Here’s what we know: Late Monday evening, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn submitted his resignation to President Donald Trump, days after the Washington Post first reported he discussed lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia with a Moscow diplomat and then denied it.
Here’s what we don’t know: Did anyone else in the administration know about this meeting? Why didn’t the White House sack Flynn last month, when the Justice Department first told them about it? And was Flynn’s Monday resignation freely given or coerced?
According to the White House, Trump never once asked for Flynn’s resignation. But no one apparently told House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who said Tuesday morning that the president had done the right thing by pushing Flynn out.
“I think it’s really important that as soon as they realized that they were being misled by the National Security Adviser, they asked for his resignation,” Ryan said at a Tuesday press conference. “I can’t speak to the rest of the circumstances.”
Ryan’s defense of the administration came just hours after White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway gave an entirely contradictory account of Monday night’s events to NBC’s Matt Lauer. According to Conway, the president remained “loyal” to Flynn up until the end.
“By night’s end, Mike Flynn had decided it was best to resign,” said Conway. “He knew he’d become a lightning rod and he made that decision.”
Of course, given Conway’s longstanding affinity for “alternative facts,” there’s no reason to take her word for anything. But the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker says a senior White House official also told him that Flynn made the decision to jump instead of getting pushed.
I’m told Flynn resigned on his own. Trump did not fire him. Trump was going to give him more time before deciding, per senior WH official.
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) February 14, 2017
And that’s not the only thing Ryan got wrong on Tuesday. The speaker didn’t just say that the White House had asked for Flynn’s resignation; he said they had done that “as soon as they realized they were being misled.” That’s plainly false, since the Justice Department filled in the administration on Flynn’s meeting weeks ago. Even after the Post took more details of the meeting public last week, four days passed before Flynn eventually shuffled out the White House gates. During those four days, administration officials gave mixed messages when asked whether the National Security Adviser still had the president’s confidence.
Now that question has a clear answer. But there are many others — related to Flynn, Russia, and the president himself — that do not.
UPDATE: A White House official, contradicting Conway, told Talking Points Memo that the Trump administration asked Flynn to resign, TPM reported Tuesday.