President Donald Trump said Thursday that he did not direct retired Gen. Michael Flynn to discuss the issue of sanctions with Russian officials prior to the election.
“I didn’t direct him ― but I would have directed him, because that’s his job,” Trump said during a press conference at the White House.
”What he did wasn’t wrong,” the president added.
Flynn stepped down as Trump’s national security adviser Monday evening following reports that he’d discussed sanctions with Russian officials in late December, contradicting prior denials by top administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence. Flynn’s talk with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., came a day before President Barack Obama’s administration announced sanctions on the Russian government.
Trump learned about Flynn’s discussions weeks ago, in late January, but Pence was kept in the dark about them.
Trump said he fired Flynn, whom he called a “fine person,” because Flynn gave Pence wrong information about his calls with Russian officials.
“I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence,” Trump said. “Very simple.”
The president said the “real problem” was how information about Flynn’s discussions had leaked to the press from the intelligence community.
“What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourself inside this room, were given that information, because that was classified information that was given illegally,” he said.
Trump also dodged questions about his campaign’s reported ties to Russia, telling reporters he “had nothing to do” with that country’s government.
“Nobody that I know of,” he said, when asked whether anyone on his campaign team had dealings with Russia during the election.
“Russia is a ruse,” he said. “I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people in Russia.”
“I spoke to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin twice,” he added. “We had a very good talk.”