By Matthew Rosenberg, Glenn Thrush and Michael S. Schmidt
WASHINGTON – Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, faced an uncertain future on Monday as the White House sent out a series of conflicting signals about whether he had the confidence of President Donald Trump and whether he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of a call between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the United States.
“The president is evaluating the situation,” Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, said in a statement. “He’s speaking to Vice President 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.”
The statement from Spicer came shortly after the president’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, said in a televised interview on MSNBC that Flynn had the “full confidence of the president.”
The White House has examined a transcript of a wiretapped conversation that Flynn had with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, in December. The call included a discussion about sanctions against Russia and other issues. But Flynn is believed to have told Pence that sanctions and other policy were not discussed.
Pence later said on television that Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador was an informal chat.
Even the mere discussion of policy – and the apparent attempt to assuage the concerns of a U.S. adversary – represents a remarkable breach of protocol, and is only the latest in Flynn’s growing list of questionable engagements with Russian officials, including his appearance at a party in Moscow sitting next to President Vladimir Putin in December 2015.
Current and former senior officials said that the FBI has been looking into the phone call. A former administration official said that the transcript is ambiguous enough to give the White House justification, should Trump want to retain Flynn.
Classified information does not appear to have been discussed, the official said.
But current Trump administration officials and former Obama administration officials said that Flynn did appear to be reassuring an adversary that if any sanctions were imposed, it was a decision being made by the Obama administration, and that U.S. policy could change in the Trump administration.
The overall message, the former official said, was that the Obama administration was Moscow’s adversary, not the United States.
The former official said Flynn urged that Russia not retaliate against any sanctions because an overreaction would make any future cooperation more complicated.
Flynn never explicitly promised sanctions relief, the former official said, but he appeared to leave the impression that it would be possible.