Washington: US President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about his conversations with Russia’s then-ambassador to the US.
Flynn, who served in Donald Trump’s administration for just 24 days before being forced to resign for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his Russia contacts, could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
In a hearing before US District Judge Rudolph Contreras at a Washington federal courthouse on Friday, Flynn admitted he made false statements to the FBI about his contacts with then Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, Efe news reported.
He also promised to cooperate with Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.
Flynn appeared in court after Mueller said in a court document filed on Thursday that the ex-national security adviser “did willfully and knowingly make materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI when questioned in January 2017 in Washington, about his contacts with Russian officials.
The retired US Army Lieutenant General was specifically accused of lying about a conversation he had with Kislyak concerning sanctions that then-US President Barack Obama imposed on Russia in late December 2016.
The sanctions were ordered in response to “aggressive harassment of US officials and cyber operations aimed at the US election,” Obama said in a statement on December 29, 2016.
Among other things, Obama’s State Department shut down two Russian compounds — in Maryland and New York — “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and declared 35 Russian intelligence operatives persona non grata.
Flynn was forced to resign in February after intelligence leaks showed he had lied to Pence and other senior US government officials about his conversations with Kislyak in late December, when Trump was still president-elect.
Flynn had told Pence and other White House officials that he had merely spoken to the then-Russian ambassador about their winter holidays when in reality the two men had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions against Moscow.
In the court document, Mueller says Flynn made false statements to FBI agents when he denied asking the Russian ambassador in December 2016 to “refrain from escalating the situation” in response to the sanctions.
The charges against Flynn stem from Mueller’s months-long investigation into purported Russian meddling to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, including hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee, and into any possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Trump’s victory in the November 8, 2016, balloting came after the disclosure by WikiLeaks of e-mails from the DNC and from the chairman of Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, John Podesta.
Flynn’s pledge to cooperate with Mueller could lead to further charges, but an attorney for Trump, Ty Cobb, said no one else was affected by this latest development.
“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year,” Cobb said.
“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than 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.”