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Matt Lauer stopped Kellyanne Conway in her tracks when he flatly told her that the White House’s story about embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn “makes no sense.”
President Donald Trump’s counselor appeared on Tuesday morning’s Today show to discuss Flynn, who resigned from his post late Monday night following reports that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his communications with Russia.
“Kellyanne, that makes no sense,” the NBC anchor told Conway when she said Flynn’s role became “unsustainable” and that his misleading of Pence was the “key” in his ultimate exit.
Lauer pushed Conway on the timeline of the fallout, questioning why this was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” when the Justice Department had warned the White House of General Flynn’s conversations with Russia last month.
“The Justice Department warned the White House that General Flynn had not been completely honest in characterizing that conversation with the Russian ambassador, and they even went further to say that as a result of that dishonesty he was at risk for blackmailing by the Russians,” said Lauer.
Conway replied, “That’s one characterization but the fact is General Flynn continued in that position and was in the Presidential daily briefings, was part of the leader calls as recently as yesterday…and as time wore on, the situation had obviously become unsustainable.”
But Lauer pressed on.
“Last month the Justice Department warned the White House that General Flynn had misled them and that as a result he was vulnerable to blackmail and at that moment he still had the complete trust of the president?”
Conway reiterated that Trump accepted Flynn’s resignation and that they are moving on with the search for his replacement. Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg steps in as the acting national security adviser as of Tuesday.
In the resignation letter, which came less than a month into the job, Flynn said he had calls with the Russian ambassador during Trump’s transition and relayed “incomplete information” about those discussions to Pence. Pence initially said Flynn had not discussed sanctions with Russia, but Flynn later said he “couldn’t be 100 percent sure” the issue didn’t come up.
Earlier Monday, Conway had said Trump had “full confidence” in Flynn. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump was “absolutely not” aware that Flynn had possibly discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
Lauer opened his interview with Conway on Tuesday by recalling her Monday defense and asking, “Were you out of the loop on this?”
Lauer said Conway’s story was starting to make him believe that Flynn wasn’t freelancing when he made the call to the Russian envoy, but that he instead was making that call on behalf of the incoming administration.
“No, it would be a mistake to conclude that,” said Conway. “Remember, in the end it was misleading the vice president that made the situation unsustainable.”
“Which the White House knew about last month,” Lauer retorted.
Many in Hollywood were swift to react to the development Monday night on social media.
“This administration is less than a month old and is steeped in scandal, incompetence, conflict of interest and internal disarray,” tweeted Alec Baldwin, who famously portrays Trump on Saturday Night Live.
While CNN and MSNBC went wall-to-wall with coverage when the Flynn news broke Monday night, Fox News largely ignored the story and mainly covered the breaking news through Twitter and its on-air news ticker.
On Tuesday afternoon, Conway took to Twitter to say, “I serve at the pleasure of @POTUS. His message is my message. His goals are my goals. Uninformed chatter doesn’t matter.”
During Tuesday’s White House press conference, spokesman Sean Spicer echoed Conway’s explanation that Flynn created an “unsustainable situation.”
“This was an act of trust — whether or not he misled the vice president was the issue and that was ultimately what led to the president asking for and accepting the resignation of Gen. Flynn,” Spicer said.
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