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White House: Trump Fired Flynn After Trust Eroded. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Paul Vercammen, thank you so much.

That is it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter, @JakeTapper. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer, who is in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Erosion of trust. The White House now says President Trump himself asked national security advisor Michael Flynn to resign, his faith in Flynn lost after learning he misled the vice president about discussing sanctions with a Russian official. Could Flynn face charges?

Unanswered questions. We now know the White House was warned by the Justice Department about Flynn last month, but as recently as Friday, the president said he was unaware of the controversy. When did he first find out?

Calls for investigations. Key Republican senators join Democrats demanding a probe of the Flynn scandal as well as the president's public discussion of North Korea in a restaurant at his Florida resort. And now top aide Kellyanne Conway may face an ethics probe. Could more White House jobs be on the line?

And un-expected death. The half-brother of North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un dies suddenly overseas, reportedly under mysterious circumstances. Was he assassinated?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. New revelations about fired White House national security advisor Michael Flynn. A White House official confirms to CNN that the FBI interviewed Flynn early on in the administration about his discussion of U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

The White House says President Trump asked Flynn to resign because his trust in the general had eroded. We now know Mr. Trump was warned by the Justice Department late last month about Flynn, but waited 18 days to ask for his resignation.

Key Senate Republicans are calling for an investigation not only into Flynn, but also of the Trump administration's ties to Russia. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Flynn probe is, quote, "highly likely."

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Adam Kinzinger of the Foreign Affairs Committee; and our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.

Let's begin with the unfolding political drama, the firing of national security advisor General Michael Flynn. Our White House correspondent, Sara Murray, is working the story for us.

Sara, you broke this story. There's fresh fallout from the scandal. Update our viewers.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The White House has really been in turmoil over the last couple of days of how to deal with General Flynn and reports that he did, in fact, discuss the sanctions when he spoke with the Russian ambassador.

But now we're learning that the president himself has known about these phone calls for weeks, raising questions about why it took so long for him to fire his national security advisor.


MURRAY (voice-over): The president's top national security advisor, retired General Michael Flynn, is out, the first casualty in Donald Trump's tumultuous White House.

SEAN SPICER, CNN WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation and a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for General Flynn's resignation.

MURRAY: Trump fired Flynn after losing faith in him for misleading the vice president about whether he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

But the president has known about Flynn's calls for weeks. The Justice Department warned the Trump White House in late January that Flynn misled officials about his communication with the Russian ambassador and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail from the Russians. According to White House press secretary Sean Spicer, the president was informed immediately.

The White House determined Flynn's actions didn't run afoul of the law, but the loss of trust was too damaging to overcome. The fallout sparked a bout of whiplash for administration officials. Last week, the president told reporters he wasn't aware of reports that Flynn had discussed Russian sanctions before he took office.

(on camera): What do you make of reports that General Flynn had conversations with the Russians about sanctions before you were sworn in?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know about it. I haven't seen it. What report is that? MURRAY (voice-over): Today Spicer said the president meant he had not

seen a "Washington Post" story on the matter but said the president took immediate action after the Justice Department's warning.

SPICER: The president from day one, from minute one, was unbelievably decisive in asking for and demanding that his White House counsel and their team review the situation.

MURRAY: Before Trump assumed office, Spicer told reporters in mid- January the conversations between Flynn and the Russian ambassador only focused on scheduling a call between the two world leaders.

SPICER (via phone): They exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and schedule that call. That was it, plain and simple.

MURRAY: Today he said senior administration officials were misled.

SPICER (on camera): This was an act of trust. Whether or not he actually misled the vice president was the issue, and that was ultimately what led to the president asking for and accepting the resignation of General Flynn. That's it, pure and simple.

[17:05:14] MURRAY: As recently as Monday evening, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway insisted Flynn had the president's confidence.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: Yes, General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president.

MURRAY: Today she struggled to explain his departure.

CONWAY: The fact is that General Flynn continued in that position and was in the presidential daily briefings as part of the leader calls as recently as yesterday. As time wore on, obviously, the situation had become unsustainable.

MURRAY: Meanwhile members of Congress on both sides of the aisle still have questions. John Cornyn, the Senate's second ranking Republican, and Senator Roy Blunt, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, both called for an investigation into ties between President Trump and Russia. And they want to see Flynn testify.


MURRAY: Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is essentially reiterating those concerns and says it's highly likely that the Senate Intelligence Committee will look into Flynn.

This is supposed to be the honeymoon period for a Donald Trump White House. He is less than a month into his administration. Republicans control this White House, the House, the Senate. Instead, they are doing clean up, Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly are. All right. Sara Murray at the White House, thank you. We're also learning that the FBI interviewed Flynn early on in the new

administration about his phone call with the Russian ambassador. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is working on that part of the story for us.

Jim, you're getting new information from your sources. What are you learning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. A White House official confirms that FBI agents did interview the former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, when he was the national security advisor in the early days of the Trump administration. That was presumably before the Justice Department notified the White House that there might be some problems with this phone call that Michael Flynn had with the Russian ambassador. That was the genesis for that White House investigation into Flynn's phone contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Wolf, what I think is really an open question at this point is whether or not Flynn was forthright in that conversation with FBI agents. That is, of course, something that could get him into some legal hot water, if he was not telling the truth to those FBI agents. But we don't know what the outcome was of that FBI interview or what the Justice Department is going to be doing with that material here in the coming days. But obviously, another wrinkle in this investigation, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure they're reviewing that FBI interview with Flynn. Lying to the FBI is, of course, a crime.

As you also know, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said during his briefing today that the president has been, in his words, "incredibly tough on Russia.: And you pressed him on that. Tell our viewers what he -- what he said.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. And I think that was part of Spicer's response when he came here to the White House briefing today. He wanted to make the case to reporters that this was an issue Michael Flynn as national security advisor and this phone call that he had with the Russian ambassador.

But, of course, during Spicer's defense of the president, he made the claim that the president has been incredibly tough with Russia. That is a claim that is just not going to stand up with a lot of Democrats and Republicans in this town. And here's how the exchange went.


ACOSTA: You said earlier in your comments that the president has been incredibly tough on Russia.

SPICER: Uh-huh.

ACOSTA: How is that possible? He has made comment after comment over the course of the campaign, the transition where he defended Vladimir Putin. He had an interview with Bill O'Reilly where he -- when he was asked if Vladimir Putin is a killer, he said, "Well, you know, America hasn't been that much better"...

SPICER: I think it's also...

ACOSTA: To me it seems and I think to a lot of Americans it seems that this president has not been tough on Russia. How can you say that?

SPICER: I just walked through. I think there's a difference between the president wanting to have an understanding of how a good relationship with Russia can help us defeat ISIS and terrorism throughout the world.

Look, the Obama administration tried to have a reset with Russia. They failed. They tried to tell Russia not to invade Crimea. They failed. This president understands that it's in America's national and economic interests to have a healthy relationship. If he has a great relationship with Putin and Russia, great. If he doesn't, then he'll continue on.


ACOSTA: And, so, there you heard, Wolf, Sean Spicer essentially laying out what is something that you heard from the president time and again. He even talked about it during the campaign, that it's the president's intent to mend relations with Russia, to go after ISIS, to join forces in the war on terror.

But, Wolf, to have the claim that the president has been incredibly tough on Russia, I mean, consider as I mentioned there to Sean Spicer, what the president said to Bill O'Reilly in that interview that aired on the Super Bowl. Bill O'Reilly said Putin is a killer. And the president responded, "Well, you think our country is so innocent." That's a comment that raised red flags up on Capitol Hill.

And then also go back to that tweet, Wolf, that the president issued when he was the president-elect, back in late December, after Vladimir Putin decided not to pursue counter sanctions against the Obama administration, after the Obama administration slapped sanctions on Russia for their intervention in the 2016 election.

[17:10:14] Donald Trump: "Great move on delay by V. Putin. I always knew he was very smart." Wolf, that is hardly incredibly tough language.

BLITZER: Yes, and interestingly, the Russians decided not to counter sanction the United States, expel American diplomats after Russian diplomats were expelled following that phone conversation that General Flynn had with the Russian ambassador in Washington. That raised all sorts of alarm bells, all sorts of questions in Washington. I know that.

All right. Thanks very much for that. Jim Acosta reporting.

Let's get some more on all of this. Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois is joining us. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: All right. So the White House is pegging this on a trust issue. But why didn't President Trump lose trust in Michael Flynn on January 26 when he found out from the Justice Department that Flynn had lied about the call to the Russian ambassador? Why did he only lose trust in him once this all became public?

KINZINGER: I think that's a question only he can answer. Obviously, I haven't talked to him about this, so, you know, why the time -- I don't know if they were maybe checking out more sources or whatever it came down to.

But the reality is I think what actually led to Michael Flynn leaving was he became a massive distraction. And when it came out that he lied, he lied to the vice president; and the vice president went on a Sunday show and defended that he didn't talk about this, I think they saw this distraction growing. And that's when the president made the decision. Whether he made it a few days prior or -- and it was just executed now, I don't know. I think only he can answer that. But I think the right move was done, which is we've got to get rid of Flynn in this case.

He's -- I think it's important to note Flynn has done great things for the country in Iraq and Afghanistan, but his ties to Russia have always been a question from even the beginning of the campaign.

BLITZER: Are you confident that the president did not ask Flynn, who was then his national security advisor, to contact the Russians to discuss rolling back the sanctions?

KINZINGER: Well, I'm not confident of any of it, because I don't know. And I think it's one thing. So if you go back to the actual conversation that happened, I think, had General Flynn come out right away and said, "Yes, I talked to the ambassador. He brought up sanctions or I brought up the possibility of sanctions." I think it would have been highly improper, because that was during a prior administration making a decision. And I would have condemned that. But that wasn't the cardinal sin.

I think the cardinal sin ended up being then lying about it. And we find out now he had an interview with the FBI. And I'm sure we'll find out very soon what, in fact, he told the FBI. And if it was a dishonest answer, he would easily be facing criminal charges.

BLITZER: Yes. He certainly would be. The FBI has a very strict policy. You lie to the FBI, that is a crime, potentially.

As you know, President Trump -- and we mentioned this earlier -- he tweeted in December, the day after the sanctions were ordered by the Obama administration against the Russian government for interfering in the U.S. election with the cyberattacks, Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador that day of the sanctions. And then the Russians surprised everyone, didn't counterattack the U.S. with sanctions of their own. No expulsion of American diplomats.

The president, then the president-elect, tweeted; he tweeted this: "Great move on delay by V. Putin. I always knew he was very smart."

It was an amazing moment, because the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, had already said publicly in a news conference the Russians would expel American diplomats from Moscow, would impose counter sanction. And then a few hours later Putin said, "No, we're not going to do that." And it raised a lot of questions.

You understand the point here that perhaps, perhaps the suggestion was -- the allegation is that -- that, for some reason, the Russians, including Putin, were convinced by Flynn, "Just wait. Once Trump takes office, things are going to get better."

KINZINGER: Oh, yes absolutely. I mean, I think -- I think that can be a conclusion some make. Until we know more answers, though, I don't think anybody -- I don't think I can come to that conclusion. Because the same token, look, the Russians are very smart to not retaliate. Because we have way more arrows in our quiver than they have. That's the one thing to remember, too.

The other thing is...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt. Let me interrupt, Congressman, because in the history of U.S.-Russian relations, earlier U.S.-Soviet relations, whenever the U.S. expelled Russian or Soviet diplomats, the Russians immediately expelled an equal number of American diplomats and vice versa. There was always a near perfect exchange.

As far as I know, I think this was the first time the Russians decided, for whatever reason, "You know what? We're not going to retaliate."

KINZINGER: Yes, sure. And that's why I said I think people have legitimate questions they can ask about it. You know, but I think it's also important to keep in mind, before we jump to that conclusion, before we know anything, that at the same time as, you know, Donald Trump -- and I've been critical has talked about this, in essence, Russian reset, the Russians have in their mind, too that they want to have an alliance with the United States. But it's an alliance that can never happen.

[17:15:05] You see today they're buzzing our Navy ship. They have a spy ship off the coast, and they're bombing innocent civilians in Syria, which is definitely not in alignment with our war against ISIS. In fact, that's the kind of thing that creates more ISIS members.

So, while every administration has tried to have a so-called Russia reset, I think our ability to be buddies with Russia is just incompatible with our value system.

BLITZER: Congressman, stay with us. We are we have more to discuss, more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, key Senate Republicans are now calling for an investigation into fired national security advisor General Michael Flynn and his discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before President Trump took office.

[17:20:08] We're back with the Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, the speaker, Speaker Paul Ryan, he hasn't said if he'll support a congressional investigation on Michael Flynn. Should the House follow the lead of the Senate, where the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, says it's highly likely the Senate Intelligence Committee will investigate Flynn?

KINZINGER: Well, I think we need to get to the bottom of what happened. And if the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to investigate that, I think they can get to the bottom of it.

The one thing I'm worried about is, you know, on every issue creating this, in essence, giant public forum of everything when you can have an Intelligence Committee in the Senate do this and get to the bottom of it. So, I'll leave it to the speaker.

Everything today, I mean basically, from when I woke up to right now, there has been a lot of fast-moving developments in this. And I think it's important to figure out what's going on, to investigate to an extent to find out what we know, and -- and get to the bottom of it. And as this continues to develop, I'm sure tomorrow we're going to have even more information on it.

BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said something today that raised a lot of eye bros [SIC] -- eyebrows, saying it makes no sense to spend time having Republicans investigate Republicans. Let me put it up on the screen. He said, "I just don't think it's useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party. We'll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we're spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense."

Do you agree with him on that?

KINZINGER: No, there's not a ton I agree with Rand Paul on; and I don't agree with him here.

Look, our job is to disregard party and to -- to represent the American people, to get to the bottom of answers to protect our country. And that's what I do. I put my country before my party. I'm a Republican because of what I believe. But any time we have to investigate and have oversight, even against a Republican administration, we need to do it.

Now, to Rand's point, though, about investigation after investigation after investigation, what we can't do is get bogged down with any time there's a question, we have a giant investigation about it. We need to have overall looks into what's going on. We need to have oversight. But to same somehow that we can't investigate our own party, I hope that was a misstatement instead of a statement of actually how he feels.

BLITZER: Yes, because there's no doubt that a joint committee, for example, can take a look at this whole investigation of Michael Flynn; and there could be other committees that could be dealing with Obamacare and other issues.


BLITZER: In other words, there are 535 members of the House and Senate. They can do a lot more than just one issue at a time.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

KINZINGER: Any time. Thanks again, Wolf.

BLITZER: Still ahead, the all-important timeline. Stand by for the latest details about what Michael Flynn did and when the president knew.

Also ahead, disturbing questions following the sudden and very mysterious death of Kim Jong-un's half-brother. Was he intentionally killed?


[17:27:38] BLITZER: We're following this afternoon's new revelations about the resignation of President Donald Trump's national security advisor, Michael Flynn. Among the new details, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, now says the president asked for Flynn's resignation last night because of, quote, "eroding trust."

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us from the Pentagon right now.

Barbara, the timeline of what happened and when, that is key to this story. What are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, details coming out, really, by the hour now.

Now we know that the FBI interviewed Mike Flynn in the earliest days of the Trump administration; and President Trump himself has known for more than two weeks that he had a problem, a very big problem here.


STARR (voice-over): Michael Flynn's resignation as national security advisor, after only just over three weeks on the job, had been brewing for days. The retired general had become a lightning rod for criticism over his ties with Russia. It was a relationship dating back to 2015, when Flynn sat right next to Vladimir Putin at a dinner in Moscow.

But it was December 29, 2016 that became the beginning of the end for Flynn. That day President Obama announced new sanctions against Russia, expelled 35 Russian diplomats, and closed two Russian compounds, all in retaliation for Moscow's efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election.

That same day Flynn, had several phone calls with the Russian ambassador to the United States. The next day, December 30, in what came as a surprise to the Obama administration, Putin said no Americans would be expelled from Russia and that he would await the inauguration of Donald Trump before taking any action.

Then President-elect Trump celebrated with a tweet: "Great move on delay by V. Putin. I always knew he was very smart."

January 12, "Washington Post" columnist David Ignatius first reports that Flynn had those phone calls with the Russian ambassador. But the White House insisted Flynn did not talk about sanctions in those calls.

SPICER (via phone): Calls centered around the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and the president-elect after he was sworn in and they exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and schedule that call. That was it, plain and simple.

[17:30:06] MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I talked to General Flynn yesterday, and the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to new U.S. sanctions against Russia.

STARR: But Flynn's calls were intercepted by the U.S. intelligence community. Secret transcripts show Flynn did discuss the sanctions, a potential violation of federal law prohibiting private citizens from engaging in diplomacy. Flynn was not yet in office.

Law enforcement officials say Flynn made no promises about lifting sanctions and appeared to be trying to be vague.

Alarmed on January 26, the Justice Department attempted to warn the White House. Acting attorney general Sally Yates told White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn misled the administration about his communications with the Russians and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail.

This afternoon press secretary Sean Spicer revealed the president himself was told the same day, January 26.

SPICER: Immediately after the Department of Justice notified the White House counsel of the situation, the White House counsel briefed the president and a small group of the senior advisors. When the president heard the information as presented by White House counsel, he instinctively thought the general counsel -- General Flynn did not do anything wrong, and the White House counsel's review corroborated that.

STARR: Last Friday, after "The Washington Post" first revealed to the public what those transcripts contained, the president said this. SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What do you make of reports

that General Flynn had conversations with the Russians about sanctions before you were sworn in?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know about it. I haven't seen it. What report is that?

MURRAY: "The Washington Post" is reporting that he talked to the ambassador of Russia before you were inaugurated about sanctions.

TRUMP: I haven't seen that. I'll look at that.

STARR: But it all came to a head Monday, when the White House says President Trump asked Flynn for his resignation.

SPICER; The issue here was that the president got to the point where General Flynn's relationship -- misleading the vice president and others or the possibility that he had forgotten critical details of this important conversation had created a critical mass and an unsustainable situation. That's why the president decided to ask for his resignation, and he got it.


STARR: And tonight there are increasing calls from key congressional Democrats and now Republicans for a full investigation into all of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr reporting, thank you.

Let's bring our political and counterterrorism experts. And Gloria Borger, let me start with you. You broke the story of General Flynn's resignation last night. Good work, along with our own Sara Murray.

Why was he actually forced out? Was the issue in the eyes of the Trump administration that General Flynn's actions, was that the issue or the fact that he got caught?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if you listen to Sean Spicer today, it was all about one thing. It was all about trust. It was all about the fact that the president of the United States finally decided that he could not trust this man who has such an important position.

But if you look at this timeline here, in a way the timeline provided by Sean Spicer raises a lot more questions than it answers, Wolf; because we know that -- that on January 26, the president knew that the Department of Justice felt that his own national security advisor might be subject to blackmail. And this was presented to the White House, and the White House investigated it itself, and that its legal counsel said there was no legal problem here.

Let's put aside the question about what he was talking about to the Russian ambassador, et cetera. They decided there was no legal problem. And then we did not hear about this until a story became public 18 days later in "The Washington Post" about -- about the question about the FBI having questions about Flynn. At that point, the White House said there was so much information, they decided that had they couldn't trust him anymore.

So, what happened in those intervening 18 days? Was it just the fact that "The Post" published the story and that what was private now became public? Was there other information that the White House found out about? I think those are the questions that both Republicans and Democrats are asking.

BLITZER: Dana, Dana Bash, as Gloria just said, the press secretary, Sean Spicer, emphasized that the White House counsel found no legal issue with Flynn's actions, but it was an issue of trust. The president lost trust in his national security advisor. Why did that take 18 more days?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know the answer to that. And that is one of several questions that we don't know the answer to still.

[17:35:05] Whether or not it just took them awhile, they say, to continue whatever investigation they were doing; or whether or not is probably the real deal, which is it became public, which is that "The Washington Post" reported it. And, therefore, it made it unsustainable to use a White House term today, for Mike Flynn to stay there, because the cat was out of the bag.

It's not just that this was sort of contained -- well, let me rephrase that. This was apparently very much contained in the White House, so much so that I was on Capitol Hill today talking to some senior members who have oversight on such issues. They didn't know about the potential transcript or the recording of these phone calls with Mike Flynn until Friday when they saw it in "The Washington Post."

So, that just kind of gives you a sense of how -- how much the White House was trying to kind of figure this out on their own. Clearly, given the fact that, A, the president felt loyal to Mike Flynn; and B, it would have been and as we now see it is, a bad story for a new president to have to fire his national security advisor three weeks on the job. They were hoping it would go away.

But, you know what? Good reporting. Our friends at "The Washington Post" made that impossible.

BLITZER: Yes. Good point.

Was it appropriate, Phil Mudd, for Flynn to continue in that national security role for nearly three weeks?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think it was. Let's step back for a moment.

A year or two from now, Wolf, we'll look back and say something remarkable happened. And that is, within a month of the president assuming office, he had to terminate his national security advisor. That's unheard of. Let's do the tick-tock here, the clock. The president is sworn in on

the 20th. Within a week he gets advised of what happened in that phone call with the Russian ambassador. Meanwhile, the FBI is conducting an investigation. Presumably, the White House legal counsel has to determine what they believe the president is pushing forward with his initiatives on things like immigration. He's got nominees in Congress for departments of state, Department of Defense.

I look at this and say, I think in retrospect, whether he terminated Flynn within a week, two weeks, three weeks will become irrelevant. What happened was within a month he had to do something I don't believe any president has ever done, and that's get rid of somebody who is not only his national security advisor; he's got to be one of the top two or three people trusted during the campaign. I think that's the story here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, is it plausible that General Flynn would have discussed this sensitive issue of sanctions with the Russian ambassador in Washington on his own without being directed by anyone in the administration to do so?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, we don't actually -- we don't know that, and I should definitely stress that. But talking to sources, many of them -- in fact, we've been hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks that there wouldn't have been some input from the administration or that President Trump wouldn't have talked to Mike Flynn about this.

Keeping in mind Mike Flynn's background, when he was the head of the DIA, under the Obama administration, he wasn't someone who was known for playing nicely. He was someone who would break the china and was a bit of a freelancer. So there is that dynamic, certainly, from Flynn.

But still, talking to sources who were familiar with Flynn, who are familiar with the Flynn-Trump dynamic, they really think it would be so odd that he would have done this just on his own without any input.

BLITZER: Everyone stand by. We're going to continue this. Once again, we're learning more. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:43:13] BLITZER: We're back with our political and national security experts as we cover the fallout from national security advisor Michael Flynn's forced resignation.

Phil Mudd, talk to us about the FBI interview that they connected with Michael Flynn when he was national security advisor to the president. What kinds of questions would they ask him?

MUDD: Wolf, this is where this gets painful. The FBI guys, the men and women I worked with for 4-1/2 years, they're not stupid. They're not just walking into the room for information. They are walking into the room with questions to determine how you react to information they already know.

For example, in this case they would have reviewed the transcript to see if there were conversations with the Russian ambassador about sanctions. They might then ask an open-ended question: "General Flynn, did you ever speak about sanctions?" If his answer is, no, not only did they know that he's not telling the truth, that's a federal violation: lying to a federal investigator.

So, be clear about what these investigations are about. They're not just fact finding. They're to determine whether the subject, in this case General Flynn, is being truthful to FBI investigators. And if he's not, he could potentially be charged for that.

BLITZER: That could be a big deal.

Dana, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, is more concerned, apparently, with investigating the leaks than Flynn's ties to Russia. And the House Oversight Committee chairman, Jason Chaffetz, also said he won't be investigating what sort of pressure they're facing. Won't be investigating the Flynn issue specifically. What kind of pressure are they facing as a result of those comments?

BASH: Truthfully, not very much from the people who they care most about, their constituents. You know, these are Republicans, and pretty much across the board, except for a handful in the House, who are in very red districts, very -- districts that Donald Trump likely won with a very large margin.

The question, I think, is the Senate, which, of course, is also controlled by Republicans, where the Republican majority leader sang a different tune today and was much more open about the idea of investigating, not just the whole idea of Russian meddling in American elections, but specifically this Flynn question.

So the pressure now is mounting on Republicans, really across the capital, but I think that those who are more susceptible to this pressure, as I said, are those in the Senate, to a select committee or special committee to investigate all this. Unclear if it's going to go that far, but certainly the Senate, I would think, is probably the place to watch because the pressure is more tantamount there.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Gloria, possible candidate to replace General Flynn, supposedly, the former CIA director general, David Petraeus. What are you hearing about his chances?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I was told last night by a source with knowledge of the candidates that General Petraeus does want the job. And I gather he's going to be meeting with the President at some point in the near future.

And I think that there are people at the White House, however, who also understand the complications of Petraeus. The up side is, of course, that he's completely qualified for the job. The down side is that he shared classified information with his mistress for which he was prosecuted. And I think that there would be lots of Democrats, in particular, and

maybe some Republicans who would raise questions about this, particularly since the President made a huge issue during the campaign of Hillary Clinton's e-mail server and whether she could be trusted with classified information.

So they don't want to make the President look like a hypocrite. I know that he has been impressed with General Petraeus, but there are a lot of other good candidates out there.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. There is more information coming in.

Also, there is news involving the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un's half-brother. All of a sudden, he dies at an airport in Malaysia. Was he assassinated?


[17:51:45] BLITZER: This week's sudden and mysterious death of the half-brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is raising many questions, including whether he could have been assassinated. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, police in Malaysia are saying they have no suspects, but they told "Reuters" that Kim Jong- nam took ill at the Kuala Lumpur airport, that he felt dizzy and asked for help at an airport counter, and that, at one point, he felt like someone had grabbed or held his face from behind.

Tonight, it is not clear whether someone attacked Kim Jong-un's half- brother or not. And experts are divided over whether Kim Jong-nam was a threat to his younger brother.


TODD (voice-over): He'd been estranged from his father, and later from his younger half-brother, who happens to be the violent erratic dictator of North Korea.

Tonight, the mysterious death of Kim Jong-nam is raising serious questions. Malaysian police say he died after falling ill at the Kuala Lumpur airport. There are unsubstantiated reports circulating that he may have been attacked.

Analysts are divided over whether Kim Jong-nam was a threat to his younger half-brother. Experts say Kim Jong-nam had lived in Macau and Beijing and may have been supported by China.

KEN GAUSE, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS GROUP DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR NAVAL ANALYSES: There've also been rumors that if the North Korean regime were ever to become unstable, that Kim Jong-nam might be brought in by, say, China, as a replacement for Kim Jong-un. TODD (voice-over): Kim Jong-nam was 45 years old, the oldest son of

North Korea's former leader, Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong- un had different mothers.

Even though Kim Jong-nam's mother was an actress, who their father have had an affair with, as the oldest son, it was Kim Jong-nam who was considered by some in North Korea to be the natural heir to power. That was until 2001, when he was caught trying to sneak into Japan on a fake passport.

DR. BALBINA HWANG, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Trying to sneak into Japan on a Dominican Republic passport with his small son to entertain him at Tokyo Disneyland, and it's complicated relations with Japan because that North Koreans would be so bold as to make this kind of attempt. But, I mean, the symbolism of trying to go to Disneyland, I think that in itself was this idea that, you know, the North Korean regime just could not tolerate.

TODD (voice-over): That made Kim Jong-nam persona non grata with his family and his country. He was exiled. In one interview several years ago, he was asked if TV Asahi if he was interested in succeeding his father.

KIM JONG-NAM, LATE BROTHER OF KIM JONG-UN: No. Personally, I'm not interested in this issue.


KIM: Sorry. I'm not interested in the politic.

TODD (voice-over): What he was interested in, according to analysts, was living like a high roller, frequenting the casinos and dance clubs of Macau.

GAUSE: He was known as basically a playboy and a gambler. He spent most of his time in Southeast Asia and also in Europe traveling around. When Kim Jong-il was alive, he did support Kim Jong-nam, gave him a certain amount of largesse to support his lifestyle.


TODD: And tonight it is unclear, and may remain unclear, whether Kim Jong-un had anything to do with his half brother's death.

If he did, analysts say, it could have been a signal to China, which may have been supporting Kim Jong-nam, or it may have been a signal to potential defectors, given the recent spate of high-profile defectors who have escaped North Korea -- Wolf.

[17:55:12] BLITZER: Good point. Brian Todd reporting. Thank you very much.

Coming up, red flags were raised about the fired national security adviser Michael Flynn last month. So why did President Trump wait 18 days to act?


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Immediately after the Department of Justice notified the White House counsel of the situation, the White House counsel briefed the President.



[18:00:00] BLITZER: Happening now, broken trust. The White House says President Trump asked for Michael Flynn's resignation after he lost confidence in his national security adviser.