Michael Flynn resigned late on Monday as Donald Trump’s national security adviser after revelations that he had discussed sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office and misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.
Flynn’s resignation came hours after it was reported that the Justice Department had warned the White House weeks ago that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail for contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump took power on January 20.
Flynn’s departure was a sobering development in Trump’s young presidency, a 24-day period during which his White House has been repeatedly distracted by miscues and internal dramas.
The departure could slow Trump’s bid to warm up relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Flynn submitted his resignation hours after Trump, through a spokesman, pointedly declined to publicly back Flynn, saying he was reviewing the situation and talking to Pence.
Flynn had promised Pence he had not discussed sanctions with the Russians, but transcripts of intercepted communications, described by US officials, showed that the subject had come up in conversations between him and the Russian ambassador.
Such contacts could potentially be in violation of a law banning private citizens from engaging in foreign policy, known as the Logan Act.
Pence had defended Flynn in television interviews and was described by administration officials as upset about being misled.
“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology,” Flynn said in his resignation letter.
Retired General Keith Kellogg, who has been chief of staff of the White House National Security Council, was named the acting national security adviser while Trump determines who should fill the position.
Kellogg, retired General David Petraeus, a former CIA director, and Robert Harward, a former deputy commander of US Central Command, are being considered for the position, a White House official said. Harward was described by officials as the leading candidate.
Flynn, a retired US Army lieutenant general, was an early supporter of Trump and shares his interest in shaking up the establishment in Washington. He frequently raised eyebrows among Washington’s foreign policy establishment for trying to persuade Trump to warm up relations with Russia.