"General Flynn is a wonderful man," Trump said during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. "I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases."
It was a stunning shift after White House spokesman Sean Spicer blamed Flynn's Monday resignation on the president's loss of trust in the retired general for misleading Vice President Pence about his discussions with the Russian ambassador before the inauguration—and for not remembering the content of those discussions.
"The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others,” Spicer told reporters Tuesday. “The question wasn't if [Flynn] did anything improper or legal, but could he be trusted further.”
Trump further railed against the leaks that revealed Flynn discussed Obama administration sanctions with the Russian ambassador, a possible violation of U.S. law. He said people are trying to cover up for "a terrible loss" by the Democrats.
"The president was addressing his deep concern about illegal leaks of highly sensitive information," a White House official told The Daily Beast Wednesday afternoon. He insisted it was not overturning Spicer's readout on the president's lack of trust in Flynn.
"It was not a contradiction in any way. There's an overriding concern about the leaks," the official said, speaking anonymously to discuss the sensitive matter.
Trump took no further questions on why Flynn left, nor would he respond to reports that the FBI monitored constant contacts between members of Trump's campaign and Russian intelligence officials.
The exchange took place during Netanyahu's first trip to Washington since Trump became president. Trump also said he'd like to see the U.S. Embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—a de facto recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital that would anger Palestinians—but he said he was "studying" the matter.
The rest of the press conference centered on Mideast issues, with the American and Israeli leaders jovially agreeing to disagree over expanding Israeli settlements.
"I'd like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit," Trump said frankly from the podium, eyeing Israel's leader with a wink in his voice.
"It's the art of the deal," Netanyahu replied with a somewhat abashed smile, throwing his hands in the air and apparently caught a little off guard by the comment. The Israeli leader later said the two men would discuss the issue that afternoon, so they didn't keep "bumping into each other" on the issue.
Trump's willingness to defy previous U.S. policy was on full display when he added that he is willing to abandon a two-state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian peace process, if that's what the two sides want.
"So, I'm looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like," Trump said. "I can live with either one."
Trump echoed Netanyahu's criticism of the Palestinian Authority's failure to recognize the Jewish state, and he criticized the Palestinian education program which he and Netanyahu both said taught the local youth to despise Israel.
"I think the Palestinians have to get rid of some of that hate that they are taught from a very young age," Trump said.
But he also added that Israel would have to change some too, to reach a deal.
"As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises. You know that, right?" he said, looking directly at Netanyahu.