Pence refuses to answer questions about Michael Flynn’s dismissal

Questions about who knew what – and when – resurface.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks to troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Thursday, December 21, 2017. (CREDIT: Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks to troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Thursday, December 21, 2017. (CREDIT: Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)

During an interview with CBS White House correspondent Margaret Brennan on Friday, Vice President Mike Pence dodged questions about how much he knew prior to former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s dismissal.

“Just clarify how you understand what happened with Mike Flynn,” Brennan asked, in the pre-taped sit-down. “When he was fired, did you know he had lied to the FBI?”

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Not missing a beat, Pence responded, “What I can tell you is that I knew he had lied to me. And I know the President made the right decision.”

He added that he and the White House were “fully cooperating” with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Over the past year, more evidence suggesting that the White House knew Flynn had lied to the FBI has emerged, throwing the vice president’s comments on Friday into question.

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Flynn resigned under pressure in February, after it emerged that he had misled the vice president on the content of his conversations with Russian officials. At the time, President Trump claimed that he had fired Flynn because he had lied to Pence, however, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates later revealed that she and others had warned the White House about the nature of Flynn’s conversations with senior Russian diplomat and former ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak as early as January 26.

Trump fired Yates on January 30.

In early December, Flynn was taken into federal custody and charged with making false statements to the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak. Court records showed that Flynn had lied when he told authorities he had not spoken with the ambassador about U.S. sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama administration. Officials stated that Flynn had also hidden the fact that he had asked Kislyak to delay or defeat a U.N. security council resolution in December 2016. According to The New York Times, the resolution concerned global condemnation of Israel building settlements.

Flynn’s first interviews with the FBI on the matter took place on January 24 — just before then-AG Yates says she spoke with White House Counsel Donald McGahn, telling him that “Gen. Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.”

A new report this week also brings back to the surface questions about who knew what — and when. According to Foreign Policy reporter Murray Waas, McGahn “researched federal law dealing both with lying to federal investigators and with violations of the Logan Act”, which bars private citizens from conducting negotiations with foreign officials, according to records handed over to the special counsel’s office. The records showed that McGahn had conducted the analysis “shortly after learning” of Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, weeks before Flynn was fired.

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If McGahn had briefed Trump and Pence on the situation, it goes against their earlier claims that Trump fired Flynn simply for lying to the vice president. More troubling, the report claims, Trump only decided to fire Flynn after the Washington Post published an explosive article detailing Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak on February 9.

“Despite McGahn’s concerns, Trump allowed Flynn to stay on the job for 18 days after he met with Yates,” the report stated.

Trump recently contradicted his own past statements about Flynn, tweeting on December 2 that he “had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

The latest reports are especially disturbing as they indicate that Trump, Pence, and White House officials knew they were interfering in a potential criminal investigation when the president fired former FBI Director James Comey On May 9.

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During a private dinner on January 27 — three days prior to Trump’s dismissal of acting AG Yates — Trump demanded Comey pledge his loyalty to him, to which Comey declined, offering “honesty” instead. Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, Comey added that, in a subsequent closed-door meeting in February, Trump had asked him to drop any investigations into Flynn.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Comey recalled Trump saying at the time.