CNN's Jake Tapper confronted Vice President-elect Mike Pence during a Tuesday interview, grilling the head of President-elect Donald Trump's transition team over whether he was aware that Michael Flynn's son — who is in hot water over spreading a conspiracy theory that led someone to bring a rifle into a Washington DC pizza shop — had a security clearance requested for him.
Tapper reported earlier Tuesday that a source familiar with the situation said Trump's transition team requested a security clearance for Michael Flynn Jr., and that Trump gave a direct order to remove him from transition effort.
A firestorm ensued Monday over Flynn Jr.'s promotion of the "pizzagate" conspiracy theory, which baselessly alleged through a conspiracy that a pedophilia ring involving high-level Democratic Party officials — including Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign chair, John Podesta — was operating out of a Washington pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong.
On Sunday, police say, the conspiracy theory led an armed man to go to the pizzeria. The 28-year-old man carried an assault rifle to the restaurant and was looking to investigate the story himself, according to police.
"Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it'll remain a story," Flynn Jr. posted to Twitter. "The left seems to forget #PodestaEmails and the many 'coincidences' tied to it."
As of Monday, Flynn Jr. had a government transition email, CNN reported. Flynn himself also shared a similar conspiracy theory on Twitter days before the November election that claimed Clinton was involved in sex crimes with children. Politico on Tuesday found that the incoming national security adviser had shared dubious news stories at least 16 times from his Twitter account since August.
During his interview with Pence, Tapper asked the vice president-elect to tell him "what happened" regarding Flynn Jr., who was said to have "no longer" been involved in the Trump transition effort by transition spokesman Jason Miller during a Tuesday conference call. Pence said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Tuesday that Flynn Jr. had "no involvement in the transition team whatsoever" as of that morning.
Pence insisted that Flynn's son was helping "a bit" with "scheduling and administrative items" but "that's no longer the case."
"Look, all — all of our families want to be helpful," Pence said, per a transcript. "And four weeks to the day from Election Day there's been an awful lot of work to do. But — but — but Mike Flynn Jr. is no longer associated with Gen. Flynn's efforts or with the transition team."
"You — you're downplaying his role, but you must be aware that the transition team put in for a security clearance for Michael G. Flynn, the son of Lt. Gen. Flynn," Tapper responded.
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"Well, I'm — I'm aware in talking to Gen. Flynn that — that his son was helping with scheduling," Pence said back. "Jake, his — his."
Tapper cut in.
"No, but you put in for a security clearance for him," he said.
"He's helping his dad arrange for meetings and provide meetings," Pence retorted. "But that's no longer the case."
Tapper fired back, asking if you need a security clearance to "do scheduling?"
"I think that's the appropriate decision for us to move forward, avoid any further distraction," Pence replied, then reiterating his confidence in Trump.
"I want to move on to other issues, but I'm afraid I just didn't get an answer, which is were you aware that the transition had put in for a security clearance for Michael Flynn Jr.?" Tapper persisted.
"You know, I've worked very closely with Gen. Flynn," Pence said. "We've met on many occasions. I've — I've never — I've never seen his son present for any of those meetings."
"But you're head of the transition team so you know who you put in security clearances for," Tapper pressed on.
"Well — well, Gen. — Gen. Flynn did inform me that his son was helping on administrative matters," the Indiana Republican said. "But — but, Jake, this is all the kind of distraction that — that, frankly, I know, with all due respect, the national media likes to go chasing after."
Tapper pushed forward with the line of questioning an additional time.
"The last question on this sir — and I'm sorry, it's just that you're not answering the question, which is were you aware that the transition team had put in for a security clearance?" Tapper asked. "I mean this is a young man who had a social media profile that had all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories ... all sorts of links and retweets with white supremacists. Were you aware that the transition put in for a security clearance for him?"
"Well, what I can tell you is that in — in talking with Gen. Flynn today, he made me aware that his son was assisting him in scheduling ..." Pence answered.
"And then you put in for a security clearance," Tapper interjected.
Pence then launched into an extended answer:
" ... meetings and well whatever the appropriate paperwork was to assist him in that regard. Jake, I'm sure ... was taking place. But that's no longer the case. And your viewers and the American people can be confident that we're going to — we're going to continue to drive forward.
Look, this is a very challenging time for America's place in the world. It was a week ago yesterday that we saw a terrorist-inspired attack on the Ohio State campus. We're bringing together with — with Gen. Flynn, with KT McFarland, with a team that's going to surround them and advise this president, people that are going to, going to set into motion. I'm confident, [in] the policies that will — that will make America safe again at home and abroad."
"And it was just two days ago that we saw somebody with a gun go to Comet Pizza because of this crazy conspiracy theory that Michael G. Flynn had been putting out there, defended afterwards, and you guys put in for a security clearance," Tapper responded.
Watch part of the interview below:
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Tapper confronted Flynn Jr. on Twitter Sunday following the armed man entering the pizzeria and Flynn Jr.'s subsequent defense of the conspiracy. He apparently direct-messaged Flynn Jr. on the app, asking for one piece of evidence proving that the pizza shop was "the site of a satanic pedophilia cult." Those direct messages were posted by another user.
"Michael — the police called pizza gate a fictitious conspiracy theory tonight," Tapper wrote. "Does someone have to die before you take this s--- seriously. Spreading this nonsense is dangerous."
"I want it to be false," Flynn Jr. responded.
"It is not the site of a satanic pedophilia cult," Tapper shot back. "It is a f------ pizzeria. Show me what you're talking about that proves a satanic pedophilia cult. Your tweet is wildly irresponsible. Listen to me. You are going to get someone killed. Maybe an innocent child. For what??????"
Flynn Jr. later posted another screenshot of a DM thread with Tapper with the caption, "Want evidence??? I must've really hit a nerve."