Former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to making false statements to the FBI about his conversations with a Russian ambassador and said a senior member of President Donald Trump's transition team knew about the conversations.
Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI earlier about his conversations with then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition period before Trump's inauguration.
In addition, court documents revealed today show Flynn told prosecutors that a senior member of the Trump transition team knew about his contact with Russian officials in December 2016. The government didn't reveal the identity of the senior official.
Initial reports said the senior official directed Flynn's conversations with Russia, but that has not been confirmed.
Court documents released today show Flynn has been charged with a single count of "willfully and knowingly" making false statements to the FBI on Jan. 24.
In a statement, the retired Army lieutenant general said he accepted responsibility for his actions and added: "My guilty plea and agreement to co-operate with the special counsel's office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country."
The guilty plea makes Flynn the first person to have actually worked in the Trump White House to face formal charges in the investigation, which is examining possible co-ordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
Trump has not made a statement today or tweeted about the indictment. The White House cancelled a scheduled opportunity for reporters to question the president. The public White House schedule had said that reporters would be allowed to document part of Trump's meeting with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
During these media events, called "pool sprays," reporters usually pepper the president with questions. Trump often answers, using opportunity to deliver his message directly to voters.
Reporters had been lined up outside the Oval Office, waiting to enter the room, when White House staffers walked them back into the press room. White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters then told them the media event was cancelled. Earlier, Trump ignored shouted questions about Flynn as he greeted the prime minister at the door.
The Libyan leader arrived Friday morning. The White House has said they will discuss reaffirming U.S. support for Libya's unity government and help stabilizing the country.
Prosecutors with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office say Flynn falsely stated to the FBI that he hadn't discussed sanctions with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. The Obama administration had recently imposed sanctions against Russia over interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Court documents revealed today detail the new revelations about Flynn's conversations with Kislyak and make it clear he will testify that Trump's transition team knew about his contact the Russian ambassador about the sanctions.
The documents also say:
"On or about December 29, 2016, FLYNN called a senior official of the Presidential Transition Team ("PTT official"), who was with other senior members of the Presidential Transition Team at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, to discuss what, if anything to communicate to the Russian Ambassador about the sanctions."
Flynn is the fourth person charged in connection with Mueller's investigation after ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort and two colleagues.
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 co-operating 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 Kislyak.
3 others charged
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 co-operating with Mueller's team surfaced in the past week, as his lawyers said they could no longer discuss information about the case with Trump's legal team. Scheduled grand jury testimony regarding Flynn was also postponed by prosecutors.
The two-page charging document refers 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-Sisi to press the case against the condemnation, and Egypt surprisingly postponed the scheduled showdown on Dec. 22 — the same day Flynn met Kislyak.
'Things will be different'
After more procedural wrangling, the vote occurred a day later. Trump almost immediately condemned the UN result via Twitter.
"As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th," Trump said, referencing his upcoming inauguration.