Former US national security adviser Michael Flynn is cooperating with investigators and has admitted to lying to the FBI. Prosecutors said a "very senior member" of Trump's transition team directed him to contact Russia.
- Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to misleading the FBI on Russia conversations
- Flynn is now cooperating with investigators
- Flynn says he was acting on transition team orders and superiors had full knowledge
US President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn said Trump's transition team had directed him to make contact with Russia before the new administration took power, prosecutors said in court on Friday. This would contradict White House accounts that he was acting on his own initiative and had misled his superiors about the content of two conversations with Russia's ambassador at the time.
Flynn appeared in court on Friday to plead guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his conversations with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, which pertained to Obama administration sanctions on Moscow and a United Nations Security Council vote on Israeli settlements.
Flynn was sacked by the White House for supposedly misleading Vice President Mike Pence, who lead the transition team, about those conversations.
But on Friday, a prosecutor said in court that a "very senior member" of Trump's transition team directed Flynn to make contact with the Russian ambassador in December 2016, and that Flynn kept at least two of his superiors abreast of the talks.
Multiple US outlets, including NBC, The Washington Post and Bloomberg, reported that Flynn's testimony will name Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner as the unnamed person who directed Fynn's meetings. Broadcaster ABC News reported the order to make contact with Russia came directly from Trump himself, citing a Flynn confidant.
White House: Flynn only implicates himself
The White House said that nothing in Flynn's plea implicates anyone in the Trump administration, saying it "clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion of the Russia probe."
"The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year," said White House lawyer Ty Cobb.
If it emerges that Trump had directed Flynn to contact Russian officials, that would not necessarily amount to a crime. However, if it emerges that Trump directed Flynn to lie to the FBI about his contacts, that could be a criminal offense, Reuters reported.
Trump ignored shouted questions from journalists on the issue as he welcomed Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Serraj to the White House on Friday morning, instead waving and giving a thumbs-up. The White House later cancelled a scheduled media appearance for Trump.
In his first post on Twitter for the day, the normally vocal president wrote about speculation over his faltering relationship with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Afterward, his official POTUS Twitter account retweeted various positive messages, including two tweets about his official Christmas tree.
Flynn faced court for a plea hearing in Washington on Friday morning on a single charge of making "false, fictitious and fraudulent representations" to the FBI. The charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, but under a plea deal he could receive six months, or even a suspended sentence.
Flynn said in a statement it was "painful to endure" the "false accusations of 'treason' and other outrageous acts" over the past several months, but that he recognized "that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong."
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the guilty plea represented a "dark moment" in US history.
"All Americans should be alarmed by reports of President Trump's consistent efforts to obstruct the special counsel and Congressional investigations. The American people deserve to know what the president knows about Russian meddling in our election and why he refuses to take action against Russia," she wrote.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said Flynn's guilty plea had great significance.
"This shows a Trump associate negotiating with the Russians against US policy and interests before Donald Trump took office and after it was announced that Russia had interfered in our election," she wrote in a statement.
Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel investigating potential Russian collusion, said lawmakers will want to again interview Trump's son-in-law turned White House adviser.
"There are a number, like Mr. Kushner and others, that we're going to want to invite back," Warner told reporters. He declined to say whether that would include US Vice President Pence.
Most senior figure to be charged
Flynn is the fourth and most senior person to be charged in connection with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russian election meddling investigation.
Images of the court documents were circulated online by US journalists.
Last month, Mueller announced charges against three other Trump campaign officials — former chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, and a former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos.
Trump has repeatedly labeled Mueller's investigation a "witch hunt," and in March said Flynn should claim immunity.
US stocks wobble
The US stock market fell on Friday after reports of Flynn's cooperation emerged. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.9 percent, the broad-based S&P 500 lost 1.0 percent while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 1.4 percent. The markets subsequently recovered most of their losses, but remained in the red.
The news also pushed the euro up and European stocks down.
Flynn's plea came just hours before Republican senators had hoped to pass a wide-reaching tax bill, touted as a significant victory for Trump.
aw/cmk (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)