White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus launched a staunch defense of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn Saturday following Flynn’s resignation earlier this week.
Priebus told “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson that the retired general had done nothing wrong after reports that Flynn had spoken with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about possibly lifting sanctions on the country weeks before President Trump took office. The phone call discussing that foreign policy -- which occurred around the time then-President Obama was imposing sanctions in response to Kremlin-directed cyberattacks -- could be a possible violation of federal law.
“The president said that it was good for Michael Flynn to be in conversation with the Russian ambassador,” Dickerson said in the interview, referencing remarks the president had made during a Thursday press conference. “Did he mean that it was good for [Flynn] to be in conversation about sanctions with the Russian ambassador when [Flynn] talked to him about sanctions before the inauguration?”
Priebus responded that Mr. Trump had not stated that.
“No, that’s not what he said,” Priebus said. “I think what he’s really referring to is the fact that Michael Flynn as N.S.A. director, his job is to talk to foreign leaders -- yes, including the Russian ambassador and other ambassadors across the world.” (Flynn was the White House’s national security adviser, not the director of the National Security Agency, a part of the Defense Department.)
“Other people, other experts have also said the same thing,” Priebus continued. “That there was not a darn thing wrong with what he was doing by communicating to these other leaders.”
When pressed on whether it was “wrong for [Flynn] to talk about sanctions,” the Trump chief of staff said that “as far as his job of speaking with world leaders, that’s what Gen. Flynn was supposed to be doing.”
On whether the president believed Flynn was in the right when discussing that issue with Russians, Priebus asserted Mr. Trump “didn’t comment on that.”
But questioned further on what the president thought, the chief of staff said Flynn “didn’t do anything wrong.”
“There was nothing wrong with talking to the foreign -- the Russian ambassador -- about the current sanctions that were being put in place by the Obama administration,” Priebus said.
Later, he repeated: “There’s nothing wrong with having a conversation about sanctions. And there’s nothing wrong with having a conversation about the fact that the Obama administration put further sanctions in place and expelled some folks out of the United States. There’s nothing wrong with that topic coming up in a conversation.”
In his interview, the chief of staff added that neither he nor the president had been informed Flynn had other contacts with Russians before the Nov. 4 election.
“I’ve never heard that he’s had any other contacts before the election,” Priebus said. “I don’t think the president has either.”
Catch the full interview with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on Sunday, February 19. It airs on CBS’ “Face the Nation” at 10:30 a.m. ET.