WASHINGTON -- Less than 48 hours after he fired Michael Flynn as his national security adviser, President Donald Trump rose to Flynn's defense Wednesday and bemoaned the leaks that uncovered Flynn's conversations with a Russian official.
It was an odd spectacle, the man who fired Flynn talking about how great a person Flynn is and how unfairly he'd been treated. But it was a reflection of how little is known about why the White House determined Flynn had to go, even as members of Congress repeated their calls for a deeper investigation into Flynn's contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak as part of probes into Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
Flynn tendered his resignation late Monday after what the White House called an "erosion of trust." But during a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said the real issue wasn't Flynn's actions, but the torrent of leaks that forced Trump's hand nearly three weeks after he first learned that Flynn had lied about his contacts with Kislyak.
"From intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked," Trump said, blaming unspecified intelligence agencies for news stories that detailed how the Justice Department warned the White House Jan. 26 that Flynn's conversation with Kislyak had been captured by the routine monitoring U.S. agencies do of Russian officials' communications. The transcript of that call, the Justice Department warned, showed Flynn was not being truthful.
"It's a criminal action, criminal act," Trump said of the leak, "and it's been going on for a long time before me, but now it's really going on."
The consequences were still becoming clear on Wednesday. Flynn, a career intelligence officer who'd risen to lead the Defense Intelligence Agency, had his security clearance suspended Wednesday. No official explanation for the move was offered.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer had said repeatedly that White House officials had concluded that Flynn's conversation with Kislyak had broken no laws. "It was a matter of trust," Spicer said to explain the decision to let Flynn go.
On Wednesday, Spicer, as had his boss, tried to bring the focus back to the leaking of classified information, something that has plagued the new administration from the day of Trump's inauguration.
Those leaks should be the bigger concern, Spicer argued, laying blame on unnamed officials in the Justice Department and the intelligence community. The argument found support among some Republican and Democratic members of Congress.
"They are inappropriate," said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a longtime Trump supporter. "It doesn't matter where they are coming from. A leak is a leak. It's disappointing and disloyal to the president."