Politics

Collins Defends Trump Over Flynn While GOP Colleagues Remain Silent

N.Y. congressman: ‘I don’t believe anyone knew what Gen. Flynn was doing’

New York Rep. Chris Collins, seen here speaking at a Donald Trump campaign rally in Buffalo, N.Y., last year, is a lone voice defending Trump after his national security adviser resigned late Monday night 25 days into Trump’s presidency. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Chris Collins of New York, one of President Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters on Capitol Hill, is defending the administration after Michael Flynn resigned his post as national security adviser.

Yet, most of his Republican colleagues are notably silent.

Flynn, the retired three-star general who once directed the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency before being fired by the Obama administration, reportedly discussed sanctions on Russia with that country’s U.S. ambassador before the administration took power on Jan. 20. After reports surfaced Monday evening that the Justice Department had warned the White House he was vulnerable to Russian blackmail, Flynn resigned.

But Collins, the first Republican congressman to endorse Trump’s presidential bid, told CNN Tuesday morning that he doubts Trump or other senior White House officials ordered Flynn to have those talks.

[Democrats Want Probe of ‘Unfit’ Flynn’s Russia Ties]

“I don’t believe anyone knew what Gen. Flynn was doing or directed him to do something relative to the discussion with the Russian ambassador,” Collins said. “I believe that was Gen. Flynn’s decision to have the conversation he had.”

Collins was one of the few Republicans from either chamber making the morning television talk show rounds or even issuing written statements defending the Trump administration. By standing behind Trump, Collins is very much on a lonely island — for now, at least.

Asked why most of his GOP colleagues have remained silent since the White House announced that Flynn had stepped aside, Collins responded: “Well, it’s Valentine’s Day and I guess they’re having breakfasts with their wives.”

[Watch Collins defend Trump here]

Collins appeared eager to put the first Trump administration departure behind him.

“We move on from here. I’m not going to be one, nor would I hope others would dwell on the situation or pile on, to use another term,” he told CNN. “I think it’s just time to move on.”

“We have got a lot of issues to deal with. … North Korea, the travel ban, continuing discussions with Russia,” Collins said. “It’s a busy, busy White House. So Gen. Flynn did what he thought was in best interest of the country. I certainly respect that and I think it’s just time to move on.”

The New York Republican called it a “sad day” and said there would be nothing illegal or improper if an incoming national security adviser chatted with officials from other countries before taking office.

“If they talked about it, that’s one thing,” Collins told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “If they negotiated about it, as you pointed out, that would be breaching the Logan [Act],” a reference to a law prohibiting private citizens from negotiating with other countries on behalf of the United States government.

He attempted to declare the matter closed, saying, “It doesn’t matter any longer.”

“What President Trump does related to Russia, related to sanctions, related to North Korea, et cetera, is under his purview as president of the United States,” he said. “And the past is the past.”

[Video: White House Watch — Evaluating the Trump Presidency 3 Weeks In]

Congressional Democrats, however, are eager to keep the past very much in the present.

Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr., ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, are asking the Justice Department and FBI officials to come to Capitol Hill this week with answers about Flynn’s Russia ties.

And New York Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the House Foreign Affairs ranking member, is calling for a “thorough, bipartisan investigation to get the complete picture of Russia’s interference in our election.”

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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