Michael Flynn abruptly resigned as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Monday night, hours after it was learned that the Justice Department informed the White House that it believed he could be subject to blackmail.
Retired Army Gen. Keith Kellogg, a top policy adviser for Trump’s presidential campaign, was appointed acting national security adviser, the White House said in a statement announcing Flynn’s replacement.
Kellogg, 72, a former commander of the fabled 82nd Airborne Division, was chief operating officer of the Western coalition in Baghdad, Iraq, after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. A senior administration official told NBC News that Kellogg was under consideration for the permanent job, along with retired Navy Vice Adm. Robert Harward, former deputy commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, and former CIA Director David Petraeus.
Two senior U.S. officials told NBC News that Harward was considered the favorite for the job.
Flynn’s status was considered perilous after it was disclosed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials about his communications with Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
“Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology,” Flynn said in his resignation letter.
The senior U.S. official confirmed part of a report in The Washington Post, which quoted current and former U.S. officials Monday as saying Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, delivered the message that Flynn was considered vulnerable to White House counsel Donald McGahn.
The Post reported that Yates was privy to FBI monitoring showing that Flynn discussed sanctions on Russia with Kislyak — even though Flynn told administration officials that he hadn’t. Pence repeated the misinformation in national television appearances.
Trump fired Yates as acting attorney general late last month after she directed Justice Department lawyers not to defend his executive order on immigration.
A senior intelligence official confirmed to NBC News last week that Flynn discussed the sanctions, which the Obama administration imposed to punish Russia for its campaign to interfere in the presidential election.
The intelligence official said there had been no finding inside the government that Flynn did anything illegal.
Democrats, meanwhile, welcomed Monday night’s news with barely concealed glee.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee — which is investigating the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russia — said Flynn’s resignation was “all but ordained the day he misled the country about his secret talks with the Russian Ambassador.”
“In fact, Flynn was always a poor choice for National Security Advisor, a role in which you need to be a consensus builder, and possess sobriety and steady judgment,” Schiff said in a statement. “It is certainly no role for someone who plays fast and loose with the truth.”
In a joint statement, Reps. John Conyers of Michigan and Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrats on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, respectively, called for a full classified congressional briefing by Justice Department and the FBI no later than Thursday.
“The reality is General Flynn was unfit to be the National Security Advisor, and should have been dismissed three weeks ago,” they wrote. “Now, we in Congress need to know who authorized his actions, permitted them, and continued to let him have access to our most sensitive national security information despite knowing these risks.