WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to a charge that he lied to FBI agents while serving in the White House about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador and is cooperating with investigators.
Flynn didn’t speak in court other than to say he would plead guilty. But prosecutors and U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said in court that, as part of the plea agreement, Flynn has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the wide-ranging investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Later, in a written statement, Flynn said: “I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right. 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.”
The charge and Flynn’s abrupt guilty plea and cooperation are the culmination of an investigation that Trump had once asked the FBI to drop.
Now, an aide who once occupied a position in the president’s inner circle is providing evidence in an investigation that has cast a cloud over Trump’s first year in office.
White House lawyer Ty Cobb said “nothing” about Flynn’s guilty plea “implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” and he dismissed Flynn as having worked in the White House for only 25 days and described him as a “former Obama administration official.”
But Flynn admits in his plea agreement that a senior member of the Trump transition team directed him to make contact with Russian officials in December 2016. The government did not reveal the identity of the senior transition official.
He’s the fourth Trump aide to face criminal charges in Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election but the first to be prosecuted for things that happened after Trump took office.
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After a big upswing on Thursday, stocks turned sharply lower after the ex-Trump adviser pleaded guilty, with investors apparently worried that the developments could spell trouble for the White House and its legislative agenda, including a massive tax overhaul that has been making progress in the Senate.
Small-company stocks — which would benefit the most from corporate tax cuts — fell far more than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index plunged 2.2 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500, a broad measure of large companies, fell 28 points, or 1.1 percent, to 2,619, erasing its gain from Thursday. The Dow Jones industrials lost 237 points, or 1 percent, to 24,036.
In a court filing made public Friday, prosecutors said 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. Prosecutors charged that 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.
Flynn — one of Trump’s closest advisers during his campaign and in the early days of his administration, whose business dealings and foreign interactions made him a central focus of Mueller’s investigation — admitted he “willfully and knowingly” lied when he told the FBI that he had not discussed sanctions with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States during the transition period before Trump’s inauguration.
He was widely known to have been under scrutiny over his contacts with Russian officials before Trump assumed the presidency. He also had faced scrutiny over his business dealings, including $530,000 in earnings from a Dutch firm with ties to the Turkish government, and payment for his 2015 Moscow speech.
As he entered the courthouse in Washington, Flynn looked straight ahead, ignoring shouted questions from reporters.
The guilty plea makes the retired Army lieutenant general and intelligence agency head the first person to have actually worked in the Trump White House to face formal charges in the investigation, which is examining possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
Flynn has been under investigation for a wide range of allegations, including lobbying work on behalf of Turkey. But the fact that he was charged only with a single count of making false statements suggests that he is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation in exchange for leniency.
Early on, Trump had taken a particular interest in the status of the Flynn investigation. Former FBI Director James Comey has said Trump had asked him in a private Oval Office meeting to consider ending the investigation. The White House has denied that assertion.
Flynn, who was interviewed by the FBI just days after Trump’s inauguration, was forced to resign in February after White House officials said he had misled them about whether he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
Administration officials said Flynn had not discussed sanctions that had been imposed on Russia in part over election meddling. In charging Flynn, prosecutors made clear they believe that claim to be false.
Mueller’s team announced charges last month against three other Trump campaign officials: former chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, and a former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos.
Signs of Flynn cooperating with Mueller’s team surfaced in the past week, as his lawyers told the legal team they could no longer discuss information about the case with them. Scheduled grand jury testimony regarding Flynn was also postponed by prosecutors.
The two-page charging document refers to two separate conversations with Kislyak and two separate false statements prosecutors say he made regarding that communication.
Besides a Dec. 29 conversation about sanctions, prosecutors also cite an earlier December meeting in which Flynn asked Kislyak to delay or defeat a U.N. Security Council resolution. That appears to refer to the body’s vote a day later to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
In a striking rupture with past practice, the Obama administration refrained from vetoing the condemnation, opting instead to abstain. The rest of the 15-nation council, including Russia, voted unanimously against Israel.
At the time, Israel was lobbying furiously against the resolution and President-elect Trump’s team spoke up on behalf of the Jewish state. Trump personally called Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to press the case against the condemnation, and Egypt surprisingly postponed the scheduled showdown on Dec. 22 — the same day Flynn met Kislyak.
After more procedural wrangling, the vote occurred a day later.
Trump almost immediately condemned the U.N. result via Twitter. “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” Trump said, referencing his upcoming inauguration.
Michael T. Flynn charged with making false statements by The Watchdogs on Scribd
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