Ex-US security chief Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to FBI
Flynn lied about meeting with Russian ambassador after Trump became president
Mike Flynn, the former national security adviser to US president Donald Trump, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, in a dramatic development in the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the US election.
Mr Flynn’s guilty plea in a federal court in Washington on Friday marks the fourth charge in the Robert Mueller investigation, but the first to involve someone who worked inside the White House.
Mr Flynn was appointed as the nation’s top security official by Mr Trump in January, but was dismissed less than a month into the job after he was found to have lied about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Significantly, Mr Flynn has now also said he discussed his conversations with the Russian ambassador with an unidentified senior official in the Trump team in December, a claim that suggests the Trump team knew about Mr Flynn’s contacts with Russia.
Several media outlets identified this senior official as Mr Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, though these reports were not confirmed.
In a statement after he appeared in court on Friday, Mr Flynn said he took “full responsibility” for what he had done and said he was co-operating with the FBI. “My guilty plea and agreement to co-operate with the special counsel’s office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country,” he said.
While the development does not unearth any fresh information linking Mr Trump and Russia, the documents in Mr Flynn’s case show an active engagement between him and the Russian ambassador, particularly during the transition period between Mr Trump’s election victory and his inauguration.
Among the most serious revelations is that Russia chose to temper its behaviour towards the United States on advice from Mr Flynn on at least one occasion. According to the court documents, after then president Barack Obama introduced sanctions against Russia in December, Mr Flynn advised Moscow not to escalate the situation.
Mr Kislyak told Mr Flynn that Russia had indeed chosen to “moderate its response”. A day after the sanctions announcement, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would not retaliate against the sanctions, a stance that surprised the international community at the time.
The documents also show that Mr Flynn contacted foreign ambassadors ahead of a key UN Security Council vote on Israel in December – one of the last major policy initiatives of the Obama administration – advising them to delay or vote against the resolution.
Bloomberg reported that Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law, advised Mr Flynn to contact these representatives, though this report was unconfirmed.
There were also unconfirmed reports on Friday that Mr Flynn was prepared to tell investigators that Mr Trump himself directed him to contact Russian officials, a development that would suggest collusion between the US president and Russia during the election. The Russia investigation has dogged Mr Trump since he was elected as the 45th president of the United States in January.
James Comey, the former head of the FBI who has fired by Mr Trump in May, testified to the US senate that Mr Trump had asked him in February to drop an investigation into Mr Flynn.
Mr Trump has previously denounced the Mueller investigation as a “witch-hunt,” and several Republican members of Congress have called on Mr Mueller to resign in recent weeks.
In another development on Friday night, Mr Trump denied media reports that he was about to sack his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. In a tweet, he said this was “fake news!”, adding: “He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!”