Trump hits out at leaks, seeks new national security adviser

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Flynn, who called for an alliance with Moscow against 'radical Islamism', stands accused of discussing sanctions with Russian ambassador

Michael Flynn, who resigned on Monday, is accused of inappropriate contact with a foreign government (AFP)
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Tuesday 14 February 2017 22:37 UTC
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US President Donald Trump has lashed out at leaks within Washington as his administration reels from its first departure, less than a month after he assumed power.

Michael Flynn, the US national security advisor, resigned late on Monday following claims he discussed the lifting of sanctions on Russia with the country's ambassador before Trump took office.

Flynn, who also has a history of making Islamophobic statements, initially assured Vice President Mike Pence that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russians. But it later emerged that the subject had come up.

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted: "The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?"

Flynn said in his resignation letter on Monday: "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."

The US Senate's top Republican said Tuesday it was "highly likely" that Flynn would have to testify at an intelligence panel, potentially heaping pressure on Trump.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is already investigating Russia's alleged interference in last year's US election.

When asked whether he believed Trump may have directed Flynn to discuss the sanctions with ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell McConnell said: "It's highly likely they will want to take a look at this episode as well."

"They have the broad jurisdiction to do it," he added.

The comments build on those by other Senate Republicans, including number two Republican John Cornyn, Senator John McCain and Senate Intelligence Committee member Roy Blunt, who support investigations into Russian interference.

"I think it's likely that general Flynn will be at some point asked to come, and talk to the (intelligence) committee about post-election activities," Blunt told reporters.

Putting Flynn in the hot seat and under oath has the potential of prying open sensitive information, including whether or not Trump had any role in the incident or why the president apparently kept his national security aide on board for weeks after discovering he misled Pence.

READ: Michael Flynn is a combustive cocktail of ignorance and arrogance

Flynn is a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), whose encounters with Russian President Vladimir Putin have already drawn criticism. He initially claimed he did not discuss sanctions, prompting Pence to publicly come to his defence.

Flynn now stands accused of inappropriate contacts with a foreign government and of misleading the vice president of the United States.

Retired General Keith Kellogg, who has been the chief of staff at the National Security Council, has been named as acting national security adviser. Retired General David Petraeus, a former CIA director, is one of those under consideration for the position, a White House official said. Many observers have also tipped former Vice Admiral Robert Harward as a possible holder of the office.

For its part, the Kremlin said on Tuesday that Flynn's resignation was "not our business".

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists in Moscow: "This is the internal business of the Americans, it is the internal business of President Trump's administration."

Islamophobic statements

Flynn once said that "fear of Muslims is rational" and believes that militant groups' driving motivation stems from religion, not politics.

He has criticised Obama's policy in Syria.

"I think where we missed the point, where we totally blew it was in the very beginning, I mean we’re talking four years now into this effort in Syria ... the Free Syrian Army, that movement, I mean where are they today? Al-Nusra, where are they today? How much have they changed?" Flynn said in an Al Jazeera interview in August. "When you don't get in and help somebody they’re going to find other means to achieve their goals."

“The Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria," he said, adding that the US was "coordinating arms transfers to those same groups".

'We have a problem with radical Islamism and I actually think that we could work together with them against this enemy'

- Michael Flynn

In his book, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War against Radical Islam and Its Allies, he wrote that the West is at war with “radical Islamic terrorism,” going so far as to call it a “world war”.

In comments to the Washington Post in August, Flynn called for an alliance with Russia against "radical Islamism," comparing it to the alliance between the US and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

"We beat Hitler because of our relationship with the Russians, so anybody that looks on it as anything but a relationship that's required for mutual supporting interests, including ISIS [the Islamic State group], ... that's really where I'm at with Russia," he said. "We have a problem with radical Islamism and I actually think that we could work together with them against this enemy. They have a worse problem than we do."

In the New York Post in July, Flynn also said the US was involved in a global war against an "enemy alliance that runs from Pyongyang, North Korea, to Havana, Cuba, and Caracas, Venezuela".

"Along the way, the alliance picks up radical Muslim countries and organisations such as Iran, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic State."

During his tenure, Flynn was also known for taking a hard line on Iran. Soon after Trump imposed fresh sanctions on Tehran, Flynn commented: "The days of turning a blind eye to Iran's hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.

"This behaviour seems continuous despite the very favourable deal given to Iran by the Obama administration. These sanctions target these behaviours."