Politics

Democrats Want Probe of ‘Unfit’ Flynn’s Russia Ties

Cummings, Conyers want Justice briefing before President’s Day holiday recess

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, at podium, and then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign event at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Ave., NW, in Washington. On Monday night, Flynn resigned as Trump's national security adviser. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congressional Democrats are applauding the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, labeling him “unfit” for the office and calling for the Justice Department to fully disclose his ties to Russia.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an “bipartisan, independent, outside commission” to investigate President Donald Trump’s and his administration’s connections with Russia.

“The truth and consequences of the Russia connection: the American people deserve to know the full extent of Russia’s financial, personal and political grip on President Trump and what that means for our national security,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday morning.

Flynn’s resignation comes just over three weeks into the new administration and around three years after being fired by the Obama administration from his post as Defense Intelligence Agency chief as an Army three-star general in April 2014. Back then, he reportedly was pushed out due to insubordination; on Monday night, he opted to resign for misleading senior Trump administration official about his conversations with Russian officials during the transition period between the election and Inauguration Day.

Flynn reportedly decided Monday evening to resign, fearing a Justice Department warning to the Trump White House that he could be subject to Russian blackmail and that his misleading statements to Vice President Mike Pence and others would create a political storm the new president didn’t need. Trump immediately named another retired general, former Army two-star Joseph Kellogg, a former 82nd Airborne Division commander and a former senior Joint Staff official, as acting national security adviser.

Republican members were notably quiet in the hours after the news broke, with few issuing written statements. One who did, however, was House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes of California.

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He called Flynn an “honorable” person, saying he “has always been a soldier, not a politician” and that he “deserves America’s gratitude and respect for dedicating so much of his life to strengthening our national security.”

Democrats, on the other hand, slammed Trump for even making Flynn the national security adviser, saying he was a bad fit. They also signaled an intention to keep pressing for answers about the former intelligence officer’s ties to Russia.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., ranking member of the Intelligence panel Nunes chairs, said Flynn “was always a poor choice” for national security adviser, suggesting the former general lacked the needed skills as a “consensus builder” and did not “possess sobriety and steady judgment.”

“It is certainly no role for someone who plays fast and loose with the truth,” Schiff said. “But Flynn’s departure does not end questions over his contacts with the Russians. … These alleged contacts and any others the Trump campaign may have had with the Kremlin are the subject of the House Intelligence Committee's ongoing investigation.”

Schiff also questioned whether Flynn’s conversations with Russian officials, which could have violated a law pertaining to private citizens negotiating on behalf of the federal government, came at the behest of Trump.

In his resignation letter, released by the White House late Monday night, Flynn described his own career as “distinguished” and explained, a bit, how he spun the web that led to his resignation.

“In the course of my duties as the incoming national security advisor, I held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers, and ambassadors,” he wrote. “These calls were to facilitate a smooth transition and begin to build the necessary relationships between the President, his advisors and foreign leaders. Such calls are standard practice in any transition of this magnitude.

“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,” Flynn wrote. “I have sincerely apologized to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology.”

That was not enough for some Democrats, however.

Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, released a joint statement urging Justice Department and FBI officials to come to Capitol Hill this week with answers about Flynn’s Russia ties.

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“The reality is Gen. Flynn was unfit to be the National Security Advisor, and should have been dismissed three weeks ago,” Cummings and Conyers said. “Now, we in Congress need to know who authorized his actions, permitted them, and continued to let him have access to our most sensitive national security information despite knowing these risks. We need to know who else within the White House is a current and ongoing risk to our national security.”

The two lawmakers said they will ask FBI and Justice officials to brief members this week, before both chambers adjourn for a week-long Presidents' Day recess.

And Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Foreign Affairs ranking member said in a statement that “far too many questions remain unanswered about this Administration's ties to Russia.” He called for a “thorough, bipartisan investigation to get the complete picture of Russia's interference in our election.”

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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