Report

Mike Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI, Is Cooperating on Russia Probe

The former national security adviser was asked by Trump team officials to make contact with the Russians.

Michael Flynn, former national security advisor to U.S.President Donald Trump, leaves following his plea hearing at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 1, 2017 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Michael Flynn, former national security advisor to U.S.President Donald Trump, leaves following his plea hearing at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 1, 2017 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn on Friday pled guilty to felony charges of lying to the FBI while working for the White House, and said a senior Trump transition official told him to make contact with Russia.

That’s a clear indication that Flynn has been giving the U.S. government information about another senior member of Trump’s team, and directly contradicts the administration contention that Flynn “went rogue” when he went to the Russian Ambassador. Sources close to the White House suggested to Foreign Policy and other outlets that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner may have been the transition official directing Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials.

In a Nov. 30 brief, special counsel Robert Mueller alleged that Flynn “did willfully and knowingly make materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and representations” to FBI agents when he was questioned earlier this year. Mueller said Flynn lied about the contents of phone calls during the presidential transition with the Russian ambassador in Washington.

Mueller alleged that Flynn asked Sergey Kislyak on Dec. 29, 2016 to “refrain from escalating the situation” after then-President Barack Obama had imposed additional sanctions on Moscow. Flynn told investigators he did not recall getting a positive response to that call.

Flynn himself did not make the decision to reach out to Kislyak, the special counsel said, but rather was directed to do so by a senior presidential transition official at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Dec. 29 at a meeting with other senior transition officials present. That official, who the government did not name, asked Flynn to tell the ambassador that they “did not want Russia to escalate” in response to the sanctions levied that same day. After making the call, Flynn called that same official to report back.

Two days later, the Russian ambassador called again, letting Flynn know that the Kremlin would not retaliate “in response to his request.”

It’s unclear which senior transition team official is in the crosshairs now, though Flynn is definitely talking to the special counsel as part of his plea arrangement. Vice President Mike Pence led the transition team starting last November, though he claimed in February that Flynn lied to him about his calls to the Russian government.

The White House is already abuzz and pointing fingers.

“I think it was Jared [Kushner] … I heard that months ago,” said one source close to the White House who had conferred with several others, referring to the Trump’s son-in-law. Kushner has come under scrutiny of his own after it was revealed that he had a meeting in June 2016 in New York with a Kremlin-connected lawyer. Kushner also met with representatives of a sanctioned Russian bank in December 2016.

Flynn’s now-infamous phone calls with Kislyak weren’t the only thing he lied about. During the transition, he called representatives of Russia and other countries to gauge their position on a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. “In fact, the defendant then knew that a very senior member” of the president’s team “directed him to call the foreign governments to learn where they sat on the resolution” and ask that they delay or defeat the motion, argued the government. In response to that request, the Russian ambassador promised Russia would not vote for the motion if it came to a vote.

At that time, in addition to Flynn, Jared Kushner was actively lobbying countries such as the United Kingdom to squash the resolution, which was seen by the Trump transition as being too harsh on Israel. Those efforts failed.

In exchange for pleading guilty and waiving his right to a jury trial, Flynn could lessen his sentence, a maximum of five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.

Judge Rudolph Contreras said Flynn made an “agreement” to “cooperate with the U.S. government” and attempt to provide substantial assistance in the investigation into coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, or assistance with prosecuting someone else.

According to a former federal law enforcement officer, Flynn’s plea is the result of working with the government in order to avoid trial. “This is what you charge someone with when they’re cooperating,” he said. It’s the “Martha Stewart” treatment, he continued. Under such an agreement, if he continues to cooperate with Mueller, Flynn would not likely go to jail, and will instead probably just pay the fine.

Jenna McLaughlin is Foreign Policy's intelligence reporter. You can reach her on Signal at 203-537-3949. @JennaMC_Laugh

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