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The White House acknowledged on Tuesday that President Donald Trump asked Michael Flynn to resign as national security advisor because of his handling of his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States.
The president simply lost trust in Flynn but does not believe he broke the law, press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters.
The "eroding trust in this situation led the president to ask for General Flynn's resignation," Spicer said at a White House briefing.
Flynn stepped down Monday night following revelations that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top White House officials about his dealings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Reports Monday raised questions about what the White House knew and when. A senior official confirmed to NBC News part of a Washington Post report that then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates told the White House last month that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail because the contacts in question were before Trump's inauguration.
Flynn told Pence he did not discuss sanctions against Russia with Russian officials in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration. Pence then defended him in TV interviews.
Yates informed the White House that Flynn may have made contradictory statements on Jan. 26, and Trump was "immediately informed of the situation," Spicer said. He asserted that Trump "absolutely" did not instruct Flynn to discuss sanctions with the ambassador, but said he did not have a problem with him talking to foreign officials as part of his responsibilities.
Spicer said White House Counsel Donald McGahn conducted a "thorough" review of Flynn's behavior and determined it was "not a legal issue but a trust issue." He did not say what specific evidence McGahn reviewed to come to that conclusion.
"The key point in this is not that there were discussions. ... It came down to a matter of trust, that's it," Spicer said.
Some critics have questioned whether Flynn, if he talked about sanctions before Trump took office, broke a law barring unauthorized people from negotiating with foreign governments in disputes with the United States.
Spicer also said Trump was "unbelievably decisive" in ordering a review of Flynn's actions. Still, the White House was warned by the Justice Department about the discrepancy more than two weeks ago, according to Spicer.
He added that Trump asked for Flynn's resignation, though some reporting Monday night disputed that notion.