynn—
LAUER: Kellyanne that makes no sense. Last month, the Justice Department warned the White House that Gen. Flynn had misled them, and as a result he was vulnerable to blackmail. And at that moment, he still had the complete trust of the president?
CONWAY: Matt, I’m telling you what the president has said, which is that he’s accepted Gen. Flynn’s resignation and he wishes him well, and that we’re moving on. There are at least three candidates — very strong candidates that will be considered for a position here. Obviously, Gen. Keith Kellogg is the acting national security adviser starting today. And the president is moving forward.
Flynn resigned Monday night following reports that he misled the vice president about discussions he’d had with the Russian ambassador in December. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department informed the White House last month about Flynn’s misleading Pence — and that Flynn was “potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Kremlin,” as Vox’s Yochi Dreazen writes. But Tuesday morning, Conway said that Flynn’s role was not scaled back in the intervening time and that he was not pushed out.
A Washington Post article last Thursday night confirmed that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition in December. But on Friday, Trump claimed he hadn’t seen any reports regarding Flynn’s conversations.
Speaking with MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki at 4 pm this Monday, Conway said Flynn enjoyed the “full confidence” of President Trump. Only seven hours later, Flynn resigned, amid revelations that the Justice Department had briefed the White House on Flynn’s conversations in January. When Lauer asked Conway if she was “out of the loop” when she spoke Monday afternoon, Conway defended her earlier characterization, saying that “both were true.”
News outlets are still trying to piece together a full picture of the events that led to Flynn’s resignation, how much the Trump administration knew, and when they knew it. Conway’s contradictory appearances on cable TV haven’t helped bring much of anything into focus.