President Donald Trump's former national security adviser has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
Michael Flynn was charged with “willfully and knowingly” making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” regarding his meeting with Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, according to court documents. In his plea, Mr Flynn suggested that it was "senior" Trump campaign official that helped direct his communications with the ambassador.
Mr Flynn is the first former Trump administration official to be charged in relation to special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Three former Trump campaign aides have been charged, and one has pleaded guilty.
Mr Flynn's plea could be an ominous sign for a White House shadowed for the past year by investigations, turning Mr Flynn into a potentially key government cooperator as prosecutors examine whether the Trump campaign and Russia worked together to influence the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favour.
Court papers make clear that senior Trump transition officials were fully aware of Flynn's outreach to Russian officials in the weeks before the inauguration.
Prosecutors say Mr Flynn spoke with an unnamed senior Trump transition team official about what, if anything, to say about sanctions that had been imposed on Russia one day earlier by the Obama administration in retaliation for election interference.
The charging document states that Mr Flynn made a false statement to the FBI when he stated that he did not ask Mr Kislyak “to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia that same day; and Mr Flynn did not recall the Russian ambassador subsequently telling him that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of his request.”
Another conversation with Mr Kislyak occurred one week earlier after a “very senior member” of the presidential transition team directed Mr Flynn to contact foreign government officials, including from Russia, about a UN Security Council resolution regarding Israeli settlements, according to . That “very senior member” was identified to AP as Jared Kushner by a former transition official.
Mr Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates were indicted last month on financial crime charges; they pleaded not guilty. And Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty for making a false statement to the FBI over contacts with officials connected to the Russian government.
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