- Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
- Michael Flynn has acknowledged that a senior Trump transition official directed him to contact Russian officials last December.
- Flynn, then the incoming national security adviser, called transition officials at Mar-a-Lago on December 29 shortly before speaking with Russia’s ambassador to the US at the time, Sergey Kislyak, federal prosecutors say.
- Flynn pleaded guilty on Friday to making false statements about the nature of his conversations with Kislyak.
Federal prosecutors said in court on Friday that the former national security adviser Michael Flynn called senior transition officials at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on December 29.
The purpose of the call, the prosecutors say, was to discuss what Flynn would say to Russia’s ambassador to the US at the time, Sergey Kislyak, about sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama on Russia that day.
As part of a plea deal, Flynn has told the federal government that a senior member of the transition team directed him to contact Russian officials last December.
The government did not disclose the identity of the transition official.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was a senior member of the transition team and had met with both Flynn and Kislyak earlier that month at Trump Tower. Kushner is a focus of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election and whether any Trump associates played a part.
Trump was also at Mar-a-Lago on December 29, raising questions about whether he was involved in telling the Russians to hold off on retaliating, on the promise that the sanctions would be reviewed once Trump took office.
“Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” Trump tweeted on December 30.
The Washington Post reported in February that Flynn had spoken to Kislyak about sanctions during the transition. Asked about that report at the time, Trump said: “I don’t know about it. I haven’t seen it … I’ll look at that.”
Flynn was asked to resign shortly after, though Trump continued to defend him as a “wonderful man” who had been treated “very unfairly.”
Flynn asked Kislyak to ‘refrain from escalating the situation’
A charging document filed by Mueller’s office on Friday says Flynn asked Kislyak “to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia that same day.”
Kislyak later told Flynn that “Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of his request,” the document says.
Flynn pleaded guilty on Friday to making false statements to the FBI about those conversations. He had told federal investigators that he did not speak to Kislyak about the sanctions and did not recall Kislyak telling him that Russia would moderate its response.
On December 30, one day after Flynn spoke to the transition officials and Kislyak, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would not retaliate.
“We will not create problems for US diplomats,” Putin said in a statement. “We will not expel anybody.”
The revelation sheds new light on the White House’s reaction – or lack thereof – in January when the acting attorney general at the time, Sally Yates, told the White House counsel, Don McGahn, that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his calls with Kislyak.
Yates testified earlier this year that she warned McGahn so that he “could take action” amid concerns Flynn could be subject to blackmail by Russians.
“The first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself,” Yates said in her testimony. “We told him we felt like the vice president and others were entitled to know that the information that they were conveying to the American people wasn’t true.”
She added: “We told him … we were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and, additionally, that we weren’t the only ones that knew all of this.”
Flynn is cooperating with Mueller
Flynn said in a statement on Friday that he was “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,” he said. “I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
Ty Cobb, the White House special counsel who has been representing Trump in the Russia investigation, characterized Flynn as “a former Obama administration official” in a statement on Friday.
He added: “The false statements involved mirror the false statements to the White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.”