WASHINGTON — President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty on Friday morning to a charge of making false statements to the FBI. Flynn also indicated he plans to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Mueller filed the charges against Flynn on Thursday in a three-paragraph “information” that leaves many questions about Flynn’s activities unanswered.
Flynn, a retired general, could face up to five years in prison. He is the fourth figure from Trump’s presidential campaign to face charges, and there are indications that he may be cooperating with prosecutors in the broader Russia probe.
In a statement released by his attorney’s office shortly after he made the plea, Flynn claimed he has faced “false accusations” of “treason.” However, he also acknowledged that the actions he pleaded guilty to were “wrong” and indicated that his guilty plea was part of an “agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s Office.”
“After over 33 years of military service to our country, including nearly five years in combat away from my family, and then my decision to continue to serve the United States, it has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of ‘treason’ and other outrageous acts. Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done and stood for. But I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right,” said Flynn.
Flynn described his decision to cooperate with prosecutors as one that was made “in the best interests of my family and of our country.”
“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” he said.
A Flynn confidant said the retired general promised “full cooperation” in the probe, ABC News reported, and that he is prepared to testify that Trump asked him to make contact with the Russians.
The law firm indicated Flynn and his attorney, Robert Kelner, would not make further public statements about the plea.
Flynn, a retired general, was accused of making a pair of false statements about conversations he had with Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the transition period before the inauguration. A top adviser to Trump’s campaign, Flynn was appointed national security adviser days after Trump’s election in November 2016. According to the criminal information filed by Mueller and his assistants in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, took place the following month, as he worked with Trump’s transition team.
The information said Flynn spoke to FBI agents on Jan. 24, 2017, four days after Trump took office and he officially became national security adviser. During that interview, Flynn allegedly lied about discussions he had with Kislyak about U.S. sanctions on Russia and a U.N. Security Council resolution.
According to the document, Flynn spoke to Kislyak on Dec. 29, the day the outgoing Obama administration issued sanctions to respond to Russia’s alleged intervention in the election. Mueller and his team said Flynn falsely said he “did not ask” Kislyak to “refrain from escalating the situation.” Mueller and his team also said Flynn spoke to Kislyak last Dec. 22. Flynn allegedly falsely told FBI agents that he did not ask the Russian ambassador to “delay the vote on or defeat a pending United Nations Security Council resolution.”
The charging documents were made public on Friday morning. Shortly afterwards, the White House referred questions about the charges to Ty Cobb, the lawyer who is handling for the Trump administration issues related to the Russia investigation. The White House subsequently released a statement from Cobb in which he emphasized the fact that Flynn spent a little over three weeks in the Trump administration before being fired from his post as national security adviser, after it was revealed that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Kislyak.
“Today, Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser at the White House for 25 days during the Trump administration, and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI,” Cobb said, adding, “The false statements involved mirror the false statements to 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. The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”
Flynn has been the subject of intense scrutiny for months. In addition to the concerns about his communications with Kislyak, Flynn has faced questions about whether he failed to declare lobbying work he did for the Turkish government and whether he worked with Istanbul on a plot to hand over a Turkish dissident who is living in the United States. Flynn’s meeting with Turkish representatives allegedly took place last December during the presidential transition and involved his son, Michael Flynn Jr. Flynn’s son was also implicated in the payments from the Turkish government, since he worked in his father’s consulting business.
Legal experts have speculated that the potential for charges against Flynn’s son could give prosecutors leverage against him. Flynn was spared the more serious charges he could have faced for failing to register his work with Turkey or for negotiating with the Russian ambassador while he was still a private citizen.
The deal between Flynn and prosecutors is a major development as the Russia probe heats up and has ensnared several Trump allies. Last month, Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was indicted along with a longtime associate on charges including making false statements to investigators and acting as unregistered foreign agents on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of the Ukraine, who was closely allied with the Kremlin. A lower-level former campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, was also charged with making false statements to the FBI about his outreach to Russia during the presidential campaign. Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty.
In a report released in January, the U.S. intelligence community said the Russian government had interfered in last year’s presidential election to help Trump against his rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump and his administration have repeatedly denied that he had any involvement with Russia’s efforts. The White House has also sought to distance Trump from the former aides who have faced criminal charges.
This story was updated at 11:55 a.m. with the statements from Flynn and Cobb.
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