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AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Somebody was lying, or, in the most charitable reading, incredibly forgetful.

Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn originally categorically denied that he'd privately discussed sanctions against Russia with that country's ambassador, shortly after the Obama Administration applied new penalties to retaliate for Russia's election interference.

Flynn's blanket denials — which he maintained until Wednesday, according to the Washington Post — were so categorical that they led the politically cautious Vice President Mike Pence to declare on national TV:

What I can confirm, having spoken to [Flynn] about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

The backpedal: On Thursday, as the Post finalized their report saying Flynn did in fact discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador, Flynn's spokesman retreated from the original categorical denial. The spokesman told the Post that Flynn "indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn't be certain that the topic never came up."

The same report signaled the first signs of the administration leaving Flynn to fend for himself: "An administration official stressed that Pence made his comments based on his conversation with Flynn."

Latest developments:

  • NBC News and the New York Times confirmed WaPo's reporting. NBC reports: "A U.S. intelligence official briefed on the matter confirmed to NBC News that National Security Advisor Mike Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Flynn took office, contrary to denials from Vice President Mike Pence, White House spokesman Sean Spicer and others.
  • NBC, citing an anonymous official, added that "he was told there was no quid pro quo and that there has been no finding inside the government that Flynn did anything illegal."
  • CNN reports — and we should take this report with a Russia-sized grain of salt — that: "The Kremlin has denied reports that Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's national security adviser, discussed sanctions on Russia in recent discussions with Russia's ambassador to Washington."

Why this matters: It's unlikely Flynn's conversations will result in official action against him. As the Post points out, the Logan Act, a law against U.S. citizens interfering in foreign diplomacy, stems from a 1799 statute that has never been prosecuted. The real story here — beyond the substance of the private conversations — is that the Trump administration has a major, perhaps unprecedented, leak problem. Flynn is a major target and expect him to continue to be. Substantial portions of the intelligence community regard him with undisguised animosity.

Go deeper

Biden warned Putin of specific "consequences" if Russia invades Ukraine

Photo: Kremlin Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In a video call that lasted for just over two hours on Tuesday, President Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that if Russia invades Ukraine the U.S. will impose unprecedented sanctions and provide additional weaponry to the Ukrainians, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

Why it matters: Russia's military activity on the border with Ukraine has triggered alarms from the U.S. and its European allies of a potential large-scale Russian invasion in early 2022. Sullivan said Biden made clear to Putin that, "things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now."

Senate leaders sell members on debt limit deal

Sen. Chuck Schumer (L) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are urging their respective caucuses to back a deal that would clear a path to raising the debt ceiling.

Driving the news: The agreement, negotiated by the two leaders and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), involves Congress passing a law allowing a one-time rule change so the Senate can raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, rather than the 60 typically needed to overcome the filibuster.

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

CDC: 60% of U.S. is fully vaccinated

Photo: Nick Oxford/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sixty percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: This comes as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the U.S. It has been detected in 19 states, and the number is expected to increase, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during Tuesday's White House COVID-19 briefing.