WASHINGTON — Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. — communications that a prosecutor said Flynn had discussed with “a very senior member” of President Donald Trump’s transition team.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said during the plea hearing at the federal courthouse here that Flynn had agreed to provide “substantial assistance for prosecution of another person.”
The guilty plea to a single count of making false statements to the FBI and the public reference to a “very senior member” of the transition team marked the biggest step so far in the investigation headed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller’s prosecutors have been investigating a wide range of potential charges against Flynn.
In a statement issued as he made his plea, Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, said he had wrongly been accused in public of “treason and other outrageous acts.”
“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. 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,” he said. “I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb, downplayed the plea and Flynn’s promise of cooperation. Despite the courtroom statements about another member of the transition team, Cobb said in his statement that “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.”
Cobb also attempted to downplay Flynn’s role in the administration, saying that he was “at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration and a former Obama administration official.”
In fact, however, Flynn was among Trump’s closest advisers throughout his campaign. He was forced to resign from his post as national security adviser, one of the most senior positions in the White House, after The Washington Post disclosed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials about his contacts with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year,” Cobb said.
According to the plea deal, Flynn lied to FBI agents about whether he asked the Russian government in December 2016 to hold off on retaliating against sanctions imposed by then-President Barack Obama for trying to interfere with the election. He also lied about how the Russian government had agreed to “moderate its response.”