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CNN TONIGHT

General Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Adviser; Aired 11-12a ET

Aired February 13, 2017 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[23:00:00] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (on the phone): As you know, there were stories this evening, both in the "Washington Post" and "The New York Times" about the justice department and Pamela Brown reported it, the justice department warning the White House about Flynn's context. And so, you know, I think it could have been one of these situations where the dam burst essentially. And I think the pressure in the end became too much.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Gloria, you are saying that General David Petraeus is being brought in. Who is the acting national security adviser right now, is it possibly, is it David Petraeus?

BORGER: I'm told that -- no, it's not Petraeus. But I don't know if General Kellogg is in. At this point I don't know. I want to give you some more information, though. I just heard from another source in the administration that POTUS hung in there but he resigned. And that it was due to this flood of information that I was just talking about.

So, you know, Donald Trump aside from -- on the "Apprentice," does really not like to fire people. And this message from a source in the administration to me that POTUS hung in there but he resigned leads me to believe that the president did not want to kind of abandon General Flynn who was also so loyal to him during the campaign. I mean, you'll recall Flynn spoke at the convention which a lot of people in the agency were kind of against at, but he did. And he was at Trump's side throughout the campaign.

And so I think the president felt a certain degree of loyalty to him and -- but in the end I think that the information and this source just called it a flood of information to me, you know, finally was what kind of broke the dam. I also just, as we're talking, just got a text from another source --

LEMON: Gloria, can you stand by, I just need to reset. It's the top of the hour. And standby. I'm going to get right back to you. OK.

So Gloria, hold on, one second.

Breaking news here on CNN. It is top of the hour. Michael Flynn has resigned tonight in the wake of the justice department's warning to the White House over his context with the Russian ambassador.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. Thank you so much for joining us this evening. The justice department had also warned that Flynn was potentially

vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

We have -- I want to get right to our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski is here. Also, Gloria Borger joins us as well. I believe we have Alice Stewart who is standing by, who is also getting information from our sources within the administration. Gloria Borger is helping to break this news for us.

Gloria, you are saying that president wanted to stick by General Flynn but General Flynn insisted and resigned tonight.

BORGER: Well, I think that what happened was there was a flood of information coming in, and the president I was told by one source, you know, is very loyal to the people who have been loyal to him. And you will recall that Flynn was very loyal to him. And that I was told it was this quote "flood of information" that was coming in, that in the end the dam burst, and the president had no choice.

LEMON: Gloria I hate to interrupt you, you know how much I love you, but I have to get to Jim Acosta, because Jim has some breaking news on this. Stand by Gloria.

Jim Acosta, our White House correspondent. Jim, what do you have for us?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Don. I just wanted to read you, we just obtained the resignation letter from the retired general Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Trump. We don't have time to put this up on screen. So I will just read it to you, Don.

It says, in the course of my duties as the incoming national security adviser I held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers and ambassadors. These calls were to facilitate a smooth transition and begin to build the necessary relationships between the president, his advisers and foreign leaders. Such calls are standards practice in any transition of its magnitude. Unfortunately because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president elect and others with incomplete information regarded my phone calls with the Russian ambassador. I sincerely apologize to the president and vice president, they have accepted my apology.

Continuing on here, throughout my over 30 years of honorable military service and my tenure as a national security adviser, I have always performed my duties with the utmost integrity and honesty to those I have serve to include the president of the United States.

It goes on to say, I am tendering my resignation, honored to have served our nation and the American people in such a distinguished way. I have also extremely honored to have served President Trump who in just three weeks has reoriented American foreign policy in fundamental to restore America's leadership position in the world. As I step away - it is almost done here, Don, as I step away once again from serving my nation in this current capacity, I wish to thank President Trump for his personal loyalty, the friendship of those who I worked with throughout the hard fought campaign, the challenging period transition and during the early days of his presidency, I know what the strong leadership of President Donald J. Trump and vice president Mike Pence and the superb team they are assembling, this team will go down in history as one of the greatest presidents in U.S. American history. I firmly believe the American people with be well serve as they work together to help make America great again. Signed by Michael Flynn.

Don, that is a pretty stunning development. We are in week four of this new administration. And right now the president of the United States does not have a permanent national security adviser. He has an acting national security adviser, from what we understand, it's General Kellogg, according to sources that we are talking to tonight. General Keith Kellogg is somebody who worked with the Trump transition team, was a national security adviser during the Trump transition process. And so this is a stunning development.

We were hearing just yesterday that Mike Flynn had no intention to resign, and was not expecting to be fired today, but obviously the day's events have caught up with him, the weight of this scandal was enough to force him out of this very important position in the Trump administration.

And Don, what we are hearing from sources at this point, there are some names coming up as a potential replacement for Michael Flynn, one of them is the retired general David Petraeus, that is a name you are going to be hearing about a lot in the coming days, Don.

[23:05:52] LEMON: Yes. And I'm glad you answered the question, because I asked Gloria, and as Gloria was in the middle of getting breaking news information, she mentioned that it might be General Kellogg, but she was not sure. But the acting national security adviser now as far as you know is General Kellogg?

ACOSTA: That's right. From what we understand, the acting national security adviser is going to be retired general Keith Kellogg. He, you know, from what we know, from covering this campaign was an adviser to then candidate Trump and then served in that capacity during the transition. He is also well respected. He was one of those officials that had been talked about potential for national security adviser. And it was not -- it did not receive that position. However, at this point he probably is very well positioned to take on that position permanently.

There are going to be questions raised about David Petraeus. Donald Trump talk, you know, a very positively about David Petraeus during the campaign, and said he received a raw deal and so forth, had been punished too much. You will recall he had given classified secrets to his girlfriend several, you know, years back. He plead guilty to that. And, you know, the question is going to be raised obviously if his name is thrown into the mix. How could he go after Hillary Clinton for her email activity and handling of classified information? How can you go after Hillary Clinton on that, if you're going to bring in David Petraeus and make him your national security adviser? That is going to be a part of this conversation in the coming days.

But at this point they just haven't settled on a permanent national security adviser. They have an acting one. And my suspicion is, you're going to see candidates circling through the White House in the coming days as they try to sort this out, Don.

LEMON: All right. Stand by, Jim Acosta. And that is the breaking news. Jim, don't go anywhere because I will need you.

Breaking news now, Michael Flynn has resigned. That was according to two sources. But now it is according to him as well, Jim Acosta just read his resignation letter live on CNN. Gloria Borger has also been following this.

Gloria, this makes him, what, the shortest serving senior presidential adviser in modern history. He was on the job for less than a month.

BORGER: Yes. At one would say that would make him the shortest serving. I think he had, you know, multiple problems that just were burgeoning. And I think, of course, when it was discovered that in fact that he had not told the vice president the truth about what he had talked to the Russians about, I think that became a huge problem internally for him.

There was not a lot of good will for him internally at the White House. There was a sense that over the last couple weeks that his office was not run well. And that there were numerous problems over there. And I think that in the end, and again, the source said to me, you know, the president hung in there. But in the end, there was too much information coming in.

What I can tell you, and you know, just to echo what Jim said is that temporarily at least, retired army lieutenant general Keith Kellogg who is now chief of staff and executive secretary of the NFC is in charge.

But the question is, does he have the job or will there be other people coming in? Petraeus is coming in tomorrow. I had one source say to me that Petraeus may be making a run for it, but this source also said he does have a lot of baggage, and that's the baggage that Jim Acosta was just talking about, about his own history of sharing classified information, which could be a real problem for Donald Trump since he used that repeatedly in the campaign against Hillary Clinton in regard to her emails.

So I think Kellogg is someone regarded as solid. Apparently he has a good relationship with KT McFarlane who is the number two over there. But I do think that, you know, this is the White House that now needs to decide who the national security adviser is going to be.

[23:11:05] LEMON: Yes. And Gloria, the information that Gloria supported now, again as you see on the screen, National security adviser Michael Flynn, general Michael Flynn has resigned. Jim Acosta reading the resignation letter on television. And as Gloria is recording three possible replacement for Michael Flynn.

Now, Jill, Keith Kellogg will be the interim national security adviser. That's according to multiple sources telling CNN. He is now the NSC chief of staff currently. And a senior administration official also telling Jim Acosta or our Sara Murray and Gloria Borger that Kellogg -- it says that Kellogg, retired General David Petraeus and former vice admiral Bob Harwood, those are the folks who are under consideration. Gloria, do I have that correct?

BORGER: Yes, I -- you know, I -- look, we don't know who the next national security adviser is going to be. We know who it is acting now. We know Petraeus is coming in tomorrow. But there have been other names. And I think that, you know, the White House needs to conduct a search that's complete here, given what's transpired over the last three weeks.

And so as long as they can keep it running, they need to come up with -- they need to come up with somebody that the president has confidence in. They may not be looking for controversy with Petraeus. You know, Petraeus is very well regarded except for that problem. And I think there are other names that have come up, so I think we're going to have to wait and see on that.

LEMON: OK, Gloria, stand by. Jim Acosta stand by as well. I want to get to CNN's senior political commentator David Axelrod now, for -- to get his reaction to this breaking news.

David Axelrod, what's your reaction to Flynn's resignation?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR (voice-over): Well, he was in an untenable position, Don, and the administration was in an untenable position. I mean, anyone who saw the interview with Stephen Miller, the White House aide yesterday on the Sunday shows in which he was asked about this and refused to answer. You could hear the sound of a branch being sawed off. And the fact that the president who always seems willing to comment on almost anything has been so receipt reticent to comment on this.

So all of this was pointing toward this result. And then the story that broke tonight about the fact that the administration had been advised that he had had these conversations, and had been advised that he had misled the vice president made it absolutely impossible for him to continue.

And we should point out that Flynn's always been a controversial figure within the Trump orbit. There's been a lot of talk in Washington that General Mattis and others had misgivings that there were establishment figures who had questions about him. And there were stories that surfaced apart from all of this as to the disarray within the National Security Council under his leadership that harkened back to his tenure during the Obama administration as intelligence agency in which he got bad marks for management and was asked to leave.

And so, there are whole - there were many, many reasons for him to reach this point today. The question is, in the reporting that was done tonight, that was released tonight by several news organizations. It wasn't just these conversations that were noted, but the fact that U.S. intelligence reports during the presidential campaign showed that (INAUDIBLE) the Russian ambassador was in touch with Flynn. And when you twin that up with the conclusion of the intelligence agency, that the Russians were working to undermine Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump, you can see where this is not necessarily going to die with General Flynn's resignation. I'm sure that Democrats on Capitol Hill are going to be wanting to drill down on this issue. And they are going to ask the question that was made famous many years ago, by our colleague in the period when our colleague Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were doing their great reporting, which was what did the president know and when did he know it? Did he know that General Flynn had made these calls?

[23:15:50] LEMON: And if he did -- if he did, David, what -- stand by. Before you do that, I just want to say that we have gotten the official word from the White House that the president is going to name lieutenant general Joseph Kellogg as the acting national security adviser until he picks a permanent national security adviser.

So what if the president -- what the president knew and when he knew it, that is a big question. What if he did know, David?

AXELROD: Well, obviously that's a whole different problem for the administration because the implications of that would be very grave. And I'm not suggesting that he did.

LEMON: It's just a question.

AXELROD: But that would be -- that would raise this to a level of crisis. This is something that I think they hope will be tamped down this whole controversy by the resignation of General Flynn. But this question is going -- it's going to be raised. And part of the reason it's going to be raised is that when those sanctions were imposed by the Obama administration, the Russians took a very unusual position which was not to react. Completely out of character with Vladimir Putin. And there was a great deal of discussion as to why they would take such a position. And so the question become did General Flynn inform the president of his -- or the president-elect of his discussions with Kisliak about the sanctions?

LEMON: Can I ask you something, David?

AXELROD: Not an allegation, but it's a question that will be asked.

LEMON: Let me ask you something because there was concern, you know, during the transition about this one administration, one president at a time. And this certainly is evidence of why that should happen. Why we usually abide by that.

AXELROD: I mean, you know, there was a great deal of discussion then. And, you know, president-elect was very eager to get off and running, and was active on a number of fronts. But on the issue -- on issues of national security and foreign policy this has always been the tradition, and for good reason, because you don't want to send mixed signals to other countries, particularly in adversarial positions.

If one president imposes sanctions while another president is signaling that, you know, to just hang on, relief is coming. Then it completely obviates the ability of the president who is in office to do what he thinks is right and what he was elected to do. And in this case, it was particularly sensitive, because the thing for which the Russians were being sanctioned was for interfering in the American election, and interfering in a way that advantaged the president- elect. So that made this a particularly sensitive issue. And again, I think it's -- there are elements of this that will continue to be explored and continue to be controversial moving forward, notwithstanding the resignation of General Flynn.

LEMON: Yes. David Axelrod, our CNN senior political commentator joining us now with the breaking news. David, I want you to stand by. Just want to update our viewers.

As you see there on your screen, national security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned, tendered his resignation to the president of the United States just a little bit earlier. CNN reporting the breaking news moments ago.

I also want to discuss this now with our Mark Preston. And also Michelle Kosinski and Nia Malika Henderson joining me now as well.

So much has changed, Mark and Michelle and Nia, since we last spoke, when we were just trying to figure out exactly what was going on. If Michael Flynn still had the confidence of the president, and now this. It appears that he may have had the confidence of the president, but he didn't think that he could carry on himself, Mark Preston.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, no doubt. And look, he did the honorable thing in many ways by following on the sword and resigning, and not being fired. And this has been going to be a terrible story for the Trump administration for the next 24 hours. And it really depends on how quickly they can get somebody permanently into that NSC role.

Now, we should note that you do not need Senate confirmation, the president can pick the person, and the person goes in. That's why Flynn who has been very controversial was able to move into that position very easily.

Now, as Gloria Borger is reporting that David Petraeus is going to be at the White House tomorrow. He is no stranger to Donald Trump. If you just go back a few months, remember, he actually interviewed to be the secretary of state. Now, ultimately that didn't happen, and he bowed out gracefully.

But it was just a few weeks ago, Don, that David Petraeus was on Capitol Hill. He testified before a hearing that was not necessarily enamored with how Donald Trump put in the Muslim ban or the travel ban, however you want to call it in that veteran. He thought that better implementation and better planning would have made things go a lot smoother in that.

So it will be interesting to see how the conversation between President Trump and David Petraeus happens tomorrow. But as Gloria did note, for all his controversy, David Petraeus is well liked by Democrats and Republicans, so it will be interesting to see if he gets that -- if he gets the offer. [23:21:21] LEMON: Nia, question for you. I'm sure that, you know,

there's someone in the White House who may be looking at this as a glass half full opportunity. Does this offer any type of opportunity to the White House?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Some people may be looking at this as sort of a reset, to get this story off the radar, off the front pages of the papers like the "Washington Post" and "The New York Times." And others might be looking at it as the press having scored some points against this White House. I mean, we know this is a White House that has an ongoing feud with many different outlets. And so, in that way, I imagine they are going to be a lot of different views in this White House. As we know, there are all sorts of feuding camps.

I think one of the problems that this whole, the kind of three week period opposes for this White House, is that what we have seen over these last three weeks really is an advertisement of how things operate in this White House. And this is a White House and administration that has still yet to fill the communications director post. They have been interviewing for that, unable to fill it. And lots of deputy cabinet positions as well over the administration.

So here over three weeks, I mean, you think about people of wanting to join this administration, and might have some second thought, given what we have seen over these last three weeks or so from this White House, a lot of controversy, a lot of chaos, a lot of leaks, a lot of feuding, and it's not exactly a portrait of a very easy place to work. And typically, White Houses are very hard to work in, as we know because essentially, it's a 24-hour job. But my goodness, that stress on top of the chaos that seems to be to Donald Trump's liking and part of his style and now embedded into the White House. I don't think that's necessarily going to offer a lot of people who might be looking for jobs or want a job in the White House. I'm not sure how attractive that will be to folks who are thinking about joining this administration.

LEMON: Michelle Kosinski, you are free to weigh-in on that. But also I have to ask you, big picture covering this. How folks are looking at this, and you can call it a fledgling White House, how this may be viewed around the world with our allies and with our enemies?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think you could write a book on that even at this point. I mean, the onus was on this new administration. An administration unlike any other we have seen in a very long time, still trying to put the pieces together. But to prove all the naysayers wrong, including the former president of the United States, who had plenty to say about preparedness and appropriateness.

So for these things to start to fall apart this way and the details surrounding them, I mean, involving inappropriate conversations that may in fact be illegal conversations with the Russians. The damage here, I mean, I think it's unknown how far this will spread in the time line of this administration, and the multiple layers here. You know, changing the position. For Flynn to resign, yes, that's

immediate damage control. But this goes well beyond. I mean, just reading his statement tonight that he inadvertently gave incomplete information to the vice president and others. When the White House we know now was warned weeks ago about this. So that -- that information didn't go out further. And that Mike Pence wasn't knowing about this, as the vice president.

It only lends itself to so many more questions. And, of course, this administration answering questions - we have seen that to be a real problem. This isn't going to stop any time soon. I think the reverberation of just this one incident will spread pretty far.

And the reaction from other countries as you asked, I mean, right now you're not seeing it on the front pages of websites, even the times of London or Lemonde right now. I think this might be too fresh. Also too in the weeds at this moment, but I think by tomorrow morning, you are going to see the analysis and the reaction.

And from talking to people here the reaction has been oh, my God, I can't believe this is happening so soon. I can't believe this is happening in America. They are fascinated by it.

I did hear from one Russian official tonight anonymously. And his reaction was, it's painful to see the guy, meaning Michael Flynn raked over the coals like that, but didn't want to add any more.

So, you know, the Kremlin has denied that this conversation took place, and was about -- denied that the conversation about sanctions took place. But they are saying this now. They are saying the reporting out there. And I think it will be interesting to see that reaction from around the world starting in probably just a few hours.

[23:26:11] LEMON: What's interesting, Mark Preston, is that, you know, we have been talking about the -- it's only been three weeks, and a tumultuous three weeks, when you look at the controversy with the travel ban, now this, very shortly into this administration. The unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, the authoritarian comment by Stephen Miller on television yesterday, that the president will not be questioned.

This White House -- this administration has some resetting to do, to Nia-Malika's point, should they be looking at this as a reset? Because this is a lot in three weeks.

PRESTON: I think a couple things, yes, it is a lot. It's amazing that it's only been three weeks, on top of all the executive orders that he has issued to turn back legislation or to change how we do business here in the U.S.

There is a time for reset. And I think the surprise, although I don't know why we are surprised about anything anymore with Donald Trump, is that you got to do it, and you might as well do it now.

You know, also, with Michael Flynn, General Flynn stepping down, you have to wonder if the flood gates will eventually open where Donald Trump has made the first firing, basically, and could that lead to other dismissals of folks that he doesn't think are pulling their weight. There has been a lot of talk about intrigue within the White House and intrigue among senior staff. But once you see one go, you tend to see more go. I don't think we are going to see anything imminently, thought, Don.

But it is something worthwhile to keep an eye on, because, you know, clearly they need to get the train back on the track because at some point you can't govern by executive order. You have to govern by legislating. And that's when you have to work with Congress. And this side show right here now we are talking about has got to go away.

LEMON: Yes, you are right. The correct term, side show that we have been watching in many ways for the past three weeks.

Stand by, everyone, our breaking news tonight. National security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned. That comes in the wake of the news that the justice department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

So again, joining me now our folks here Nia-Malika Henderson, also Michelle Kosinski and Mark Preston. Do we have Rick Santorum on the line as well?

Stand by everyone. I want to get to Rick Santorum, CNN senior political commentator.

Rick, what's your response?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR (on the phone): Well, I think it was appropriate. I mean, they -- the fact of the situation where he misled the vice president and obviously that to me when I read that, that seemed to me just a matter of time before that hammer came down, that's just something that you don't do.

I know Mike Flynn. He is a good man. He obviously made a mistake, and he owned up to it, but that's not enough. I mean, this is a serious position. The vice president's a very key person to this administration. And you -- on such serious matters again, on the justice department, where you can compromised by saying one thing to the vice president and another thing being true. And the Russians know that's true. That's just not a good position to be in. And so this had to be done. It's unfortunate. Again, Mike Flynn is a great soldier, a great patriot, made a mistake, and --

LEMON: Is it --?

SANTORUM: In offices like this, you pay for it.

LEMON: To Mark Preston's point, Rick. Is this a wakeup call and maybe a reset for this White House that they need to change some of the way that they are doing things? Maybe with transparency and so forth. And then Mark also said that maybe there are -- there's more to come when it comes to resignations or rejiggering of staff. SANTORUM: One thing I have seen about Donald Trump, and we saw it

during the campaign, I think we saw it during his time as a businessman. He is not afraid to fire people that aren't carrying their weight. And he is not afraid to make these decisions and to rearrange things. So I'm not surprised that this firing took place. I mean, this is pretty quick. And there could be others, I mean, I don't -- I think all these rumors are just rumors at this point.

[23:30:27] LEMON: But the reason I ask you, is because we started the day, and Flynn was a rumor, at least that's what people were saying. Sources were telling them. There was also some talk about Reince Priebus. There was also some talk about Kellyanne Conway. And so, if at the end of the day, you start with as you say a rumor or there is talk about these three people, and then at the end of the day you have one of them who has a major job, the national security adviser who has now resigned, who is gone.

SANTORUM: Well, I think there was a serious issue relate to them. This was a major problem. The others are to varying degrees, you know, quality of performance, but nothing that's a fireable offense, if you will. I think everyone is going to get a chance in this administration to get their sea legs and do their job and obviously, they are going to -- when you rollout as much as Trump has rolled out, there are going to be bumps in the roads because you are shaking things up pretty dramatically. But I do think that Donald Trump is someone who will assess and will change course. If he doesn't think the course is the right one with the people he has. So I don't think --.

LEMON: That's the reason I asked you. You said if they don't perform - you performances. You said if people are not performing, you said that he will get rid of them. We saw that in the campaign and we saw that before as a businessman, and that's the reason I asked you that question.

SANTORUM: Yes. I think three weeks is too soon to make that call. But I will not be surprised if things continue, you know, if the rocky road continues that you will see some other people be moved around or moved out.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, Rick Santorum. I appreciate it. Thank you. The rest of the guests will be back with our breaking news.

Our breaking news tonight, national security adviser, Michael Flynn has resigned. That comes in the wake of news that the justice department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled the administration officials regarding his communications with Russians ambassador to the United States and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:36:15] LEMON: Our breaking news tonight, national security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned. National security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned. That comes in the wake of news that the justice department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States. And was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

Joining me now is major general Spider Marks, former CNN Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty, and CNN political commentator Matt Lewis. Good to have you on.

General Marks, where are we now? What's happening?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES SPIDER MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. I think the question we need to ask right now, and I know it's difficult to get beyond the palace intrigue, and the faces that are involved in this. But we need to ask the question, what now, less who now.

We are going to try to figure out who the next national security adviser is going to be and a number of faces are going to pop up. Keith Kellogg is an interim solution. Great soldier. But is he the permanent solution, probably not.

This town and a whole bunch of places have immense talent that could step into that role and provide some great leadership. The challenge, however, is what are the priorities for this administration, what -- how are we going to engage with Russia? Are we going to cooperate or are we going to compete? Can we get our arms around some type of cyber protocols as a way to narrowly define how we want to engage with Russia? What are we going to do with China in the South China Sea? Are we going to engage with China to help us with North Korea? They just launched the missile. What are we going to do with ISIS? We have all described that as an existential threat, does it remain so? What does the coalition look like?

So there are a host of issues out there. And rather than boil the ocean, I think what we can do is very commonly breathe through our nose and say, here are the top three priorities. This is the area that we are going to focus in on where we are going to put some resources and some time. Let's get about the business of getting this ship with the rudder in the water moving in the right direction. We can do that. But that has to take place right now. So I think it is more, what are we going to do next, vice, all the faces and kind of the yelling and screaming and the personality stuff.

LEMON: Jill Dougherty, there's always been questions about why this president took the stance that he has, when it comes to Vladimir Putin. And now you have his national security adviser, you know, resigning over issues that have to deal with Russia. This is certainly more than palace intrigue. This goes beyond that.

JILL DOHERTY, GLOBAL FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Yes. And you know, just a couple of minutes ago, I was checking how the Russian media are handling this, because it's very early in Russia in the morning, Tuesday morning, they're now waking up to that news, you can bet that the Kremlin has been watching it. One of the reports I saw is quoting CNN in fact on this breaking news. And how are they interpreting this? And you know, up to this point there was, of course, hope, tempered

with some realism, I have to say, that this administration would be good for Russia. But there was always that idea behind the scenes a very realistic idea that perhaps Donald Trump would not be able to fulfill all of the things that we heard during the campaign.

This is quite a sober analysis. And in recent days, and I have to say days, you have seen a more skeptical tone toward the administration. A little more criticism, a little more mocking in fact talking about some of the satirical shows in the United States about Donald Trump. And then also I think a concern about what kind of policy the president, the American president was going to follow.

Give you an example of that conversation between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. And the reports that in which apparently they were talking about the new start arms control agreement, the president -- President Trump didn't seem quite clear on exactly what that was, and Vladimir Putin was saying, let's extend that agreement. Let's extend it for another five years, that's a proposal that's out there, among experts. And it's a very rational proposal.

But Donald Trump answered it by saying, no, that's a bad deal. This is all, you know, from press reports. That is a bad deal for the United States. It's in Russia's favor. That must have been quite shocking for president Putin to hear something like that. You know, the country that -- the administration that was going to be cooperating now is saying, hey, we have a bad deal with you and we are going to do something about it.

This is not what Moscow was expecting. So I think there's probably a lot of concern about where they are going. And also I think as Spider was talking about, I think there's grave concern here in the United States about where the NSC, the National Security Council is going. That is a crucial, crucial body for the president.

The national security adviser is a key person. He is supposed to be the honest broker who can present information to the president to make matters of life and death about security and American foreign policy. And if that now is in tumult, if it's falling apart, if nobody seem - if it does not seem to be functioning properly, that's a major problem for the United States.

[23:41:45] LEMON: Matt, given what Jill's just reported, who would calm those jitters? Who can do it?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, so look -- speaking of calming, I don't know about national security issues per say, but I think the -- undersold part of this story is the calming force of Mike Pence. And when Mike Pence goes on TV shows and says this did or did not happen, he has to have credibility. And I think it's one of the important things that happened today with Mike Flynn's resignation, is that the Trump administration has preserved the credibility and the integrity of the vice president.

Mike Pence was a calming force when he was selected as the running mate for Donald Trump, and made the mainstream media feel a little bit more comfortable. This is a guy we can - that we know, a guy we can work with, he's a governor, he's been in Congress. It made movement conservatives more comfortable. He has retained his integrity and his credibility. I think if Mike Flynn had stayed on, why would you ever believe anything that Mike Pence said again on TV?

LEMON: Matt, I have to ask you this. Because CNN broke this story through sources, "the Washington Post" started reporting some of it, CNN broke the story. You heard Jill mentioning earlier that they are watching at the Kremlin. They are quoting CNN. I asked one of my earlier guests, might this be a reset at the White House for at least their dealings, how they are dealing with issues.

And also, Matt, I have to ask you, and maybe they are dealing with the press, this is being viewed in Russia. This is being viewed around the world, CNN is watching, considering the relationship they had. And according to my source right now, they are all watching CNN at the White House. They may want to rethink that their relationship with the media after this. This could be a reset for them.

LEWIS: Here's hoping, I mean, look. You know, there is a long history of Republican politicians especially but all politicians and modern history having animosity toward the media. There is somewhat of a rivalry, that happened, and that's normal.

But to go to war with the press is not smart. And I think that this could be a movement forward for the Donald Trump administration. There are adults like Mike Pence and Tillerson, and General Mattis that I think are conservative, but they are respected by policy intellectuals and by the media, and then there are other people who I think General Flynn has been included in this group, who were not the adults, and maybe this is a chance for Donald Trump to make a step in the right direction.

LEMON: I want to ask you, general -- the other folks we have here, let me see the people they are putting up, saying that could possibly -- who the next could possibly be. Let's see. According to senior administration, of course, General Keith Kellogg will be the interim. Then David Petraeus coming in, then admiral Bob Harwood. What do you know about that - about them?

MARKS: I know all of them. And frankly quite well. David Petraeus, certainly, we all know David, and we all frankly believe in redemption. David Petraeus is an immensely gifted guy. We would be lucky to have him in this administration. He gets along well -- he's incredibly talented and prepared. And I think communicates well in this town, and internationally. He is a very measured force.

Bob Harwood I know, special operator, was the number two guy in central command if I'm not mistake, if not special operations command. He was a SEAL, immensely gifted guy, naval academy graduate. I know him quite well from our early days of our war. We crossed paths on a number of mission requirements. He is level headed. He is a very energetic and very competent guy, and has some great roots in the Mideast in terms of his credibility and his face. And what he can accomplish. So those relationships become critical as we move forward. So those are two great candidates, then you also look at Jim Stavridis (ph). One of the candidates for secretary of state. I'm not shelling for Jim, but he would be a tremendous candidate as well.

I mean, they really are some fascinating --.

[23:46:02] LEMON: And we are getting ahead of ourselves now, because the breaking news now is, of course, Michael Flynn resigning.

Thank you all very much. Stand by. I'm going to need you throughout our coverage here. This is our breaking news here on CNN.

National security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned. The national security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned. This is coming in the wake of news that the justice department warned the Donald Trump administration last month that Flynn had misled administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and that was potentially vulnerable to blackmail. He was by the Russians. So we are going to discuss all of that as we come back with our breaking news.

We will take a quick break. More news on the other side of this.

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[23:50:23] LEMON: Our breaking news tonight on CNN, national security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned. That comes in the wake of news that the justice department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

I want to get back to CNN's Mark Preston, Michelle Kosinski and also Nia-Malika Henderson.

I also have some new information that I want you to listen to and then discuss. This is from our Dana Bash and we are working on getting our Dana up to. She can also add to this. This is, according to Dana, it says an administration source says that this resolution was in motion heading this way for about three days, meaning this as it relates to Flynn. The source said it was more than whether he really had a conversation with the Russian about sanctions - with the Russians about sanctions. The key issue internally was whether he told the truth to the vice president, which all of you have been reporting here this evening. That's what it came down to.

The source said the White House concluded at the very least that Flynn didn't need to mislead Pence, but he may have because he couldn't remember what he said to the Russians. Not remembering is not a quality that we can have for the national security adviser, according to the source. The sources says that while Kellogg is acting, it is mostly going to be between Petraeus and Harwood for the job. Mark Preston?

PRESTON: Well, it seems like, you know, with General Flynn's decision to resign or basically being told to resign, the White House has now come out and is trying to let him down fairly easy. Because, you know, they are trying, you know, to make him out as though he is not a willful liar to the ice president. But it does go back to what we talked about earlier, Don, is that

where did the loyalty lie for President Trump? Did it lie with Michael Flynn or did it lie with vice president Pence? And according to Dana's reporting right there, I think that it just codifies what we were saying earlier, that it does lies with vice president Pence.

But I do think one of the big unanswered questions will be, what did the FBI think? What information anyway, do they think that was said between the general and Russian authorities, where he could, in fact, be blackmailed? Because that's going to be the big unanswered question throughout all of this.

LEMON: Also, I want to Nia-Malika Henderson, this is for you. New information, and this is from CNN's Jim Acosta, saying, a senior administration official says President Trump hung in there and did not demand that Flynn step down. He said, outside "the Apprentice," Trump does not relish firing people, the official said.

HENDERSON: I think that's exactly right. And we saw that in the campaign. Rick Santorum, of course, was just on and said though he is somebody who fires people and he shakes things up. We just haven't seen that.

I mean, even if you look at the timeline that they are presenting, they are saying that this was in the works for three days. Well, if you think about "the Washington Post" story, it seems like they have much of this information late last month. So they had possibly someone who was working in the White House who they say now had a faulty memory, possibly lied to the vice president but didn't really act on it, right.

So it's, you know, the sort of three-day timeline, I think, raises more questions about how long the president knew about this and how he may have thought, or the administration may have thought if they could just sit on this. And of course, I mean, we have had so much -- what's fascinating about this too, is we have had in this White House, we have this real adversarial relationship with the press, and here is the press, "the Washington Post," CNN, "The New York Times," breaking all sorts of stories on this White House, even though I think we have seen the White House trying to shield the president and have favorable questions in a press conference. But listen, this isn't going away. I think we have had all these conversations.

LEMON: It doesn't work that way.

HENDERSON: Right. And also, I think, you know, we had all these conversations about Donald Trump, is this going to be a reset? During the course of the campaign, same sort of thing. The whole idea of pivoting. It seems unlikely that that's going happen, because all of this I think, flows from the top. The president likely knew some of this earlier, and I think went back to the behavior from before, which is to not immediately fire Mike Flynn, and let this play out in the press.

LEMON: Yes. I would have to say, though, Michelle, because if you are the president and you're watching this, and I'm sure the president is paying close attention, there would be some concern, because everyone -- not everyone, but a number of people much insinuating, what did he know and when did he know it.

[23:55:11] KOSINSKI: Of course.

LEMON: And if he did know or he didn't know, he would be upset by it. But wouldn't you think he would call his the White House attorneys call in, his senior advisers and say, am I out of the woods? What do I need to say? Do we need to respond in any way as it relates to this? KOSINSKI: I mean, that's what they should be doing. That's what he

should have been doing before Michael Flynn had this conversation that's been reported. I mean, to get that kind of input would be valuable pretty much every step of the way on this.

And looking at the reporting, of course, the president and probably others in the White House wanted to let this ride for as long as it was possible, for as long as it didn't do more damage, for him to still be national security adviser. I mean, you think about that. His position was national security adviser. So for him to resign or to be forced to resign, however you want to frame this, you know, that's an admission that there was a very deep and serious problem here. And that in itself then causes damage beyond that.

LEMON: Michelle?

KOSINSKI: Bet when you look at what did happen, I mean, this had to be so untenable and such a deep problem for this to have to happen the way it did.

LEMON: Yes, that's got be the last word just for the moment, because I have to get to the break.

Our breaking news here on CNN, national security adviser general Michael Flynn has resigned, and that comes in the wake of news that the justice department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled the administration, officials, regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

We will be right back right after this.

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