Trump lawyer says president knew Flynn had given FBI the same account he gave to vice president

 In U.S.
President Trump’s personal lawyer said Sunday that the president knew in late January that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had probably given FBI agents the same inaccurate account he provided to Vice President Pence about a call with the Russian ambassador.

Trump lawyer John Dowd said the information was passed to Trump by White House counsel Donald McGahn, who had been warned about Flynn’s statement to the vice president by a senior Justice Department official. The vice president said publicly at the time that Flynn had told him he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian diplomat — a statement disproved by a U.S. intelligence intercept of a phone call between Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Trump was aware of the issue a couple of weeks before a conversation with then-FBI Director James B. Comey in which Comey said the president asked him if he could be lenient while investigating Flynn, whom Trump had just fired for misleading Pence about the nature of his conversations with the Russian.

According to notes kept by Comey, Trump asked if he could see “his way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Trump fired Comey in May.

In a pre-dawn tweet Sunday, Trump issued a fresh rebuttal to Comey, writing: “I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!” The tweet was part of a running commentary from Trump that began Saturday, a day after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and indicated he would cooperate with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 election.

President Trump’s denials about former national security adviser Michael Flynn are raising new questions about obstruction of justice, and lawmakers weighed in on Dec. 3. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Trump’s Saturday tweets stoked controversy, as he wrote that “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI.” Previously, the White House had cited only the false statements to Pence as a rationale for dismissing Flynn.

Dowd confirmed Sunday that he had drafted the tweet for Trump and acknowledged that it was sloppily worded. He said it was inaccurate to say the president was told that Flynn had lied to the FBI. Dowd said Sunday that Trump knew only what acting attorney general Sally Yates had told the White House counsel: that Flynn’s accounts to the agents interviewing him were the same as those Flynn gave Pence, and “that the [Justice] Department was not accusing him of lying.”

People familiar with Yates’s account say she never discussed any part of the FBI investigation with the White House.

Dowd played down the significance of Trump’s tweet. He said he did not intend to make news and declared, “I’m out of the tweeting business.”

But several legal experts said the tweet, and some of Dowd’s comments about what the president may have known, could increase the president’s legal exposure.

If Trump knew that Flynn might not have been accurate with the FBI, it could provide motivation for any alleged effort to obstruct justice, said Barak Cohen, a former federal prosecutor who does white-collar defense work at the Perkins Coie law firm. “It bolsters the intent for committing obstruction,” he said.

With the term whirling around Washington, a former federal prosecutor explains what to know about the criminal charge of obstruction of justice. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Even if Dowd wrote the tweet, Cohen said, “if President Trump sends it, then Trump has adopted it. It’s his statement. . . . The bottom line is the tweet is still bad for Trump — it makes things worse for him.”

A person close to the White House involved in the case termed the Saturday tweet “a screw-up of historic proportions” that has “caused enormous consternation in the White House.”

The person, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, said that White House officials quickly realized the tweet could significantly assist Mueller if he chooses to pursue an obstruction case. The development sparked particular concern because others around Trump were not certain that Trump knew Flynn had made a false statement to the FBI at the time he fired him, the person added.

Democrats were quick to pounce on the development during appearances on Sunday morning’s public affairs shows.

In an interview, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said it looked to her that “what we’re beginning to see is the putting together of a case of obstruction of justice.”

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she based her assessment on the indictment of Flynn on Friday and three other Trump associates previously, as well as the “hyper-frenetic attitude of the White House: the comments every day, the continual tweets.”

“And I see it, most importantly, in what happened with the firing of Director Comey, and it is my belief that that is directly because [Comey] did not agree to lift the cloud of the Russia investigation,” Feinstein said. “That’s obstruction of justice.”

Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Trump should have taken action against Flynn sooner if he knew his then-national security adviser had lied to the FBI.

“Well, if he knew that then, why didn’t he act on it earlier?” Warner said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It raises a whole series of additional questions.”

Flynn, who had been one of Trump’s closest and most trusted aides during the campaign and transition, admitted lying to the FBI about pre-inauguration communications with Kislyak, regarding efforts to blunt the Obama administration’s Russia sanctions and a U.N. resolution on Israel — potential violations of a rarely enforced law.

Dowd told The Post that Trump knew generally that Flynn’s account to the FBI and Pence were similar because of a conversation with McGahn on or about Jan. 26. Dowd said McGahn relayed what he had learned from Yates.

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