US President Donald Trump has declared that Michael Flynn’s actions contacts with Russian officials after the election in 2016 were “lawful” in the wake of his former national security advisers guilty plea for lying to the FBI.
Mr Flynn was the first member of Mr Trump’s administration to plead guilty to a crime uncovered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging federal investigation into Russian attempts to influence the presidential election and possible collusion by Trump campaign officials. Mr Flynn – who spent three decades in the military – has agreed to cooperate with the investigation as part of a plea agreement.
“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies,” Mr Trump said on Twitter. “It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”
Mr Flynn was only in his White House position for 24 days, having been forced to resign after he was said to have “misled” Vice President Mike Pence over his conversations with Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.
As part of a agreement with investigators in the Russia probe, Mr Flynn pleaded guilty in a Washington DC courtroom on Friday to one count of making false statements to the FBI over his contact with Mr Kislyak in December – just weeks before Mr Trump took office.
The pair were said to have discussed US sanctions against Russia on 29 December, on the same day that former President Barack Obama imposed new sanctions on Moscow over the election meddling – in an apparent effort to undermine Mr Obama’s actions. Mr Obama had warned Mr Trump against hiring Mr Flynn – who worked as Defense Intelligence Agency chief during his administration – shortly after the presidential election.
Mr Flynn asked Mr Kislyak to refrain from escalating a diplomatic dispute with Washington over the sanctions, and later falsely told FBI officials that he did not make that request, court documents released after Mr Flynn’s guilty plea, show. The following day, President Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow would not retaliate against the United States for its latest round of sanctions, a move subsequently praised by Mr Trump as “very smart”.
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According to prosecutors, on 22 December, Mr Flynn discussed with Mr Kislyak an upcoming United Nations Security Council vote on whether to condemn Israel’s building of settlements and called on him to help delay or defeat the motion. Mr Flynn then falsely told the FBI he dd not ask Mr Kislyak to do so.
The guilty plea by Mr Flynn brings the Mueller investigation into the White House, although three other campaign officials have been charged with offences, and one has pleaded guilty. It is a milestone for Mr Mueller’s investigation that has turned the spotlight onto to other Trump transition officials.
According to the court documents, Mr Flynn said he had consulted with a “senior member” of Trump’s presidential transition team before the 29 December call, about what to communicate to the Russian ambassador about sanctions and that that Mr Flynn then called the Trump official, identified in US media reports as KT McFarland, again to recount the conversation with Mr Kislyak.
The documents also say that Mr Flynn was “directed” by a “very senior member” of Trump’s transition team to contact Russia and other foreign governments to try to influence them ahead of the UN vote.
Multiple reports suggest that the “very senior” official was Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser and the president’s son-in-law. Mr Kusheris believed to be one of a number of officials that had been looking at the UN vote.
On Friday, the White House to keep Mr Trump away from the plea with White House lawyer Ty Cobb issuing a statement saying: “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Flynn.”
Mr Flynn accepted responsibility for his actions in a written statement, though he said he had also been subjected to false accusations of treason.
“My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country,” he said.
Mr Trump broke his silence on the matter on his departed the White House on Saturday morning for a number of fundraisers in New York, before following up with the tweet later.
“What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion,“ Mr Trump said outside the White House. ”There’€™s been absolutely no collusion, so we’re very happy”.