WASHINGTON -- President Trump did not criticize his former national security adviser for discussing U.S. sanctions against Russia in a phone call with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. prior to Mr. Trump’s inauguration.
Instead, the president said hefor lying to Vice President Pence about those conversations.
“I don’t think he did anything wrong. If anything, he did something right. He was coming into office. He looked at the information. He said, huh, that’s fine. That’s what they’re supposed to do,” Mr. Trump said. “But he didn’t tell the vice president of the United States the facts. And then, he didn’t remember. And that just wasn’t acceptable to me.”
It is a potential violation of the law for a private citizen to conduct U.S. foreign policy. The president said he did not instruct Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
“It certainly would have been OK with me if he did it, I would directed him to do it if he wasn’t doing it. I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him, because that’s his job,” Mr. Trump said.
The president blamed the intelligence community for leaking classified information about the contents of Flynn’s communications.
“I’ve actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks. Those are criminal leaks,” he said.
And Mr. Trump lashed out at the media.
The leaks are absolutely real but the news is fake, because so much of the news is fake,” he said. “It’s so important to the public to get an honest press. The public doesn’t believe you people anymore. Now maybe I had something to do with that, I don’t know. But they don’t believe you.”
The president did acknowledge that three recent Russian provocations -- theoff the East Coast, a and fighter jets buzzing a U.S. Navy destroyer -- were “not good.”
However, Mr. Trump said he did not think the provocations were a test from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I think Putin assumes he can’t make a deal with me anymore because politically it would be unpopular for a politician to make a deal, I can’t believe I’m saying I’m a politician because I guess that’s what I am now, because, it would be much easier for me to be tough on Russia but then we’re not going to make a deal,” Mr. Trump said.
“And don’t forget we’re a very powerful nuclear country, and so are they. There’s no upside, we’re a very powerful nuclear country, and so are they,” he said.
Mr. Trump was then asked if Russia’s actions undermine the ability of the U.S. to work with Russia.
“They all happened recently, and I understand what they’re doing. Again, maybe I’m not going to be able to do a deal with Russia, but at least I will have tried,” he said.
He also declined to discuss a response to the provocations.
“I’m not going to tell you anything about what response I do; I don’t talk about military response,” Mr. Trump said. “So when you ask me what I’m gonna do with the ship, the Russian ship as an example, I’m not going to tell you, but hopefully I won’t have to do anything, but I’m not going to tell you.”