Former Trump adviser Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to the FBI

The former national security adviser has reportedly promised "full cooperation" to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

(CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
(CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

On Friday morning, former national security adviser Michael Flynn was taken into federal custody for making false statements to the FBI. It’s the latest stunning twist in the ongoing Russia investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

According to court documents, Flynn has been charged with “willfully and knowingly” making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI regarding his conversations with senior Russian diplomat and former ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak.

CBS News reported that Flynn turned himself in on Friday morning and was subsequently processed and scheduled for a federal court hearing before U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras at 10:30 a.m. ET, where he pleaded guilty.

According to the court filing, Flynn lied when he told authorities on January 24 that he had not spoken with Kislyak about Russian sanctions implemented by the Obama administration a month earlier in December 2016, in retaliation for suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Specifically, authorities said, Flynn covered up the fact that he had asked Kislyak not to escalate the situation, promising the Russian ambassador that the Trump administration would “revisit [the sanctions] at a later time”, one former official said.

Flynn previously denied having spoken with Kislyak about the U.S. sanctions, telling Vice President Mike Pence that did not come up in their conversations. Pence later repeated the claim in an interview on national television. Flynn resigned under pressure on February 14, after it was revealed that he had misled Pence.

“He didn’t tell the vice president of the United States the facts and then he didn’t remember, and that’s just not acceptable,” Trump stated at the time. “I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence.”

However, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified in May that the White House had been aware of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador as early as January 26. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Yates stated that she had met with White House Counsel Donald McGahn that day and informed him that “Gen. Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.” Yates testified that she had warned the White House and a senior Justice Department official that Flynn could be blackmailed.

Trump fired Yates only a handful of days later, on January 30. Her firing came three days after a private dinner with then-FBI Director James Comey, during which Trump demanded Comey pledge his loyalty to him. (Comey declined, offering “honesty” instead.)

The charges filed on Friday also specified that Flynn had lied about his request that the Russian ambassador delay or defeat a U.N. security council resolution on December 22, though it did not specify to which resolution Flynn had been referring. According to The New York Times, the resolution in question was a vote on “whether to condemn Israel’s building of settlements.”

The Times report added that Mueller’s investigators have since learned “through witnesses and documents” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu previously asked the Trump campaign to help “lobby other countries” for assistance. Two sources briefed on the inquiry told the outlet that Flynn and White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, had been tasked with leading that effort. According to the report, “Mr. Mueller’s team has emails that show Mr. Flynn saying he would work to kill the vote” — a direct contradiction to what he told investigators in January.

Flynn has previously found himself in hot water for failing to disclose payments he received from foreign governments while working for the Trump campaign.

In September 2016, Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, was hired by a company that had ties to the Turkish government, and hired on researchers to investigate Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blamed for an attempted coup that same year. On Election Day, November 8, Flynn authored an op-ed column for The Hill, in which he condemned Gulen as a “radical” and argued that the United States “should not provide him safe haven.”

“Gülen portrays himself as a moderate, but he is in fact a radical Islamist,” Flynn wrote. “[…] If he were in reality a moderate, he would not be in exile, nor would he excite the animus of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government.”

According to a March report by the Wall Street Journal, which quoted former CIA head James Woolsey, Flynn at one point also discussed with Turkish officials the hypothetical possibility of “removing [Gulen] from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey.” The outlet described the plan as an “open-ended thinking on the subject” rather than a detailed plot. Flynn denied the report in a statement through his lawyer.

Flynn eventually registered as a foreign agent in March, less than a month after resigning his post as national security adviser. In his paperwork, he noted that his lobbying group had received $530,000 for work that “principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”

The mounting evidence against Flynn came to a head on November 23, when a New York Times report revealed Flynn’s attorneys had cut ties with White House lawyers, notifying the president’s team that they “could no longer discuss” the Russia investigation. It was the first conclusive sign that the former national security adviser had begun cooperating with Mueller on a possible deal to assist the Special Counsel in exchange for a lesser charge.

At the time, Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, insisted in a statement that “no one should draw the conclusion that this means anything about General Flynn cooperating against the president.”

On Friday, however, an ABC report claimed that Flynn, in the wake of his guilty plea, was “prepared to testify that Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians, initially as a way to work together to fight ISIS in Syria.” The report added that Flynn had promised Mueller’s investigators “full cooperation.”

Flynn is the fourth Trump associate to be charged in relation to the Mueller investigation. Earlier in October, Trump campaign official Rick Gates and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort were indicted on 12 counts, including “conspiracy against the U.S.” Former adviser George Papadopoulos also pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his attempts to arrange a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

Flynn faces a $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison. According to Washington Examiner reporter Steven Nelson, Judge Contreras stated on Friday that the government may call for “less than sentencing guidelines ‘if and only if’ he provides substantial assistance ‘in the prosecution of another person.'”