President Donald Trump in an interview Friday tried to turn some of the controversy around his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, on the administration of President Barack Obama, saying the retired general was previously vetted.
“When they say we didn’t vet, well, Obama I guess didn’t vet, because he was approved at the highest level of security by the Obama administration,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum.
“So when he came into our administration for a short period of time, he came in, he was already approved by the Obama administration and he had years left on that approval,” Trump said.
Flynn was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014, before being pushed out and retiring from the Army with the rank of lieutenant general.
Flynn is under fire for receiving nearly $34,000 in December 2015 for speaking at a gala celebrating Russian TV, and more than $500,000 for lobbying work on behalf of the Turkish government in 2016, after he left the Obama administration.
While Flynn served in the Obama administration, the Trump transition team and White House had an additional responsibility to do a separate background check, which is always done for people at that level.
The Trump team did do a background check and learned about Flynn’s business ties with Turkey, but Flynn was appointed anyway, people close to the investigation have told NBC News.
The Pentagon is investigating whether Flynn broke the law for the payments, Democratic lawmakers said Thursday.
A Defense Intelligence Agency letter released by Rep. Elijah Cummings which was sent in 2014 when Flynn retired specifically says Flynn cannot accept fees and gifts from foreign governments “unless congressional consent is first obtained.”
A second letter released by Cummings shows the Inspector General of the Department of Defense is investigating whether Flynn received proper permission to take the funds. A Defense Department spokesman confirmed the Flynn probe opened April 4.
Flynn, who campaigned for Trump, resigned in February over communications he had with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, before Trump took office, and statements Flynn made to the administration about those communications.
Trump said at a February press conference that he fired Flynn for misleading Vice President Mike Pence.
U.S. intelligence agencies have said they believe the Russian government was involved in a covert campaign to try and influence the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s alleged involvement is under investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Trump and other Republicans have said that while Russia tried to interfere in the election, they did not succeed and had no affect on the outcome. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations.
An attorney for Flynn said in a statement Thursday that the Defense Intelligence Agency letter contained redacted portions that prove Flynn “provided information and documents on a thumb drive to the Department of Defense concerning the RT speaking event in Moscow, including documents reflecting that he was using a speakers bureau for the event.”
“The Department was fully aware of the trip,” the statement said.
Cummings said Thursday that Flynn’s legal team “is trying to confuse the issue.”
“Everyone knew he went to Moscow, but he did not disclose where these foreign funds came from, and it appears that he may have broken the law in the process,” Cummings said.
In Friday’s Fox interview, Trump also said that “Obamacare is dead” and predicted that the House would move on a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act as soon as next week.
The president said he was disappointed by the slow pace of Congress. A first attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare fizzled in early April after the House didn’t have the Republican votes needed and the measure was pulled from the floor.
“I was disappointed that they didn’t have more in line by the time I walked in,” Trump said. But Trump said it took 17 months for Obamacare to be approved, and said “I believe they’re going to get it done. I think maybe next week sometime.”
Trump also said he has confidence in House Speaker Paul Ryan. “I’ll tell you, Paul Ryan is trying very, very hard — I think everybody’s trying very hard,” Trump said.