MOSCOW — Leading Russian lawmakers rushed to defend President Trump’s former national security adviser Tuesday after he resigned amid furor over his misleading statements to senior White House officials, including Vice President Pence, about his contacts with Russia.
The heads of the foreign-affairs committees in Russia’s upper and lower houses of parliament chalked up Michael Flynn’s resignation to a dark campaign of Russophobia in Washington, and said it would undermine relations between the White House and the Kremlin.
Flynn was accused of holding discussions on the U.S. sanctions regime against Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump was sworn in as president last month.
Flynn stepped down amid mounting pressure on the Trump administration to account for its false statements about his conduct.
The Washington Post reported Monday that the Justice Department had warned the White House last month that Flynn had so mischaracterized his communications with the Russian diplomat that he might be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.
“Flynn was ‘pushed out’ not because of his mistake, but because of the unfolding campaign of aggression. ‘Russian for the Exit!’ shout the newspapers. Paranoia and a witch hunt,” tweeted Russian senator Alexei Pushkov, referring to a New York Daily News headline.
In a separate tweet, he wrote, “The mission isn’t Flynn, it’s relations with Russia.”
“It is kind of a negative signal for normalizing the Russian-American dialogue,” the head of the lower house’s foreign-affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, said in remarks released by his press office.
Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov confirmed that Flynn had “some conversations and communications” with Kislyak but said reports that he had discussed the U.S. sanctions regime before Trump’s inauguration were “incorrect.”
Peskov said Flynn’s resignation was an internal matter for the United States and declined to comment further on it during a call with journalists Tuesday.