Five reasons Michael Flynn's guilty plea is such a big deal
A member of President Donald Trump's transition team says Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is the very senior transition official referenced in court papers filed in the Michael Flynn case who directed Flynn to contact Russia on a U.N. vote. AP
WASHINGTON — Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty Friday to a charge that while serving in the White House, he lied to FBI agents about prior contacts with Russia’s ambassador.
Here's why that is such a big deal:
Flynn's plea represents the first time that the Russia investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, has penetrated Trump's inner circle.
Flynn was a close adviser to President Trump, both in the White House and as part of the Trump campaign. The president cannot dismiss Flynn as a low-level aide or as someone he hardly knew.
Flynn served as the president's national security adviser until he resigned in February after admitting that he misled Vice President Pence and other White House officials about his communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Before becoming national security adviser, Flynn was a top adviser and high-profile surrogate for Trump during his presidential campaign. He famously led attendees at the Republican National Convention in a chant of "lock her up" — referring to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The only other person to plead guilty so far in the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller is George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign that Trump dismissed in a tweet as a "low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar."
Papadopoulos, like Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Unlike Flynn, Papadopoulos never worked in the White House.
In addition to Papadopoulos, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign associate Rick Gates have been charged in connection with Mueller's investigation, but not for actions taken while working for Trump. The indictment against them alleges that the pair worked for the government of Ukraine from at least 2006 to 2015 but did not register as lobbyists for a foreign government as required by law. It also alleges that they laundered money that they received for their work as lobbyists. The two men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Flynn's guilty plea is an ominous sign for the White House, because it means that he is cooperating with Mueller's investigation and could be giving prosecutors evidence against others.
Prosecutors said in court Friday that Flynn had agreed to cooperate with authorities. However, White House lawyer Ty Cobb said Friday that nothing about Flynn's guilty plea "implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn."
Flynn says he coordinated with the president's transition team
At least some of Flynn's contacts with Russian officials had been coordinated with a "senior official of the presidential transition," according to court documents Flynn signed.
Trump, like all incoming presidents, created a transition team to advise him between the Nov. 8 election and his Jan. 20 inauguration.
Prosecutors charged that Flynn lied to agents about a Dec. 29 conversation with Kislyak about how Russia might respond to sanctions the U.S. government had levied over its election meddling. Shortly after that call with Kislyak, Flynn placed a call to a "senior official of the presidential transition" at Trump's private Mar-a-Lago resort, one of Mueller's prosecutors, Brandon Van Grack, said. Then Flynn called the Russian ambassador again, prosecutors said.
Flynn is being prosecuted for lying about something that happened after Trump was elected president rather than something that happened during the campaign.
In the court filing made public Friday, prosecutors allege that Flynn “did willfully and knowingly make materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to FBI agents during a Jan. 24 interview about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump took office.
Flynn has admitted he falsely told FBI agents that he did not ask Kislyak to delay a vote on a pending United Nations Security Council resolution when the two men spoke in December — when Trump was the president-elect. Flynn's interview with the FBI agents came just four days after Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration.
According to court documents, Flynn and Kislyak discussed an upcoming U.N. Security Council vote on whether to condemn Israel for building settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. Flynn asked Kislyak to delay the vote even though the Obama administration, which was still running the government at the time, was planning to allow it to take place.
Trump allegedly asked former FBI Director James Comey to back off an investigation of Flynn.
Flynn, whom Trump continued to praise even after firing him, was so important to the president that Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation of Flynn's ties to Russia, according to Comey's public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June.
Comey said he was fired after he continued to pursue the investigation against Flynn as part of an overall probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Trump has denied Comey's accusation, but Mueller is reportedly looking into it as part of an investigation into whether Trump may have committed obstruction of justice.
Contributing: Brad Heath, Gregory Korte