Reports that President Donald Trump's national security adviser secretly called Russia's ambassador to the US to discuss sanctions before Trump took office raise "serious questions of legality and fitness for office," the House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat said Friday.
The Washington Post and the New York Times reported on Thursday night, citing nearly a dozen current and former officials in total, that the adviser, Michael Flynn, had spoken with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, about sanctions before Trump was sworn in — including at least one call on the day President Barack Obama imposed new penalties on Russia for its election-related meddling.
"The allegation that General Flynn, while President Obama was still in office, secretly discussed with Russia's ambassador ways to undermine the sanctions levied against Russia for its interference in the Presidential election on Donald Trump's behalf, raises serious questions of legality and fitness for office," Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the committee, wrote in a statement.
"If he did so, and then he and other Administration officials misled the American people, his conduct would be all the more pernicious, and he should no longer serve in this Administration or any other," Schiff added.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
National security adviser General Michael Flynn delivers a statement daily briefing at the White House in Washington U.S., February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn arrives at the Trump Tower for meetings with US President-elect Donald Trump, in New York on November 17, 2016.
(EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Retired United States Army lieutenant general Michael T. Flynn introduces Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump before he delivered a speech at The Union League of Philadelphia on September 7, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Trump spoke about his plans to build up the military if elected. Recent national polls show the presidential race is tightening with two months until the election.
(Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, at podium, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attend a campaign event with veterans at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Ave., NW, where Trump stated he believes President Obama was born in the United States, September 16, 2016.
(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (L) yields the briefing room podium to National Security Adviser Michael Flynn February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Flynn said the White House is 'officially putting Iran on notice' for a recent missile test and support for Houthi rebels in Yemen. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, prepares to testify at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled 'Current and Future Worldwide Threats,' featuring testimony by he and James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence.
(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives prior to a joint news conference between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn boards Air Force One at West Palm Beach International airport in West Palm Beach, Florida U.S., February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
National security adviser General Michael Flynn arrives to deliver a statement during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington U.S., February 1, 2017. Picture taken February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (L) arrives at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 10: (AFP OUT) White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (R) walks down the West Wing Colonnade following a bilateral meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe February 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump and Abe are expected to discuss many issues, including trade and security ties and will hold a joint press confrence later in the day. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 02: (L-R) SCAD Dramatic writing professor Chris Auer, Producer Sandra Leviton, Executive producer and writer Michael Flynn, Tv literary agent Jeff Greenberg and Literary manager and producer Kaila York speak on stage during the 'Inside the Writers Room' event on Day One of aTVfest 2017 presented by SCAD on February 2, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SCAD)
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (ret.), National Security Advisor Designate speaks during a conference on the transition of the US Presidency from Barack Obama to Donald Trump at the US Institute Of Peace in Washington DC, January 10, 2017. / AFP / CHRIS KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, U.S. national security advisor, attends a swearing in ceremony of White House senior staff in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. Trump today mocked protesters who gathered for large demonstrations across the U.S. and the world on Saturday to signal discontent with his leadership, but later offered a more conciliatory tone, saying he recognized such marches as a hallmark of our democracy. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Michael Flynn walks out after a morning worship service on Inauguration day at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) (R), talks with National Security Advisor Michael Flynn inside of the inaugural parade reviewing stand in front of the White House on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Donald Trump was sworn in as the nation's 45th president today. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, White House national security adviser-designate, center, stands in an elevator at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Donald Trump is slated to meet with AT&T Inc.'s top executives on Thursday to discuss the company's proposed $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner Inc., according to people familiar with the matter. The president-elect has said he opposes the deal. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Donald Trump's National Security Adviser Gen. Michael T. Flynn (R) arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (ret.) and National Security Advisor Designate and Ambassador Susan Rice, National Security Advisor during a ceremonial passing of authority while participating in a conference on the transition of the US Presidency from Barack Obama to Donald Trump at the US Institute Of Peace in Washington DC, January 10, 2017. / AFP / CHRIS KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Both Flynn and Vice President Mike Pence had previously denied that the sanctions were discussed on the calls, but counterintelligence officials told The Times they had transcripts of the conversations. Flynn denied the allegations through Wednesday, according to The Post, but then backed away from those denials through his spokesperson on Thursday.
Flynn, the spokesperson said, "indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn't be certain that the topic never came up."
The former officials told The Post and The Times that while Flynn did not make any explicit promises about lifting the sanctions on Russia, Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, "was left with the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time."
A paid speech in Moscow, and dinner with Putin
Federal officials who have read the transcript of the call "were surprised by Mr. Flynn's comments, since he would have known that American eavesdroppers closely monitor such calls," The Times reported. "They were even more surprised that Mr. Trump's team publicly denied that the topics of conversation included sanctions."
Schiff is one of seven top Democratic lawmakers calling on the Defense Department to investigate whether Flynn ran afoul of the Constitution by being paid to speak at a gala in Moscow in December 2015 celebrating the 10th anniversary of the state-sponsored news agency Russia Today.
"Since his retirement in 2014, General Flynn has made regular appearances on Russia Today (RT), that country's state-sponsored propaganda outlet," the lawmakers wrote. "He has admitted to being paid on at least one of these occasions — at an RT gala in Moscow where he dined with Russian President Vladimir Putin."
Flynn told The Washington Post last year that he had been paid to speak at the event, but he did not disclose the amount.
The emoluments clause of the Constitution deals with conflicts of interest that might arise by accepting gifts or payments from a foreign country. It has been cited by critics of Trump's refusal to sell off his businesses, which operate in four continents and nearly two dozen countries.
The lawmakers, in a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, requested that Mattis provide "all documents in the possession or control" of the Defense Department relating to Flynn's communications with Russian government officials, interactions with RT officials, and payments received from "any foreign source" from the time he retired through January 20 — the date on which Trump was inaugurated.