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In context: What's going on with Michael Flynn, Trump and Russia?

By Lauren AguirreFebruary 21, 2017

Michael Flynn briefing
Now forrmer National Security Adviser Michael Flynn answers questions in the briefing room of the White House February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC Getty Images

Last week, President Donald Trump's National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned amid controversy with the Russian ambassador. A few days earlier, reports came out that Trump campaign staffers were in constant contact with Russian officials during the campaign. These two events together renewed questions about Trump's possible ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin. Many people are wondering what these events mean for the Trump administration and for the country.

To understand what's happening, let's put it in context. Back during the 2016 campaign, Wikileaks routinely published leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign chair. During the summer of 2016, it was discovered that Russian hackers were tied to the leaks. Later on, reports came out that Russians also attempted to hack the Republican National Committee. After the election, President Obama issued sanctions against Russian diplomats for their country's involvement in the hacks.

 

In light of these hacks that were possibly sanctioned by Russian officials, there was speculation about whether Russia supported Trump's election and worked to help him win. 

In light of these hacks that were possibly sanctioned by Russian officials, there was speculation about whether Russia supported Trump's election and worked to help him win. These questions were only renewed by reports of Trump campaign staffers being in contact with senior Russian officials. It is not usual for a presidential nominee and their staff to have contact with foreign leaders.

However, U.S. intelligence officials flagged calls between top Trump aides and Russian officials due to the frequency and level of Trump advisers involved. The communications were intercepted during routine intelligence collection of Russian officials and other Russian nationals. The investigation regarding these calls is still ongoing.

Only a few days after these reports, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned from his position. He was facing questions regarding a call with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the transition period. In his resignation letter, Flynn said that he "inadvertently" gave "incomplete information" about several calls with the ambassador. He reportedly discussed sanctions against Russia with the ambassador.

Once again, this communication was discovered through routine screening of contact by Russian officials and nationals. Later developments in the story revealed that Trump knew about the Department of Justice's concerns about Flynn's conduct for about two weeks before Flynn resigned. Vice President Mike Pence found out he had been misled by Flynn just a few days before.

So far, there is no solid proof of any unethical or illegal ties between the Trump administration and the Russian government. However, a few investigations into some matters are still ongoing. It is likely more information regarding these stories and circumstances will come out in the future.