Donald Trump insists ‘no collusion’ after Michael Flynn admits lying to FBI and agrees to co-operate with Russia probe

'There’s been absolutely no collusion, so we’re very happy,' the president says

Chris Stevenson
New York
Saturday 02 December 2017 15:26 GMT
Michael Flynn: Fired Trump adviser's pleads guilty to Russia investigation charge

President Donald Trump has said that there was “absolutely no collusion” between his election campaign and Russia, in his first comments over a guilty plea by his former national security adviser Michael Flynn in connection with the Russia investigation.

Mr Flynn pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to the FBI about his contact with then-Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak about sanctions and a UN vote over Israel, and had agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign team.

“What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion,” Mr Trump spoke as he departed the White House to head to New York for political fundraisers expected to raise millions of dollars. “There’s been absolutely no collusion, so we’re very happy".

However, critics jumped on a later tweet that Mr Trump later sent our saying: "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"

Some have suggested that it amounted to an admission that Mr Trump knew that Mr Flynn - who was interviewed by the FBI on 24 January - was lying before the national security adviser was forced to resign on 13 February, having been said to have given inaccurate statements about his interactions with Mr Kislyak to Vice President Pence. Some, including California Democrat Representative Ted Lieu, suggested that the tweet could show obstruction of justice, with former FBI director James Comey alleging during testimony to Congress that Mr Trump had subsequently suggested he drop the investigation into Mr Flynn. That suggestion - which lawyers for Mr Trump have denied the president making - was alleged to have taken place on 14 February during a meeting at the White House.

The White House has sought to play doen the tweet, with White House Counsel John Dowd saying that the tweet "simply paraphrases" a statement issued on Friday by Ty Cobb, a White House attorney, which said Mr Flynn’s guilty plea implicated him alone.

“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” Mr Cobb said. The statement added that “entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI. The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year.“

The Washington Post reported that the tweet was potentially drafted by Mr Dowd, while they also quoted unnamed administration officials that called the tweet simply "sloppy" and "unfortunate".

Mr Flynn is the first official within the Trump administration to be charged in relation to the investigation, but is the fourth person connected to the Trump campaign.

In October, Mr Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his associate Rick Gates, were charged with 12 counts of financial crimes related to their work in Ukraine. All of which they denied. At the same time, Mr Mueller revealed foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia-linked individuals – a similar charge that Mr Flynn admitted to as part of the plea deal.

The federal probe led by Mr Mueller had started as an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, but expanded to include possible collusion between Trump officials and Russia. The investigation was originally led by Mr Comey, before he was fired by Mr Trump in May.

But, Mr Flynn’s plea agreement is a milestone for Mr Mueller’s team, that brings the investigation into the White House and shines the spotlight on other members of Mr Trump’s transition team as he moved into the White House.

Under a plea bargain deal, Mr Flynn admitted in a Washington court on Friday that he lied when asked by FBI investigators about his conversations with Mr Kislyak in December 2016, in the weeks before Mr Trump took office.

Prosecutors said that on 29 December, the two men discussed US sanctions against Russia, which former President Barack Obama had just imposed over the alleged election meddling by the Kremlin. In another communication on 22 December Mr Flynn also asked Mr Kislyak to help delay or vote down a UN vote over condemnation of settlement building seen as damaging to Israel.

Court papers made public as part of Mr Flynn’s plea deal make clear that senior officials for Mr Trump’s transition were fully aware of Mr Flynn’s contact with Russian officials, and helped to direct those communications.

They said a “very senior member” of Mr Trump’s transition team had told Mr Flynn to contact Russia and other foreign governments to try to influence them ahead of the UN vote. The official was not named in court papers, but a number of reports in the US media have suggested it is Jared Kushner, a senior White House adviser and the president’s son-in-law. It is believed that Mr Kushner was one of a number of transition team officials who were active in looking to react to the UN vote.

Mr Kushner’s legal team has previously said that Mr Kushner has voluntarily cooperated with all relevant inquiries and would continue to do so.

On 29 December, Mr Flynn asked Mr Kislyak to refrain from escalating a diplomatic dispute with Washington over the sanctions, and later falsely told FBI officials that he did not make that request, the court documents show.

Prosecutors said Flynn had earlier consulted with a “senior member” of Trump’s presidential transition team about what to communicate to the Russian ambassador, adding that Mr Flynn then called the Trump official again to recount the conversation with Mr Kislyak.

They did not name the senior official in the Trump team, but US media reports identified former adviser KT McFarland as the person.

Mr Flynn had been an enthusiastic supporter of Mr Trump during the campaign and the president continued to praise him even after he left the administration, saying Mr Flynn had been treated “very, very unfairly” by the news media.

In Russia, where legislators have been watching the case with interest, Senator Alexey Pushkov said Mr Flynn’s case was being “hyped”.

“In the United States they continue to inflate a ‘sack of smoke’, ” he tweeted. “Now they are hyping up the ... empty ‘Flynn case’.”

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