Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to FBI over Russia contacts
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Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US and confirmed he is co-operating with the federal investigation into possible collusion with Moscow.
The retired general is the first person who worked in the Trump White House to be charged by Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Russia probe that has dogged the president since taking office.
Papers filed after Mr Flynn entered his plea in a Washington court on Friday showed that the Mueller probe has moved into Mr Trump’s inner circle. They detailed consultations between Mr Flynn and top Trump aides at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate about contacts Mr Flynn made with Russian officials weeks before the inauguration.
In a statement after his court arraignment in Washington, Mr Flynn said he recognised his actions were “wrong” and he took “full responsibility” for what he had done.
“My guilty plea and agreement to co-operate with the special counsel’s office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country,” he said.
Mr Flynn is the fourth person to be charged by Mr Mueller, who last month indicted Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, on charges including money laundering. Mr Manafort has pleaded not guilty.
Norm Eisen, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who has negotiated with Mr Mueller in legal cases, said Mr Flynn’s plea deal was ominous news for Mr Trump. “There is no way that Mueller gave him this kind of a lenient plea deal without substantial co-operation against somebody who is even more important,” said Mr Eisen. “In reality, there were only a few more people who were more important than Flynn. It has got to mean Jared Kushner, Donald Junior, or someone of that calibre, perhaps even the president himself.”
As part of his plea agreement, Mr Flynn acknowledged that he had been told by a “very senior member of the [Trump] transition team” to attempt to influence a vote at the UN Security Council before Mr Trump’s inauguration. Several US media outlets reported that Mr Kushner, the president’s son-in-law” was the aide in question.
Mr Flynn’s plea carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. But Mr Mueller’s team has asked that he serve only a six-month sentence in exchange for his co-operation. His ultimate prison sentence and fine will be up to a federal judge.
Mr Flynn was ousted as national security adviser after 24 days for lying to vice-president Mike Pence about his conversations with Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. He previously led the Defense Intelligence Agency, but was fired from that role by then-president Barack Obama.
Ty Cobb, the lawyer representing Mr Trump in the Russia probe, said Mr Flynn’s false statements to the FBI mirrored the lies he told White House officials that sparked his dismissal.