U.S. lawmakers seek more details on ties to Russia after Flynn quits

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By Richard Cowan and Steve Holland

<span class="articleLocation”>U.S. lawmakers, including some leading
Republicans, called on Tuesday for a deeper inquiry into former
national security adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, after
he was forced out in President Donald Trump’s biggest staff
upheaval so far.

Flynn quit on Monday after only three weeks in the job amid
revelations that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with
the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took
office, in a potentially illegal action, and had later misled
Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.

Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation and Flynn offered it to
him, a senior White House official said.

His departure was another drama for an administration
already repeatedly distracted by miscues and internal dramas
since the Republican president took office on Jan. 20.

Transcripts of intercepted communications, described by U.S.
officials, showed that the issue of U.S. sanctions came up in
conversations between Flynn and the ambassador in late December.

The conversations took place around the time that then
President Barack Obama was imposing sanctions on Russia after
charging that Moscow had used cyber attacks to try to influence
the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.

Flynn, a retired Army general and former U.S. intelligence
official, quit hours after a report saying the Justice
Department had warned the White House weeks ago that he could be
vulnerable to blackmail over his conversations with Ambassador
Sergei Kislyak.

Democrats, who do not have control of Congress, clamored for
more action over Flynn.

“The American people deserve to know at whose direction Gen.
Flynn was acting when he made these calls, and why the White
House waited until these reports were public to take action,”
Democrat Mark Warner, the Senate intelligence committee’s vice
chairman, said in a statement.

Two leading Republicans in the Senate, Bob Corker and John
Cornyn, also said the intelligence committee should investigate
Flynn’s contacts Russia and that he may need to testify.

Republican Senator Roy Blunt, a member of the same
committee, told a St. Louis radio station that the panel should
interview Flynn “very soon” as part of its investigation into
attempts by Russia to influence the U.S. election.

But the highest-ranking Republican in Congress, House of
Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, sidestepped questions about
whether lawmakers should look into Flynn’s Russia ties, adding
he would leave it to the Trump administration to explain the
circumstances behind Flynn’s departure.

Flynn, an early and enthusiastic supporter of Trump, was a
strong advocate of a softer line toward Russian President
Vladimir Putin and his departure from the key post could hinder
Trump’s efforts to warm up relations with Moscow.

“General Flynn’s resignation also raises further questions
about the Trump administration’s intentions toward Vladimir
Putin’s Russia,” said Senator John McCain, a leading Republican
voice on foreign relations.

LEAKS WORRY TRUMP

The Washington Post reported last week that the issue of
sanctions came up in the conversations with the ambassador,
although Flynn told Pence that they had not.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons asked why Flynn was allowed
to remain in his post for so long after the White House was
warned of the potential for blackmail. “This isn’t just about
what happened with General Flynn,” Coons told MSNBC. “What did
President Trump know? What did the president know and when did
he know it?” Coons said.

In his first public comment about the Flynn issue since the
resignation, Trump deflected the focus to leaks from his
administration. “The real story here is why are there so many
illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be
happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?’ he wrote on Twitter.

In his resignation letter, Flynn acknowledged he had “inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with
incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian
ambassador.”

A U.S. official familiar with the transcripts of the calls
with Kislyak said Flynn indicated that if Russia did not
retaliate in kind for Obama’s Dec. 29 order expelling 35 Russian
suspected spies and sanctioning of Russian spy agencies, that
restraint could smooth the way toward a broader discussion of
improving U.S.-Russian relations once Trump took power.

To the surprise of some observers at the time, Putin did not
take retaliatory measures. Trump praised his restraint.

Flynn’s discussions with the Russian diplomat could
potentially have been in violation of a law known as the Logan
Act, banning private citizens from negotiating with foreign
governments about disputes or controversies with the United
States. However, nobody has been prosecuted in modern times
under the law, which dates from 1799.

Vice Admiral Robert Harward, who served under Defense
Secretary James Mattis, is the leading candidate to replace
Flynn, two U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

The scramble to replace Flynn began on Monday evening and
continued with phone calls and meetings into the early hours of
Tuesday in an effort to enable Trump to make a decision and put
the matter behind him as soon as possible, said an official
involved in the effort.

Also under consideration was retired General David Petraeus,
a former CIA director whose reputation was tainted by a scandal
over mishandling classified information with his biographer,
with whom he was having an affair.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, John Walcott, Doina
Chiacu and Susan Heavey)



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