The White House said U.S. President Donald Trump is "evaluating the situation" regarding his embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn's conversations with Russia's ambassador to Washington, signalling an uncertain future for Flynn.
White House officials said on February 13 that Flynn has apologized privately for the controversy to Vice President Mike Pence, who had publicly vouched for Flynn and said he did not discuss U.S. sanctions against Russia in multiple calls late last year with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
Flynn later conceded that sanctions may have come up in the phone conversations, but he couldn't remember.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump was consulting with Pence and other White House officials about Flynn.
"The president is evaluating the situation" and is focusing on "what he considers the single most important subject there is -- our national security," Spicer said.
There was nothing wrong with Flynn contacting other governments per se, Spicer said.
"I think general Flynn both during the transition and after, just as part of the job of national security advisor, is to speak with counterparts," said Spicer.
But the White House was quick to distance Trump from the possibility that Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak -- a move that might have violated U.S. law against private citizens conducting foreign policy.
Asked if the president was aware that Flynn might have discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador, Spicer said: "No, absolutely not. No way."
The Washington Post reported last week that Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy. The Associated Press reported that Flynn was in frequent contact with Kislyak on December 29, the same day the Obama White House imposed a new round of sanctions on Russia for allegedly hacking the U.S. presidential election.
Despite these revelations, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said earlier on February 13 that Trump had "full confidence" in Flynn.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was involved in organizing Trump's transition effort, said Flynn likely is having to explain his conflicting statements about his conversations with Kislyak to both Trump and Pence.
"General Flynn has said up to this point that he had not said anything like that to the Russian ambassador. I think now he's saying that he doesn't remember whether he did or not," Christie told CNN. "So, that's a conversation he is going to need to have with the president and the vice president to clear that up, so that the White House can make sure that they are completely accurate about what went on."
Several House Democrats last week called on the House Oversight Committee Chairman to launch an investigation into Flynn's ties to Russia. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and many other Democrats also have demanded that Flynn be fired, saying he "cannot be trusted not to put [Russian President Vladimir] Putin before America."
Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer told reporters he wants an independent investigation of Flynn's discussions with Kislyak.
"His security clearance ought to be withdrawn until that independent investigation is completed. And if he has violated any law or ethical precept, he ought to be fired," Schumer said.
Some Republicans in Congress have also raised questions. Senator Susan Collins said that if Flynn misled Pence, "I can't imagine he would have trust in General Flynn going forward." She said it would also be "troubling" if Flynn had been negotiating with a foreign government before taking office.
Besides being illegal to conduct U.S. diplomacy before taking office, Flynn's repeated conversations with Moscow's ambassador also have renewed questions about Trump's friendly posture toward Russia at a time when U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia hacked and released Democratic e-mails with an eye toward helping Trump get elected.
Flynn on February 13 was present at a brief Trump news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but Trump declined to answer questions about Flynn that were shouted as the heads of state left the room.
Trump is reported to be troubled about the allegations involving Flynn, who was a loyal Trump supporter during the campaign. Flynn is among the most pro-Russia of Trump's national security aides and he also advocates a tougher approach to Iran.
In 2015, Flynn attended a gala dinner for Russia Today, a Kremlin-backed television station, and sat next to Putin during the event.
The Kremlin, for its part, has insisted repeatedly that there was no discussion of sanctions during multiple conversations between Flynn and Kislyak.