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Flynn's Departure Follows Flap Over Talks With Russian Ambassador


Let's turn to the big story we are following this morning. It is Michael Flynn's resignation as President Trump's national security adviser. And let's bring another voice in here to talk about that. It is Michael McFaul. He's on the line.

He was the U.S. ambassador to Russia under the Obama administration, also served on the National Security Council. He now teaches political science at Stanford University. Ambassador, welcome back to the program.

MICHAEL MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So a whole lot is being made about the fact that Mike Flynn spoke with Russia's ambassador to the United States in December about new sanctions that were imposed by the Obama administration, something he initially denied. Is this why he is stepping down?

MCFAUL: No, I don't think so, to be honest. I think the real reason he decided to resign was not because he had that conversation and not even that he may or may not have discussed what they're going to do with sanctions in the future, but that he misrepresented what he said in that phone call to the vice president and then asked the vice president to go, on his behalf, on national television and speak about things that other people knew not to be true.

GREENE: So just to be clear, I mean, if that conversation had taken place alone - you had an incoming national security adviser who some suspect might have been reassuring the Russians and saying, you know, when there's a new president here maybe these sanctions, they might go away - maybe that's a violation of diplomatic protocol but not such a big deal, you're saying.

MCFAUL: Well, it's a violation of a norm that we have which is one president at a time. That is for sure. But I don't think that would be a situation that the national security adviser, only three weeks into the job, would have to step down for.

We don't know what President-elect Trump knew or what he instructed his national security adviser to do. And I think we should know more about that. And, of course, we should know more about all engagement and interaction with the Russians during the presidential campaign. I hope that this is not the last time that we talk about this. I still have hundreds of questions about what was going on.

GREENE: The Washington Post is suggesting there's a lot of concern within the Justice Department that the Russians could have used that as blackmail if they knew that Michael Flynn was lying to the vice president of the United States. Is that something the Russians might savor?

MCFAUL: You know, possibly. I read that. And most certainly I know of instances in the past, when I served in the government, where information held by the Russians allegedly could be used for blackmail. But as I read the situation and I remember my time in the White House, I really do think it was the breakdown of trust between the national security adviser and the vice president.

This is a very important job in the U.S. government. You have to trust the national security adviser. And there were questions about his judgment before. After all, General Flynn flew to Moscow once and showed up at the Russia Today 10th anniversary celebration - that's a propaganda channel for the television station - and spoke there. And that, to me, showed bad judgment.

So this wasn't just a one-off, in other words. There were other times and other instances where maybe his judgment was questioned. But you can't ask the vice president to go out on your behalf in - on national television and say something that's not true. That's just not a way that the White House can function.

GREENE: This is quite a moment so early in the Trump administration. Anything larger we can sort of take from this when it comes to President Trump and how he is dealing with Russia so far?

MCFAUL: This also, I think, reflects poorly on President Trump's judgment. He promised us that he was going to have the best and brightest running our national security team. This does not feel like the best and brightest. This feels like a failure.

GREENE: OK, that is the view of Michael McFaul. He's a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and currently a professor at Stanford University. Ambassador McFaul, thanks so much.

MCFAUL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.