UPDATED with Jared Kushner reports: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Friday became the first member of President Donald Trump’s administration to be charged and plead guilty in Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the presidential election.
Flynn pleaded guilty Friday morning to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russian officials.
As part of a plea deal, Flynn will testify Trump “directed him to make contact” with the Russians during the campaign, ABC News reported. In court documents filed Friday, Flynn said he had conversations about those calls with officials of Trump’s transition team including one senior member.
Various media outlets including the Wall Street Journal and CNN reported later in the day via sources that the senior member is Trump’s son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner. Kushner has been interviewed by Mueller’s team recently.
“After over 33 years of military service to our country, including five years in combat away from my family and then my decision to continue to serve the United States, it has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of treason and other outrageous acts,” Flynn said in a statement issued after making his guilty plea at a federal court in Washington.
“Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done and stood for. But I recognize that the actions I acknowledge in court today are wrong. And, through my faith in god, I am working to set things right. My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel’s office reflect a decision I made in the best interest of family and of the country. I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
The White House legal team responded quickly:
“Today, Michael Flynn, a former National Security Adviser at the White House for 25 days during the Trump administration, and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI,” White House lawyer Ty Cobb said in the statement.
“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn. The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates once again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”
Trump, who has yet to tweet on the topic, ignored press questions about Flynn’s guilty plea as he welcomed host Libyan Prime Minister Sarraj at the White House later in the day; the White House also scrapped a scheduled photo op/question taking with Sarraj.
Flynn detractors gathered with members of the press outside Friday morning when word broke Mueller had formally charged Flynn with one count of lying twice to the bureau, and Mueller’s office announced a plea hearing had been set for 10:30 AM. Flynn did not respond to the hail of remarks/questions shouted his way as he arrived at court, keeping his head down and moving quickly from his car to the door into the building.
Flynn pleaded guilty to having made four false statements: two having to do with conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. at the time, and two about his conversations with Russians related to a UN security resolution about Israel.
The alleged felony was committed on January 24 of this year, just after Trump’s inauguration. Flynn was serving as national security adviser then, briefing Trump every morning about international matters. A couple days later, then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House Flynn could be a national security risk because he was open to being blackmailed by the Russians. A couple week after that, according to former FBI Director James Comey, Trump asked him to back off his probe into Flynn.
Before Flynn had entered his plea, White House spun TV news outlets; CNN’s chief political analyst Gloria Borger, for instance, reported a “source close to the President” told her, “Everyone lies in Washington.”
This morning Comey, who Trump canned in early May, calling him a “grandstander and the Russia probe a “made-up story” of the Democrats, tweeted:
Flynn, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General who was the 18th director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was a member of Trump’s inner circle during his campaign and the transition. Flynn was Trump’s chief foreign policy adviser during the campaign, and spoke at the GOP convention during which he famously led the crowd in “Lock Her Up” chants, in re Hillary Clinton. During the transition, Flynn ran security briefings, and very briefly served as national security adviser, “resigning” that position after just three weeks and three days, amid controversy over his work as a foreign agent. By way of explaining Flynn’s hasty exit, Trump called him a “wonderful man” who had been “treated very, very unfairly by the…fake news.”
Mueller has been investigating if members of Trump’s team helped Russia meddle in the 2016 presidential race, and Flynn’s been in headlines this week after his legal team reportedly broke off its pact with White House to share info on Mueller’s probe. Political pundits suggested that meant Flynn’s camp had brokered a plea deal.
In March, Flynn’s attorney said his client wanted to talk, in exchange for immunity, saying, “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit.” Trump had responded, via Twitter, that “Michael Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!”
In addition to being probed by the FBI, Flynn’s ties to Russia were among the things being investigated both by the House and Senate intel committees as they too looked into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race. Trump’s tweet notwithstanding, they are bipartisan committees headed by Republicans.