Former US national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to making false statements to the FBI, the first plea by any of the four former Trump advisers charged so far in a wide-ranging investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Flynn also agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s probe, which focuses on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible coordination between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign aimed at sending the Republican businessman to the White House.
The guilty plea makes the retired Army lieutenant general the first person to have actually worked in the Trump White House to face formal charges in the investigation, which is examining possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
US District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras said during Flynn’s plea hearing that the former national security adviser is cooperating with the government in the wide-ranging investigation led by Mueller, and that the government will decide how effectively Flynn is cooperating as part of a plea agreement.
Flynn didn’t speak in court, other than to say he would plead guilty.
In a statement, Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general said he accepted responsibility for his actions and added: “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.”
As part of a plea deal, Flynn admitted that a senior member of the Trump transition team directed him to make contact with Russian officials in December 2016.
The government did not reveal the identity of the senior transition official.
White House lawyer Ty Cobb sought to distance the plea from Trump himself, saying, “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.”
Flynn has been under investigation for a wide range of allegations, including lobbying work on behalf of Turkey, but the fact that he was charged only with a single count of false statements suggests he is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation in exchange for leniency.
Early on, Trump had taken a particular interest in the status of the Flynn investigation. Former FBI Director James Comey has said Trump had asked him in a private Oval Office meeting to consider ending the investigation. The White House has denied that assertion.
Flynn, who was interviewed by the FBI just days after Trump’s inauguration, was forced to resign in February after White House officials said he had misled them about whether he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. Administration officials said Flynn had not discussed sanctions that had been imposed on Russia in part over election meddling. In charging Flynn, prosecutors made clear they believe that claim to be false.
A plea hearing is scheduled for 10:30 am EST before US District Judge Rudolph Contreras.
Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Mueller’s team announced charges last month against three other Trump campaign officials, former chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, and a former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos.
Signs of Flynn cooperating with Mueller’s team surfaced in the past week, as his lawyers told the legal team they could no longer discuss information about the case with them. Scheduled grand jury testimony regarding Flynn was also postponed by prosecutors.
The two-page charging document makes reference to two separate conversations with Kislyak, and two separate false statements prosecutors say he made regarding that communication.
Besides a Dec. 29 conversation about sanctions, prosecutors also cite an earlier December meeting, in which Flynn asked Kislyak to delay or defeat a UN Security Council resolution. That appears to refer to the body’s vote a day later to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
In a striking rupture with past practice, the Obama administration refrained from vetoing the condemnation, opting instead to abstain. The rest of the 15-nation council, including Russia, voted unanimously against Israel.
At the time, Israel was lobbying furiously against the resolution and President-elect Trump’s team spoke up on behalf of the Jewish state. Trump personally called Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to press the case against the condemnation, and Egypt surprisingly postponed the scheduled showdown on Dec. 22—the same day Flynn met Kislyak.
After more procedural wrangling, the vote occurred a day later.
Trump almost immediately condemned the UN result via Twitter.