Flynn seen as standing on thin ice

Michael Flynn's position as President Trump’s national security adviser appeared to be in peril on Monday, after the White House said that the president was “evaluating the situation.”

Trump himself has been silent on the embattled Flynn, but press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Trump is conferring with Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceDems face close polls in must-win Virginia Report: Trump administration officials urged furious Tillerson not to quit Authorities recover 47 firearms in connection with Las Vegas shooter MORE “relative to the conversation the Vice President had with General Flynn.”

Reports have circulated that Flynn was on “thin ice,” according to CNN, after revelations that Flynn spoke about sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office — and then allegedly misled Pence about it.

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One administration official told The Washington Post that the “knives are out” for the national security adviser. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was met with raised eyebrows Monday afternoon when she said that Flynn “enjoys the full confidence of the president.”

Sensing blood in the water on Monday, Democrats stepped up their attacks and few Republicans have come to Flynn’s defense.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) called the reports “proof he should not be entrusted with our national security.”

Meanwhile, reports of turmoil at the National Security Council gave further ammunition to longtime critics of Flynn who believe him to be a loose cannon.

But the White House has taken its time in responding to allegations that Flynn may have violated the law with the calls in addition to misleading the vice president.

Trump was not asked about Flynn at a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier in the afternoon, a circumstance that seemed orchestrated by the White House.

Internally, Flynn may be in the most trouble for misleading Pence about the conversations with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The vice president publicly vouched for Flynn in television interviews about the phone calls in January, insisting that “they did not discuss anything having to do with the decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”

The White House confirmed Monday that Flynn had apologized to Pence.

“The unpardonable sin was hanging the vice president out to dry,” said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak, who is a contributor to The Hill.

But the decision of whether to demand the resignation of a national security adviser — not a Senate-confirmable position — ultimately rests with the president.

And Trump’s thinking on the issue remains unclear.

A senior White House adviser, Stephen Miller, declined to publicly defend Flynn over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Flynn was quietly withdrawn from a tentative keynote speaking position at a special operations forces banquet on Monday night.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Monday afternoon that Flynn “enjoys the full confidence of the president.”

Flynn initially claimed that a Dec. 29 phone call with Kislyak did not address Obama-era sanctions against Russia, imposed that day to penalize Moscow for its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

But according to multiple reports citing current and former officials, Flynn and Kislyak spoke more than once that day — and Flynn unambiguously conveyed that U.S. relations with Russia would change under Trump.

A spokesman for Flynn has since conceded that “while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

Democrats are now demanding that the administration release the transcripts of the calls, arguing that Flynn violated an obscure and likely unenforceable 1799 law prohibiting private citizens from engaging in foreign policy.

For many onlookers, the question appears to be when, not if, Flynn will be fired. Only the need to name a replacement for the controversial and fiery retired general is holding up the change, they say.

“The issue is they have to find a replacement. You don’t just shit-can the national security adviser without a plan in place; you have to figure out who that’s going to be,” said one source with knowledge of the conversation within the White House.

Others suggest that the president has yet to make up his mind. 

“I think number one is they’re looking for options, but number two is, until Trump makes the decision, the decision is not made,” said Mackowiak. 

Equally unclear is who might take Flynn’s place if Trump does remove him. Speculation has revolved around a number of names: National Security Council chief of staff Keith Kellogg, homeland security adviser Tom Bossert or deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland.

Flynn is Trump’s personal adviser on national security issues — a role that is not only critical to the country’s national security as a good-faith broker between agencies and the White House, but one that is usually filled by someone with close ties to the president.

Critics worry that Flynn’s successor could be equally dangerous. They fear that White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who is believed to be wielding outsize influence on matters of national security, could sway the president's selection.

“We could be in a worse situation, where you have somebody who has the trust of the president but is a political actor,” said Loren DeJonge Schulman, a senior adviser to former national security adviser Susan Rice, who served under former President Obama.

Flynn has long been seen as a vulnerability to the White House.

Trump in December cut ties with Flynn’s son — who had assisted his father during the transition — over his promulgation of a conspiracy theory about a child sex ring at a Washington, D.C., pizzeria.

Prior to the election, Flynn himself also pushed unsubstantiated stories linking Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE to underage sex rings, providing no evidence to support his claims.

Flynn, who formerly headed the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), has long been known to make dubious assertions that have little basis in documented fact. 

Subordinates at the DIA reportedly compiled a list of what they called “Flynn facts” — nuggets of false information that Flynn would present as true.

Scholars of the national security adviser position have long warned that his penchant for conspiracy theories risks funneling inaccurate information to the president. 

Conway on Monday did not deny the content of the calls, instead emphasizing that Flynn could not recall the details.

It is also unknown whether the president knew about what Flynn said on Dec. 29.

“[Democrats are] using everything they can find to try to impeach him as a political strategy. They’re obviously going to try to connect this to the president,” Mackowiak said.

This story was updated at 5:57 p.m.