Return to Transcripts main page


National Security Adviser Michael Flynn Resigns. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:32] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Our breaking news on CNN the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has resigned.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Flynn's resignation coming in the wake of news that the Justice Department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled the administration about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

Again, that's our breaking news here on CNN.

I want to get right to all of our correspondents here -- our team here at CNN working on this story. CNN's Michelle Kosinski, Mark Preston and Major General Spider Marks. Our White House correspondent Jim Acosta will join us in moments as well.

Jim -- do I have you? Are you there?


LEMON: Jim -- let me get to you first because you read this letter on air when this news was breaking where he said -- this is from Michael Flynn. And he said "In the course of my duties as the incoming national security adviser, I held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts." And then he says he did this, "including with the Russian ambassador to ensure a smooth transition."

But this is the crux of it. He said, "Unfortunately because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President-Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the President and Vice President and they have accepted by my apology."

That's where the rubber met the road -- giving the Vice President- Elect or Vice President Pence now information that may not have been accurate or that was not accurate.

ACOSTA: Right. Yes, Don. I mean I think that is -- that's the straw that broke the camel's back, if folks will pardon the late night cliches. You know, essentially what happened here was the incoming national security adviser before this administration came into office, the incoming national security adviser gave that information to the Vice President-Elect who went on national television and vouched for the national security adviser about this phone call between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador about whether or not, you know, they had talked about sanctions -- sanctions against Russia.

That is just not something that's going to fly with any administration. And it is rather surprising that it took this look for all of this to play out.

Don -- one has to assume that part of this is because at the onset of any administration you just can't have the President throwing people overboard. You can't have top officials stepping aside. It just doesn't -- it just doesn't look like a stable situation if you have officials leaving as soon as they come in.

But I am told by a senior administration official that President Trump tried to hang in there. He tried to stand by Mike Flynn as long as possible and that this was not a firing, this was a resignation. And in the words of one senior administration official, outside of "The Apprentice" this person Trump does not relish firing people.

But it seems, Don, that this did reach critical mass and that Flynn had reached a point where he just could not stay on as the national security adviser. I think the moment where everything changed was this afternoon when Kellyanne Conway went on television and said that Flynn had the full confidence of the President.

That statement right there bounced around the walls of the West Wing and within about an hour reporters were called into White House press secretary Sean Spicer's office who did a 180 and said no, Mike Flynn is being evaluated and would not answer the question whether or not he had the full confidence of the President.

Don -- as we were saying earlier, when a top official at the White House gets to that point, it's really hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

LEMON: And what's interesting is we saw the President leaving the Oval Office this evening being asked by reporters a number of times, do you have -- are you confident in Michael Flynn. Does he have your confidence? The President smiled and would not answer questions about -- to that effect.

Mark Preston -- what's interesting is that as Jim Acosta's reporting here and as we read the letter, was this more about misleading the Vice President than about the actual phone calls and what transpired in the phone calls?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we don't really know the answer to that. We do know from reporting from Dana Bash and her sources within the White House that, in fact, this had to do with more telling something to Vice President Pence, while they don't think it was willfully -- it was enough that they thought that, you know, we had to see the General get dismissed. That, in fact, perhaps he did forget what he said in that conversation; and in the position that he was in, you can't be forgetful.

[00:05:10] Now to me, that says that they're trying to be -- to let him off easy. So it doesn't look like he willfully lied to the Vice President of the United States -- that being General Flynn.

This is one of those stories though I think when we look at it from a political perspective -- and I know that our viewers get frustrated when you put this into the strategic, political sphere -- is that if they can get past the next 24 hours with Mike Flynn kind of fading away and they're able to put in somebody else like Petraeus perhaps, or somebody else then that will be a good thing for the White House. It will be seen by his supporters as Donald Trump taking a decisive action and moving on for the good of the country.

However, if there is this investigation as we're told on Capitol Hill to look into what Russia was doing with our election and what other things they may have been doing, could we see, as David Gergen had said early in this evening, have General Flynn come up and testify about what his conversations were. That could keep the story alive and could continue to cause headache and heartache for the Trump administration.

LEMON: General Marks -- what does this -- what does this mean for national security at this very moment?

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it puts us in a certainly, a period of turmoil. We don't have a national security adviser. We have an interim. And what it really goes back to is what has taken place over the course of the last three weeks within this administration? Does any of that activity now move off to the side and be rendered irrelevant and do we move forward with a new agenda?

My suggestion is what needs to take place right now is the establishment of what we thing this administration's key priorities are. They need to come forward and very calmly voice -- it doesn't really matter who that is right now -- and say look these are the three things. These are the five things that we're going to work and this is the direction we need to take.

So national security is ongoing, it's 24/7. It continues to evolve. The challenge we don't have a voice for it. We don't have a face for it. But if we can establish what those priorities are that's a good first step to calm these very choppy, white waters.

LEMON: Yes. Michelle -- you know, Mark said that this maybe a reset but it certainly does bring into question and highlight, you know, the potential conflicts of interest and this particular administration's relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: I mean to have your national security adviser have to resign in this way such a short time into the administration, it's a big deal. I mean --

LEMON: Over issues over Russia. KOSINSKI: -- exactly. And the timing of that because Russia tried to hack the American election, you know what I mean. You know, it's just such a big problem on so many levels. And sure, having somebody come in who's going to tackle this the right way and for things to be more responsible on a number of levels, you know, that could put things on a better path. Sure -- but that doesn't mean that this issue goes away.

I mean there are still major questions surrounding this. Where did this problem begin? Did it begin with the President? Why was he having this conversation and for what purpose? And where does this problem end? I mean if the White House was warned about this directly weeks ago, where does that end up? Why didn't that information spread far and wider, at least to the Vice President?

And then, you know, you have Michael Flynn that he inadvertently gave incomplete information to the Vice President and others -- that's what he wrote in his resignation letter.

I mean you only have a couple of options here. He didn't just give this incomplete information to the Vice President and others; it was also to the American public.

He repeatedly denied that he had this conversation. So your options are you're lying about it, you forgot about it -- that's another major problem -- or you're trying to cover something up. And if you're trying to cover something up that you know you did wrong, how many other tentacles does that have?

That's why there are so many eyeballs on this and so many reporters digging around and you also have plenty of leaks happening. This isn't just a containable problem, at least not right now, and possibly for a long time.


Jim Acosta -- I want to get back to you to see if there's anything else that you would like to report here. And considering you're at the White House everyday, you're in those press briefings. I know you don't have a crystal ball but what happens tomorrow.

ACOSTA: Well, what happens tomorrow is there's going to be a briefing at the White House. Sean Spicer will hold a press briefing and he is going to be peppered with questions -- all the questions that you're asking.

[00:09:59] I think one of the most important questions that is going to be asked in the coming days. And we noticed that it wasn't asked at that news conference today with the Canadian Prime Minister, in part because the White House, you know, put together a news conference where perhaps that kind of question wouldn't be asked.

But what did the President know? And when did he know it? That age- old question is going to be asked because what we have here is a conversation about Michael Flynn, the national security adviser and the phone call that he had with the Russian ambassador in late December and were they talking about sanctions and so on.

That really is kind of irrelevant now. We could get to the bottom of that I suppose at some point in time. I think the real question is to the President of the United States and he's going to have to answer this question at some point in time. He can delay answering this question for as long as he'd like. But eventually he's going to have to answer this question.

And that is, did he know that the national security adviser was having this phone conversation with the Russian ambassador about these sanctions? Did the President instruct the national security adviser to have this conversation with the Russian ambassador about these sanctions? Did Michael Flynn report back to the President of the United States about his conversation with the Russian ambassador about these sanctions?

You know, these are questions that people will say oh, you know, there they go again, you know, asking these sorts of questions at the President.

Well, you know, Don -- you and I both know these questions have to be asked. And they have to be answered. And I think that is going to be the tough task that Sean Spicer is going to have tomorrow.

I will say that we are getting, you know, some more information about how all of this went down tonight and who is sort of in the running. There's going to be a conversation about David Petraeus that we're going to have this week, the retired general who shared classified information with a mistress and that basically resulted at him leaving government --


ACOSTA: -- you know, that -- people are going to be asking the question, how could David Petraeus come into this job after Michael Flynn just left when they were giving Hillary Clinton such a hard time during the campaign.

LEMON: Jim -- standby because I need to get to Gloria Borger. Gloria -- joins us by phone. Gloria -- do you have any new information that you need to report here?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (via telephone): Well, just that one source says that General Petraeus is going to go to the White House tomorrow and that he is quote, "making a run for the job". But this source also indicates that Petraeus has what this source calls a lot of baggage. And we all know what that is and we've spoken about it this evening, which is that he shared classified information with his mistress.

And we've talked about the people who are in the running for the job. Obviously Petraeus is in the running for the job. General Kellogg who is now acting head of the National Security Agency is also solid, I'm told, with K.T. McFarlane who's the number two.

And just to say that I think this took so long because, you know, General Flynn was hanging out there for quite some time and I think it took longer because of the President himself and I think both Jim Acosta and I have been talking about tonight because the President doesn't like to fire people. And in the end I was told that there was a flood of information that finally made it clear that Flynn had to resign.

What that was remains unclear. Was it related to the stories that broke tonight in the "Post" in the "New York Times"? Was it related to transcript of his conversations with the Russians? Or was it simply related in a large sense to the fact that in his conversations with the Vice President he did not tell him what actually occurred in his conversation with the Russians and whether that was an oversight or whether he just didn't tell the truth about it. We really -- we really haven't gotten to the bottom of it yet.

But in the end, I think the President and the staff finally decided that General Flynn had to go and so he resigned.

LEMON: All right. It's interesting that the person who is known for firing people doesn't like to fire people. Everything is not always what it seems -- Gloria Borger.

I also want to ask you about -- I'm not sure if you've gotten this information from John Conyers, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee now, and Elijah Cumming, the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issuing the following joint statement. I think basically what they're asking is for some sort of investigation.

BORGER: Right. They're asking for --

LEMON: They're calling for an immediate briefing on the alarming new disclosures concerning Michael Flynn and possible blackmail by the Russians.

BORGER: Right. And I think, you know, it's one of these statements that was probably issued a little bit -- a little bit after the fact here.

[00:15:01] But, you know, it says that they're -- you know, they're concerned about reports that the Justice Department believed that he was actually could be subject to blackmail by the Russians.

And they, you know, they state that they believe he was unfit to be national security adviser in the first place and should have been dismissed a while ago. But in the end, you know, I think at this point that's going to be kind of a moot point because he's gone.

And I think they'll probably try and focus on who's going to be the next national security adviser and what the issues that national security adviser might have, for example, if it were to be General Petraeus who does have this controversy that still haunts him about sharing classified information.

And I'm sure that while many Democrats like, admire and respect General Petraeus, I think it would clearly become an issue both for him and for the President himself who, you know, who used that issue against Hillary Clinton during the campaign by sharing classified information on her e-mail.

So they may be barking up the wrong tree here or at least just a little late.

LEMON: Yes. Stand by -- Gloria.

I also want to bring in now CNN's senior political commentator. That's David Axelrod. David -- I have to ask you. What are we learning about the Trump White House works, considering today's events? How this White House functions.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean there are a lot of questions that arise here. One is that they were apparently informed of this problem weeks ago and it's taken weeks for them to deal with it. That is one question that arises here.

Kellyanne Conway went out and gave him -- gave the world an assurance that the President of the United States had full confidence in General Flynn and then was within the hour contradicted. So it raises questions about what her role is and how well she was read into this.

So, you know -- now I will say this. Just on the day that this -- of all of these events, there was a story about the disarray in the National Security Council and as I noted earlier General Flynn was a kind of a famously controversial administrator. It caused him one job in the intelligence community and there apparently were big problems within the National Security Council.

If by making this move, they can clear up that problem and bring some sense of order to the national security operation that would be a step forward for the administration. One name --

LEMON: David -- not to cut you off -- I want to ask you because it has been mentioned tonight that he did lose his job with the Obama administration. Can you take us into detail what happened there for allegedly sharing classified information?

AXELROD: No that really -- that wasn't really -- my understanding, and I wasn't there Don, when that happened -- my understanding was that he lost it primarily because of concerns about his administrative style. And there was a kind of chaotic administrative style there that apparently translated into this particular assignment. So there's a pattern in that regard that has plagued General Flynn.

But you know, a name that we haven't heard mention tonight in all these discussions is the name of Steve Bannon who has taken a role on national security that is highly unusual for a person in his position -- essentially a senior adviser to the President, chief strategist for the President -- a seat on the National Security Council. He obviously leveraged his great influence on issues of national security and one wonders if he's going to leverage even greater influence now with this turmoil within the National Security Council.

But one thing and Jim Acosta has mentioned it a couple of minutes ago, I do -- I don't think the story ends tonight with General Flynn because I don't think the question is only what happened in his conversations with the Vice President. There is a question of what the President knew and when he knew it.

[00:19:38] And the point that it posed (ph), raised in its reporting tonight that there were intelligence reports of other conversations between General Flynn and Ambassador Kislyak of Russia throughout the campaign during a period when the intelligence community has concluded that the Russians were trying to interfere and were interfering in the -- and meddling in the American campaign on behalf of Mr. Trump and to harm the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. So what were those conversations?

I think these questions are going to persist. I don't think the story's going to die tonight with the resignation of General Flynn. So I do think that it tamps down the problem for now but I think interest is going to be piqued now and exactly what General Flynn's relationship was with the Russians. What was he telling them not just on the 28th of December or the 29th of December but throughout the campaign?

LEMON: There is that.

David -- I need you to stand by. And I'm glad you mentioned the "Washington Post" because one of the three reporters who wrote the story that broke earlier this evening in the "Washington Post" is Adam Entous and he joins me now by phone.

So Adam -- you heard David Axelrod mentioning the story, warning -- the warning from the acting Attorney General that Michael Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Did you expect such a quick reaction from General Flynn and from the White House?

ADAM ENTOUS, "WASHINGTON POST" (via telephone): Yes. I mean it's certainly -- no, absolutely not. And you know, I do agree completely with David that, you know, this is, you know, not going to go away.

Just we have additional questions here that have not been addressed such as, you know, who might have known about Flynn's communications with Kislyak that were -- you know, misdescribed (ph), mischaracterized to Pence and some others in the White House.

And those are questions that are think, you know, Senate investigators are definitely going to be looking at closely. Having a friend outside the White House now that he has resigned raises questions also about, you know -- what is the status of that FBI investigation which was looking into these communications? Is that investigation continuing?

These are all things that obviously we don't know the answers to at this point. But hopefully in the coming days we'll get some clarity on.

LEMON: I found your report fascinating. I had to read it several times because, you know, the amount of information that is -- is just staggering. But I want you to tell me specifically about the blackmail concerns. You report that the AG, Sally Yates, felt Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail because he misled senior administration officials. Talk to me more about that.

ENTOUS: Yes. What you've got to understand here is that basically Kislyak speaks to Flynn, the FBI is listening to Kislyak. They get Flynn -- it's called incidental collection. When Flynn finishes that phone call with Kislyak, Kislyak writes a cable, makes a phone call or whatever basically tells Moscow what he just spoke to Flynn about. The NSA picks that up too, or the FBI picks that up, too.

And so Moscow knows that Flynn and Kislyak spoke about the sanctions. And yet, in the CBS interview Pence says he spoke to Flynn and there was -- he had assurances from Flynn that there was no discussion of the sanctions. The idea here is -- and what was -- what Sally Yates was thinking along with, by the way, James Clapper who at the time was the DNI, the Director of National Intelligence; John Brennan who was the CIA director -- the concern here was that the Russians at some point had this information on Flynn or at least they thought they did that they could use as leverage.

And by telling the White House council, Sally Yates thought and so did Clapper and so did Brennan that you would take away that leverage that the Russians would have that they might try at one point down the road to try to exercise.

And so that's really what this was. In addition to obviously Sally Yates and again these other officials feeling like there had been a mischaracterization of a discussion and Pence not knowing the truth was something that would, in the end, he would probably hold against the intelligence community for not sharing with him.

LEMON: It's just fascinating. And all of this came about because of Vladimir Putin's -- at least the record of the phone call is because of how Vladimir Putin reacted to the sanctions that the Obama administration placed on them. It was an irregular reactions and so members of -- I would imagine -- the intelligence community or investigative unit of the FBI and so on went back to look for a record of any phone calls with this particular ambassador, this Russian ambassador and came across this. Am I correct in that?

[00:24:54] ENTOUS: Yes. Well, I mean any time basically that Putin makes a decision, especially one that was unexpected analysts in the intelligence community are basically trying to figure out what happened. They pull on all kinds of intelligence -- signals intelligence, intercepted communications, reports from diplomats around the world, and spies that might also provide tips.

You know, when it comes to intercepted communications, the signals intelligence, you know, the FBI does the wiretaps on ambassadors in the United States. The NSA is listening overseas. And so that's where they go.

I mean a good portion of our intelligence about anywhere between 65 percent, 75 percent comes from so-called signals intelligence which would be like what we're talking about here which is the wire tap.


ENTOUS: And so there's what we call a FISA warrant which is constantly being renewed on Kislyak's phone and he knows this. And Flynn knows this, too -- or at least he should know it that Kislyak's being monitored. The target is Kislyak and by accident basically they get Flynn in that conversation.

LEMON: Interesting. Adam Entous from the "Washington Post" -- thank you so much. I appreciate it.

ENTOUS: Pleasure. Thank you.

LEMON: We're going to come right back.

Much more on our breaking news. National security adviser Michael Flynn resigns in the wake of the Justice Department's warning to the White House that last month, on his contacts with Russia -- with the Russian ambassador.

We'll be right back.


[00:30:12] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Our breaking news tonight on CNN, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has resigned. It comes in the wake of news that the Justice Department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled the administration about his communications with the Russian ambassador and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

I want to bring in now CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance, who joins us now live from Moscow.

Matthew, what is the reaction there in Moscow tonight, especially in a place where Flynn has close relationships?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, you know, there hasn't been any reaction yet. We're going to be speaking to the Kremlin about this issue in the hours ahead. It's still quite early in the morning here. But, obviously, this resignation leaves the Kremlin with egg on its face to say the least. All this because throughout this whole scandal, the Russians, the Kremlin have categorically denying that any conversations took place between Flynn and their ambassador to Washington about the issue of alleviating sanctions. They're saying that's something that just did not happen.

They've also denied the idea that Vladimir Putin's reaction to the last round of Obama government sanctions over U.S. hacking, in which he expelled 35 diplomats. Remember Vladimir Putin infamously made no reaction to that. He didn't expel in a tit-for-tat way 35 U.S. diplomats would be the norm.

The Kremlin denying that had anything to do with the conversations between Michael Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington.

And so, you know, from a Russian perspective, what turned out, what started out, perhaps, as an attempt to support the White House denials, that the issue with sanctions had been raised in these discussions, as I say, has become very embarrassing indeed. And we're looking forward to speaking to the Kremlin to get their explanation as to why they told us that sanctions were not discussed between these two figures.

LEMON: So the question, you're going to be speaking with the Kremlin. But how is -- can you tell us how this story is being reported there tonight?

CHANCE: You know, I don't think there's a lot of coverage on it at the moment. But obviously the travails of the Trump administration are being widely covered in the Russian media. And I think this latest incident underlines just how, you know, from a Russian perspective, just how dangerous this relationship with the Trump administration has become. It's dangerous for all sides.

Obviously, the Democrats and the Republicans in the United States are using the sympathies of Trump and the people around Trump towards Russia in a bid to discredit his administration. But from a Russian point of view, the big concern is that there's so much opposition to that detent that Trump proposed during his campaign with Russia, so much opposition in the Congress, that they fear that Trump could opportunistically do a u-turn and adopt a much tougher anti-Russian stance than he has up until now in order to placate the Congress and ensure his political survival.

And so the big concern amongst Russian officials now is that Trump is going to do an about-face and become instead of the Kremlin's man, which is what critics have dubbed him widely in the United States and elsewhere, when it comes to his relationship with Russia, to become a very anti-Russian hawk. That's the big concern that people are talking about now.

LEMON: Yes. Matthew Chance in Moscow. Matthew, I appreciate that.

Matthew said they're looking forward to speaking with the Kremlin and of course we'll report that as soon as he gets it.

I want to get back now to CNN's senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, senior political analyst Mark Preston, military analyst Major General Spider Marks and former CNN Moscow Bureau chief Jill Dougherty.

I have to ask you this, General Marks, I don't know if you heard my reporting with "The Washington post" reporter, Adam Entous, who reported on this, talked to us about how the NSA and how, you know, I guess listening to phone calls for the Russian ambassador.

What -- I mean, it is fascinating information.

General Marks, they should have known that this Russian ambassador was being monitored. That's normal procedure, standard operating procedure.

What did you get out of that?

MAJ. GEN. SPIDER MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: General Flynn was aware that any communications he makes, he's vulnerable. It's going to be picked up. He's intimate with that and how that works, both metadata and then the internals of that communication.

The thing that you need to realize on Mike Flynn, and I know Mike exceptionally well, is that he is a very bright guy and he's very savvy guy. And he is an organizational man. I mean, he understands where his right and left limits are.

So he had to get permission from somebody before he started to engage in these communications with the Russian ambassador. Now, clearly, I don't know that that was the president himself who gave him that authorization. It certainly wasn't the vice president and during the period when they were both in the elected position. They had not assumed office yet.

[00:35:05] So within the White House, there clearly is someone else or a group of folks who gave Mike the guidance and the clearance to go ahead and conduct these communications. That's the question that all of your journalists have been uncovering tonight.

What is that -- you know, who is that and what does that look like as we move forward? The fact that Mike raised his hand and he said, look, I've got to get off the objective here. I'm drawing a whole bunch of fire and distracting from the effort of this administration to move forward. So he did the honorable thing and he got out of the way. But who remains back in the White House, within that administration, who knew what Mike was up to, and now needs to come forward and say, look, this is how we -- this is how we addressed this. These were our thoughts and our initiatives moving forward.

LEMON: Yes. Jim Acosta?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that's right, what Spider Marks there said.

I think, Don, that -- I think one question that's going to be asked is why is it that all of the lines from all of these different officials, they all get drawn back to Russia.

President Trump will criticize just about anybody on planet earth, besides Vladimir Putin. General Flynn was at that RT dinner, the video that we played over and over and over again. He's having phone conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition period just as the Obama administration is slapping sanctions on Russia for their involvement, their intervention in the 2016 election.

You have the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who received a friendship award from Vladimir Putin, had done multiple oil deals as part of his job at Exxon Mobil in Russia.

Why is it that time and again, there is this line drawn from people in Trump world to Russia? And I think that is just a question that is going to be asked. It's going to be asked over and over again.

I think one other thing I wanted to point out, Don, something that's fascinating, a bit of color about Michael Flynn today. Apparently, he was still involved in doing his job as the national security adviser today.

We're told that he was involved in the president's daily intelligence briefing earlier this morning. That he was involved in those meetings with Prime Minister Trudeau when he was in town over at the White House. Right up until everything started unravelling this afternoon, it seems --


LEMON: His resignation came late.

ACOSTA: It seemed General Flynn was hanging in there. And so it appears that, you know, these reports about the Justice Department warning the Trump administration up a month ago did that start to bring weight to bear on all of this. I think that is an interesting question.

LEMON: Jill, you know, Jim draws a picture there, as he's raising his hand, I don't know if you can see him, with the lines going back to Russia. And it does raise questions about the relationship of this white house with Russia.

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: It always has. And I think this is at least a major chapter, but it's not the end, in trying to come to the end of the story. You know, why is it?

Nobody can really answer that at this point. So, you know, I think it's a major problem for this administration. I think it's a major problem for Russia. Because right now, this is kind of blowing up in their faces.

I think the way that they will probably finesse it, this is the Kremlin, would be to say that the powers that be, the elite ruling class, is now really trying to bring down Trump and here was a guy who was just out trying to do his job, and talking with the ambassador and what's wrong with that? And you know, this is just trying to damage Trump.

And then also, you know, getting back to what Matthew was saying, Dmitry Peskov, who is a spokesperson for President Putin, did deny that there were conversations about sanctions, but he didn't say, as far as I know, between Flynn and the ambassador, he said between the United States and Russia.

So knowing that the -- Vladimir Putin's administration is very legalistic, they can probably say, well, there were no official conversations between Russia and the United States about sanctions. And we know that. You know, that they haven't brought it up in official discussions. So I think they can finesse that. But right now, it's pretty much a mess for them. LEMON: And -- listen, the late person at home is wondering what does Vladimir Putin -- what does Russia have on President Trump, or this administration, Mark Preston? That's really the question that people are asking.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Yes, I know. And it's certainly going to be a question that we're going to hear, you know, in the coming days. You know, there's a couple ways of looking at this, you know. And we're talking earlier and I do think, as far as the position of national security adviser, if they are able to get somebody in there, if they're able to keep that boat steady, that will be a good thing for the Trump administration.

[00:40:04] But this really is going to put an incredible amount of pressure on Congress and Republicans in Congress. They are the ones who have the power to investigate. They are the ones that have the power to subpoena people to go to Capitol Hill. They are the ones, and we've certainly heard it from a couple of them now already, that have already said they will start looking into this Russian connections, specifically, how it relates to the election, but as Jim points out, and Jill points out, that there are these connections with Russia right now, that really go unexplained.

I think it really goes back to the campaign, and one of the strangest things that I will take away from this campaign, Don, one of the most surprising things, was that a Republican could win their party's presidential nomination by embracing Russia. That, in itself, was a very bizarre turn of events, but Donald Trump did so.

But having said that, if we see an investigation by congressional Republicans, a robust investigation, we could overturn some rocks and that could cause some to think otherwise.

LEMON: And I guess the line under that, in large print now, is "At your own risk, embrace Russia." Thank you very much. We'll be right back.


[00:45:11] LEMON: Our breaking news on CNN. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has resigned. That comes in the wake of the news that the Justice Department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled the administration about his communications with the Russian ambassador, and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

Let's discuss now with CNN political commentator Alice Stewart, political contributor Hillary Rosen, and Joseph Borelli, a Republican commentator and New York City councilman.

So as I was speaking to you during the 10:00 hour here on CNN, this news broke of Michael Flynn resigning.

As I understand, Alice Stewart, that you have some sources and it's interesting, I would imagine they are watching us very closely at the White House right now. ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's the impression, and that's what they are saying. Now, of course, this is breaking news. And CNN is doing a great job staying on top of it.

And, look, the key is that over the last 48 hours or the last two or three days, this has been a drip, drip, drip of negative headlines for the administration. And when a member of the administration is distracting or as Mark Preston said, a side show from the actual news of the administration, that's not good.

And this was Flynn's decision to step down. As we've said earlier today, 4:00, Kellyanne Conway said that he had the full confidence of the president. And an hour later, we heard that it is still under review and under investigation. They're looking at it. And it wasn't much longer than that, where we understood, as I was hearing throughout the evening, is that the president still had trust in him, was holding on and standing by him. But it was Flynn himself who made the decision that it was too much of a distraction and made the decision to step down.

And this is not so much that phone call, but it was as he said, his inadvertent leaving out information to the vice president, that was the big crux of this, and as we've said, the straw that broke the camel's back was the inadvertent mishandling of -- relaying of information to the vice president that really did him in.

LEMON: And Joseph Borelli, I mean, did he really have a choice, the president? I know he may have wanted to stick by Michael Flynn at this point, but considering as Alice said, the drip, drip, drip that has been happening, the unanswered questions that so many people want answers to, did the president really have a choice at this point.

JOSEPH BORELLI, COUNCILMAN, 51ST DISTRICT OF NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL: No. I think he was essentially boxed in, you know. And it wasn't about the legality, it wasn't about really any of this blackmail rumor or what have you, it was about the credibility of Mike Pence.

And we saw Mike Pence develop into this sort of explainer-in-chief role throughout the campaign. And if we can all be objective for a minute, he does a very good job of conveying the message of the administration to the public.

That is part and parcel to any of the success the administration wants to have.

And, look, Mike Pence, the NSA director is an expendable position. The vice president isn't. So he knows the business. He knows the stakes. And I have to say I think he did the right thing by resigning and I think the administration now needs to weather the storm that is going to come for the next couple of days.

I think Sean Spicer has to do the performance of his life, tomorrow, and have some answers to some of the question that need to be answered and then they have to move on.

LEMON: Hillary, I have to ask you, because I'm getting that John Conyers and Elijah Cummings. They said that they want to -- they want to investigate. They want to know. It is concerning to them about the potentiality of being blackmailed by the Russians.

HILLARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, and I've talked tonight to some folks in the Senate Democratic Leadership and they are not going to let this go. And I think their hope is that some of the Republicans, we heard Marco Rubio say today that he thought that the Flynn contacts with Russia should be part of their overall investigation into Russia.

So really the questions are going to go further and they're really going to reach the president. Did the president hold on to loyalty to Mike Flynn because he himself was the one who encouraged him to talk to the Russian ambassador?

Did -- you know, what other information has transpired between the two of them? So, you know, -- and will Mike Flynn now have to testify without, you know, so-called executive privilege before a congressional committee?

So I think that this is not the end of this story. I think, you know -- Jim Acosta was smart before the way he talked about multiple ties to Russia and the mystery of the Trump, you know, connection to Russia.

This doesn't help the White House, you know, get more jobs at the table. It doesn't help with health care. It doesn't help get their Supreme Court nominee through. None of this is good for the White House's agenda.

[00:50:02] But now they have created their own mess. And one final point that a Senate Democratic Leadership member said to me tonight which was, remember, that now President Trump knew before he was sworn in and before he let his national security adviser get the highest security clearance, you know, permitted, he knew that he was lying. And so what do you do with that?

STEWART: Don, I think one thing that's important to stress is that as acting national security adviser, he should be speaking with foreign leaders. He should have had this conversation as part of the transition process. Whether or not they talked about sanctions still -- was up for questions. But given the fact the conversation was had the same day the Obama administration issued sanctions with regard to Russian hacking, it certainly would be something that would come up. But that conversation is not out of the ordinary for an acting national security adviser.

But as you said --

LEMON: Well, Alice, I've got to get to the break, but we shall see. And I think Jim Acosta is right. Sean Spicer is going to have some -- a lot of questions to answer tomorrow. It's going to be a very tough day for Sean Spicer.

I have to get to the break. We'll come right back. More on our breaking news. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigns in the wake of the Justice Department warning to the White House last month on his contact with Russia's ambassador.


[00:55:16] Our breaking news tonight, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has resigned, comes in the wake of a news that the Justice Department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled the administration about his communications with Russian ambassador and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

Let's discuss now with Daniel Dale, Washington correspondent for "The Toronto Star."

What a turn of events, Daniel. Thank you so much for joining us. You cover Washington for "The Toronto Star." We had planned on talking to you about the president and the Canadian prime minister.

What do you make of Michael Flynn's resignation tonight?

DANIEL DALE, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE TORONTO STAR: Well, it's another bit of wild news out of an administration that specializes in wild news.

You know, we have an administration that makes news from before dawn until after dark that faces constant questions about its judgment and personnel decisions that leaks like crazy. In fact, seems to have knives out for, you know, just about everyone going back and forth at each other. So this is like nothing we've seen in recent times.

LEMON: Uh-huh. Daniel, listen, there is a lot of talk today about the fact that the president, President Trump wasn't asked directly about the controversy surrounding Michael Flynn because he was only taking questions from friendly media outlets.

What do you think -- is that a way of trying to control the media?

DALE: I don't know if it's trying to control the media, but it's certainly a way to avoid questions. You know, the Trump administration knew that if they avoided, you know, mainstream outlets of the country, and usually ask questions at joint press conference with foreign leaders and give a question to the conservative "Daily Caller" that they would not have the president ask about Michael Flynn. And they gave a question to "The Daily Caller" and they've got the softball they were looking for.

LEMON: When you see the president's advisers going on television making untrue statements, statements that have no basis in reality at all. Is that because they think that they have an audience of one man, and that's the president, and they know they need to impress him on television?

DALE: I think to some extent, yes. You know, when Sean Spicer comes out and claims, you know, this was the biggest inauguration crowd in history, Sean Spicer knows that isn't true. Kellyanne Conway know so well that, you know, claims that she makes of various kinds are not true. But their boss is someone who either subscribes to unreality, or asks the people under him to join him in pushing unreality. And so if they want to stay in their boss's good graces, they often have to join him in this kind of nonsense peddling.

LEMON: Is that frustrating? You said, you know, he only called on conservative outlets, or outlets that you deem would be friendly to the Trump administration today.

How frustrating is that as a reporter who is tasked to ask tough questions, especially about the Flynn situation today. And the palace intrigue regarding Reince Priebus, possibly Kellyanne Conway. None of that was discussed during this press briefing.

DALE: It is frustrating. And I don't think we need to demand that, you know, every question go to "The New York Times" or "The Washington Post" or CNN, but I think the public should expect that, you know, some questions some of the time go to outlets that are going to be tough, be critical, fair, smart, but also tough and critical on the president. And there seems to be a deliberate effort on many occasions to simply avoid that kind of scrutiny.

LEMON: Uh-huh. And this story certainly indeed an example of the importance of a free and independent press, I would say.

I have to ask you, Daniel, President Trump met with the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today and the two leaders held a brief press conference. There has been so much controversy over the U.S.-Mexico relationship, but what would you say are the most biggest issues in the relationship between the U.S. and our northern border, Canada?

DALE: Well, for a lot of Canadians and from the perspective of the Trudeau government, it's trade. You know, this is the crucial economic relationship for Canada. It's trade with the United States. And what they were looking for today was some sort of reassurance from Donald Trump that he didn't want to blow up the trade relationship with Canada like he seems to want to blow up the trade relationship with Mexico.

You know, we've heard him for a year and a half now rant about NAFTA. Canada is a part of NAFTA, of course, but he simply never has even mentioned Canada in the NAFTA context.

So what we heard today from Trump was that he does indeed see Canada as fundamentally different from a trade perspective than Mexico. He said we need to simply tweak the Canada relationship where we need more fundamental changes on the Mexico side. So this was greeted with huge sighs of relief from Canadian officials.

LEMON: Daniel Dale, Toronto Star reporter, who reports from the D.C. area, from Washington, D.C. I appreciate it. Thank you so much, sir.

DALE: Thank you.

LEMON: Our live coverage of the National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's resignation continues now with Michael Holmes in Los Angeles and Hanna Vaughan Jones in London.