- Thomson Reuters
- President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday that he “had to fire” former national security adviser Michael Flynn because Flynn “lied” to Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI.
- The statement indicates that Trump was aware, when Flynn was forced to resign, that he had lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials.
- The tweet sheds light on Trump’s appeal to former FBI director James Comey to let go of the FBI’s investigation into Flynn, and his subsequent decision to terminate Comey when he did not comply.
President Donald Trump may have just given special counsel Robert Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice investigation an inadvertent boost.
On Saturday, Trump defended his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, following news that Flynn had pled guilty to one count of making false statements to investigators during an interview in January about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the transition period.
“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” the president tweeted on Saturday. “He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”
Flynn was forced to resign as national security adviser in February, when news surfaced that Flynn had spoken to Kislyak about US sanctions on Russia on December 29 – the same day that the sanctions were imposed by President Barack Obama.
‘I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence’
Trump told reporters at the time that he had been forced to fire Flynn because he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations. But the White House gave no indication at the time that it knew Flynn had lied to the FBI in a January interview about those conversations – a federal crime that Flynn pleaded guilty to on Friday.
“I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence,” Trump said during a press conference on February 16.
He continued: “Very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it. I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job.”
Trump’s tweet on Saturday appears to indicate that Trump was aware Flynn had lied to the FBI when he departed the administration in February.
It also seems out of line with what a person close to White House counsel Don McGahn told the New York Times on Friday, which is that when former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned him about Flynn in January, she did not mention that Flynn had committed a federal crime.
If Trump knew that Flynn was in the FBI’s crosshairs when he asked former FBI Director James Comey, whom he later fired, to consider “letting Flynn go” the day after Flynn resigned, that could dramatically bolster the obstruction case federal prosecutors are building against him.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey on February 14, according to Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Comey gave no indication that he would consider Trump’s request. Three months later, Trump abruptly fired Comey, wo was leading the FBI’s Russia investigation at the time.
- Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
Trump is either ‘utterly clueless about his own jeopardy or he truly believes he is beyond accountability’
“I think the obstruction case was already substantial – both circumstantially and through Trump’s own words,” said DOJ veteran and former Assistant Deputy Attorney General Bill Yeomans.
“This tweet certainly contributes to the case. He knew Flynn lied to the FBI when he pressed Comey to drop the case and then fired Comey,” Yeomans said. “Mostly disturbingly, however, the tweet shows either that the president is utterly clueless about his own jeopardy or he truly believes he is beyond accountability because neither his base nor Republicans in Congress will hold him responsible.”
Former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa largely agreed.
“I think if the President knew Flynn had done anything illegal at the time he asked Comey to drop investigation, then yes, it strengthens the [obstruction] case,” she said on Saturday.
“I think it also has to be looked at in the context of both him and others on the campaign simultaneously and blanketly denying any contacts with Russia, when the statement of facts Flynn pled to clearly shows the opposite,” Rangappa added.
“So asking Comey to drop investigation knowing he had lied to FBI, combined with the pattern of lying about the existence and nature of across his campaign evidences a (corrupt) intent to prevent what would be uncovered by the investigation.”
Andy Wright, a former associate counsel to President Barack Obama and Vice President Al Gore, said Trump’s tweet “could be construed as an admission that he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI on January 24.”
“Later that same week, DOJ tells the WH that Flynn is compromised and President Trump tells Jim Comey he ‘needs loyalty.’ Then, on Valentine’s Day, the President asks Comey if the FBI could ‘let Flynn go,'” Wright said. “Having not received the assurances he sought, he fired Comey under the false pretext of Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation. As an obstruction of justice timeline, it looks very bad.”
- George Frey/Getty Images
The White House initially said Comey was fired because of his handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Later, however, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that “this Russia thing” had been a factor in his consideration. He also told Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting one day after firing Comey that dismissing the FBI director had taken “great pressure” off of him.
“Oh my god, he just admitted to obstruction of justice,” tweeted former DOJ spokesman Matt Miller. “If Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI when he asked Comey to let it go, then there is your case.”
“So he knew Flynn had lied, and now he’s admitted it. And of course it’s possible he and Flynn discused it at the time,” Miller later told Business Insider. “Just unreal.”
Did Trump ‘direct Flynn to lie to the FBI?’
Wright noted that Flynn’s guilty plea also raised a “second obstruction question” related to Trump’s tweet: “Did President Trump direct Flynn to lie to the FBI? That would be squarely within the abuses of power the Framers contemplated as they drafted the impeachment clauses.”
According to documents filed by Mueller’s office on Friday, Flynn called a senior member of Trump’s transition team “who was with other senior members of the Presidential Transition Team at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, to discuss what, if anything, to communicate” to Kislyak “about the US Sanctions,” the document says.
Trump was at Mar-a-Lago on December 29. A press-pool report from that day indicates that transition officials at Mar-a-Lago included Stephen Miller, K.T. McFarland, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, and Reince Priebus.
Fox and CBS reported on Friday that it was McFarland who spoke with Flynn about Kislyak on December 29.
But Colin Kahl, a former national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, noted that “incoming Deputy National Security Advisors don’t order their incoming boss what to do … unless they were instructed to do so by someone higher in the chain of command.”
Former NSC spokesman Ned Price agreed.
“KT McFarland’s recent foreign policy bona fides consisted of being a Fox News talking head,” he tweeted. “She wasn’t calling the shots, and certainly not giving her own orders to her putative boss.”