Will Obama Be Questioned About Trump and Michael Flynn in the Russia Investigation?

Before Michael Flynn became Donald Trump's national security adviser, he was a Defense Department leader serving under the Obama White House. That connection between the two administrations could potentially see former President Barack Obama questioned about what he knew about Flynn and when in the probe into Trump's potential connections with Russia.

Two days after Trump won against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race, an ugly election season that saw Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, campaign fiercely against Trump, Obama and Trump met in the Oval Office for 90 minutes to discuss national security. Flynn came up, according to media reports, but it is unclear exactly what was said: Were Flynn's Russia connections mentioned?

And that's why Obama might be tapped to speak with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation team about Russia's role in the 2016 campaign. Flynn pleaded guilty Friday about lying to the FBI about his conversations with Moscow before Trump was sworn in on Inauguration Day in January. But before the plea, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who served in the Justice Department for 27 years, was pushed out by the Trump administration after she warned that Flynn could be "blackmailed by the Russians," because of his "problematic" conduct. So what exactly did Obama know about Flynn and what did he tell Trump?

"If you are doing an obstruction of justice investigation, you would want that information," Solomon Wisenberg, who questioned President Bill Clinton under independent counsel Kenneth Starr's probe, told Vanity Fair this week about Obama playing a role in the Russia investigation. "Why is Trump trying to protect Flynn, saying 'he's a good guy,' after all these people—the former president, Sally Yates—warned him?"

Others doubt Obama will be asked to speak up in the Mueller investigation. "Once Trump became the Republican nominee, leaders of the intelligence community briefed him periodically, and after the election more regularly," Ned Price, a former C.I.A. analyst and National Security Council staffer, told Vanity Fair. "The briefings are scripted, documents are prepared, so it should be easy for Mueller to say, 'I want to see the president-elect's briefing for X day,' or 'Show me everything that was briefed to the president-elect about Russia.' The process is led by the director of National Intelligence, but it involves analysts from C.I.A., N.S.A., F.B.I. So there wasn't a need for President Obama, in that meeting, to delve into the nitty-gritty of what the intelligence community assessed and how they assessed it."

Flynn, a retired lieutenant general who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was the head of the Defense Department's intelligence agency in the Obama administration for two years before he was fired. After he left the White House, he called Obama a "weak and spineless" leader who "coddles" terrorists.

Obama was also not a fan of Flynn's. He apparently told Trump that Flynn had erratic ideas and deserved to be fired from his post at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn was then fired from serving as Trump's national security adviser in February after he lied to Vice President Mike Pence and others about his ties to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

"We were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done," Yates told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee in May about Flynn misleading Pence.

After Flynn pleaded guilty this week, the White House blamed the Obama administration for authorizing Flynn's contacts with Kislyak. Court records, however, suggest Kislyak was acting under orders from a Trump transition official.

James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence under Obama, said it was "absurd," that Obama directed Flynn to chat with Russia. "There was great concern at the time, not just with this particular contact, but with the violation of the principle that historically been followed of one president, one administration at a time," he told CNN. "So to say that we blessed it, or acquiesced it, is a stretch."