Trump explains why he ousted Comey quickly — but waited to fire Flynn

Key Points
  • President Trump says firing Michael Flynn quickly would have been 'unfair'
  • Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that Flynn could be blackmailed
  • Trump says he wanted to fire James Comey 'regardless' of what the Justice Department said

President Donald Trump on Thursday defended the discrepancy between how he fired former FBI Director James Comey and the way he terminated national security advisor Michael Flynn, two of the most explosive and politically charged decisions of his young presidency.

In an exclusive NBC News interview, Trump explained why he abruptly terminated Comey but waited to oust Flynn — both moves that have sparked criticism. Trump did not remove Flynn until 18 days after acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House counsel that the former lieutenant general could be vulnerable to blackmail because he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Trump contended that White House Counsel Don McGahn, after meeting with Yates, did not make it sound as if firing Flynn was an "emergency" that "had to be done immediately."

"This man has served for many years. He's a general. … In my opinion, a very good person," Trump told NBC News. "I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know, and immediately run out and fire a general."

He reiterated that he fired Flynn not because of Yates' warning but because Flynn misled Pence. Flynn told Pence that he had not discussed Russia sanctions with the ambassador when in fact he had.

Trump said he did not know at that time that Flynn had taken payments from both the Russian and Turkish governments, but alleged that the Obama administration could have known because it renewed Flynn's security clearance.

It is not clear what if anything the Obama administration knew about those payments, but President Barack Obama warned Trump against hiring Flynn as national security advisor, according to multiple officials from the former administration.

Contradicting what his White House previously said, Trump also told NBC that he wanted to fire Comey "regardless" of what the Justice Department recommended. He called the former FBI director a "showboat" and "grandstander."