From the earliest days of the Donald Trump administration, one question has hung in the background: Who directed Michael Flynn, Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser, to discuss Russia sanctions with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the final days of Barack Obama’s presidency?
We still don’t know the answer. But we might be about to find out.
On Friday, Flynn pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI about the content of his December 29, 2016, phone call with Kislyak. As the Washington Post noted, Flynn’s guilty plea shows that “he is cooperating in the ongoing probe of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.”
ABC News further reports that Flynn appears willing to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in its ongoing investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Per ABC, Flynn is “prepared to testify that that [then-candidate Trump] ordered him to make contact with the Russians, which contradicts all that Donald Trump has said at this point.”
JUST IN: @BrianRoss on @ABC News Special Report: Michael Flynn promised "full cooperation to the Mueller team" and is prepared to testify that as a candidate, Donald Trump "directed him to make contact with the Russians." https://t.co/aiagnvr8eS pic.twitter.com/r8u2LWAd0O
— ABC News (@ABC) December 1, 2017
While the decision follows an indictment of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and another guilty plea from former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, Flynn’s guilty plea presents the clearest link between potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by the president, said Trump claimed that Flynn “hadn’t done anything wrong” in his conversations with the Russians. The president, according to Comey, also asked Flynn to “let this go,” referring to the FBI’s inquiries into Flynn’s interactions with Russian officials.
The charge itself illustrates how, specifically, Flynn lied to the FBI, four days after Trump’s inauguration. According to the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Flynn lied about asking Kislyak to “refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia” in late December. It remains unclear why Flynn made the request.
Those sanctions, authorized by the Obama Administration, expelled some 35 Russian intelligence operatives and shuttered a pair of U.S.-based Russian compounds – all in response to Russian interference in the U.S. presidential campaign. However, in a move that surprised many at the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin opted not to respond to the sanctions, saying the Kremlin would refrain from “any further steps” at the time.
Immediately thereafter, Trump took to Twitter to praise the Russian president for his decision.
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016
Given Flynn’s plea deal — and the fact that he appears willing to testify that he was directed by Trump to contact the Russians — signs increasingly point to the Trump campaign deciding to attempt to finalize some kind of deal with Moscow while the president was still a private citizen, undercutting the Obama administration.
Mueller doc clearly implies Trump team, Kremlin cut deal BEFORE inauguration on how Moscow would respond to Obama sanctions, expulsions of Russian diplomats https://t.co/RxbdpUVfDD
— Andrew S. Weiss (@andrewsweiss) December 1, 2017
Trump has long stood by his decision to hire Flynn, and even referred to revelations that Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the content of his calls with Kislyak — opening up Flynn to possible blackmail –as “fake.” According to the Washington Post, Trump has even expressed regret at his decision to let Flynn go, which finally came a full two weeks after the revelations that Flynn had lied to Pence. Likewise, Jared Kushner was “very supportive” of Trump’s decision to bring Flynn on as national security adviser, per POLITICO. Russian officials also targeted Flynn as a means of influencing Trump, according to CNN.
The plea is, of course, just the latest in two years of bizarre interactions Flynn has maintained with Russia. Two years ago, Flynn agreed to be paid more than $45,000 from RT to fly to Moscow to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the Kremlin-funded propaganda network. He sat at a table with Putin and Jill Stein – effectively kicking off a 24-month stretch of continued pro-Kremlin moves, resulting, today, in the clearest evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin we’ve yet seen.