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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Barack Obama warned then-President-elect Donald Trump not to give the post of national security adviser in his administration to Michael Flynn who was eventually fired in a controversy about ties to Russia, a former Obama aide said.
Obama gave the warning in an Oval Office meeting with Trump just days after the Republican’s surprise election win last Nov. 8. The warning, first reported by NBC News, came up during a discussion of White House personnel.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment and an Obama spokesman initially declined to comment.
Flynn has emerged as a central figure in probes into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.
He had been pushed out by Obama from his job as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA, during the Democratic president’s term in office.
A former U.S. deputy attorney general, Sally Yates, is expected to tell a Senate Judiciary subcommittee later Monday that she had warned the White House counsel after Trump took office that Flynn had not told the truth about conversations he had held with Russia’s ambassador to Washington.
Trump fired Flynn, a retired general, in February for failing to disclose talks with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak about U.S. sanctions on Moscow and then misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.
Congressional committees began investigating after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered hacking of Democratic political groups to try to sway the election toward Trump. Moscow has denied any such meddling.
Trump has also dismissed the allegations, suggesting instead that Obama might have wiretapped Trump Tower in New York or that China may have been behind the cyber attacks. He has provided no evidence and neither scenario has been supported by intelligence agencies.
Hours before Monday’s Senate hearing, Trump insinuated that Yates, an Obama administration appointment, had leaked information on Flynn to the media.
“Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Council,” Trump wrote on Twitter, apparently mis-spelling the word counsel.
In another Twitter post, Trump noted that Flynn had been granted top security clearance while working in the Obama administration.
Flynn was fired from the DIA in 2014 for what officials familiar with the issue said was a disruptive management style that included instructing analysts to find intelligence substantiating improbable theories that some subordinates came to call “Flynn facts.” He also advocated an overhaul of the DIA that ignited resistance from veteran intelligence officials, the officials said.
James Clapper, Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence, will also testify to the Senate panel on Monday.
The Senate Judiciary subcommittee probe is one of three main congressional investigations of Russia and the 2016 U.S. election. The FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies are conducting separate probes.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool)