Flynn enters guilty plea, will cooperate with Mueller

President Trump’s short-lived first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, on Friday morning pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents in one of the most dramatic developments yet in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

As part of the plea agreement, Flynn has agreed to cooperate fully with Mueller’s investigation. For the time being, at least, he will remain free — although the charge he faces carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Flynn is the first official to hold a formal office in the Trump administration to be brought down by the Mueller probe, which is examining potential ties between the campaign and Moscow during the 2016 campaign.

A low-level campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, has also pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and is cooperating with Mueller’s team, according to court documents — but Flynn, as a one-time close confidant of the president and a sitting administration official for 24 days, is a much bigger fish.

According to court documents filed by Mueller, Flynn lied when he told investigators that he did not ask then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to “refrain from escalating the situation” in response to sanctions that then-President Obama had levied on Russia in response to meddling in the election.

Flynn also lied, the counsel charged, when he said he did not ask the ambassador to stymie an unrelated United Nations Security Council vote.

Flynn’s misrepresentation of his conversations with Kislyak — which took place in December 2016, before Trump took office — were the justification for his ouster from the White House after just 24 days.

But government prosecutors on Friday raised new questions about who in Trump’s orbit knew Flynn was misrepresenting the content of the calls. 

Prosecutors told U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras that Flynn spoke with a “senior official” in President’s Trump’s transition team at the Mar-a-Lago resort to discuss what he should communicate to the Russian ambassador during the calls.

Flynn and the senior officials discussed both the recently implemented U.S. sanctions on Russia, as well as the fact that they did not want Russia to escalate friction between the two nations, prosecutors said. 

After the discussion, Flynn telephoned Kislyak. He then called the senior transition official and reported the sanctions discussion, prosecutors said.

Shortly after that phone call, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would not retaliate against Obama’s sanctions at that time. Kislyak later followed up with Flynn and affirmed that Russia would moderate its response to the sanctions. Flynn communicated that exchange to other transition officials.

Prosecutors also say that a “very senior member” of the president’s transition team “directed” Flynn to contact officials from foreign governments — including Russia — to persuade them to vote against a U.N. Security Council resolution. Flynn obtained such assurances from Kislyak. 

Asked by Contreras if he had done what the government alleges in the plea deal, Flynn, standing at the lectern flanked by his lawyers, had a one-word answer: “Yes.”

Reporting based on leaks of U.S. surveillance revealed in February that Flynn had misled Vice President Pence about the contents the phone call, saying that sanctions were not mentioned — an account Pence then repeated to the American people.

At the time, then-deputy Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that Flynn created a “compromise situation” and could have been “blackmailed.”

“We weren’t the only ones that knew all of this,” Yates testified earlier this year, referring to the revelation that Flynn misled Pence about the true content of the December call with Kislyak. “The Russians also knew about what Gen. Flynn had done. The Russians also knew that Gen. Flynn had misled the vice president and others.”

The White House fired Flynn 18 days after Yates issued her warning. The identity of the senior transition team official with whom Flynn coordinated is not yet known.

A White House lawyer who is handling matters related to the various Russia investigations said Friday that the false statements Flynn made to the FBI “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,” Ty Cobb said in a statement.

Flynn was interviewed by the FBI as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the election in January when Mueller’s office now says he made false statements about the phone calls with Kislyak. The interview came just four days after Trump’s inauguration.

Speculation has swirled for weeks about when — or if — Mueller would move to charge Flynn, who was seen almost universally as legally vulnerable for a myriad of reasons beyond the Kislyak calls.

According to multiple outlets, Flynn is also under investigation for an alleged quid pro quo with the Turkish government, in which Flynn would have been paid millions of dollars in exchange for the extradition of a Muslim cleric living in the U.S.

Federal records show that Flynn did not register the $530,000 he was paid during the 2016 campaign for work he did that the Justice Department said principally benefited Turkey — a potential violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

And heightening the personal drama, Flynn’s son is also thought to be a focus of the Mueller probe, giving the special counsel another way to put pressure on Flynn.

The Kislyak calls, meanwhile, appear to be a potential violation of the Logan Act, an obscure and likely unenforceable 1799 law prohibiting private citizens from engaging in foreign policy.

No one has ever been successfully prosecuted under that law.

Given the breadth of potential charges Flynn could have faced — at least if the reporting is accurate — the single count of lying to investigators is incredibly light, analysts say.

It carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. Sentencing has been deferred “for the time being” at the request of Mueller’s team, with a status update set for Feb. 1.

“The fact that Flynn was charged with, and is pleading guilty to, such a minor crime, suggests a bombshell of a deal with prosecutors,” said Cornell Law Vice Dean Jens Ohlin. 

“If this is the entirety of the plea deal, the best explanation for why Mueller would agree to it is that Flynn has something very valuable to offer in exchange: damaging testimony on someone else,” Ohlin said.

Two other campaign officials, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his aide Richard Gates, also face charges in the investigation. They have both pleaded not guilty.

Flynn said in a statement “it has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of ‘treason’ … But I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong.”

Trump has continued to defend his embattled former adviser, an outspoken figure who was fired from the Obama administration. 

Flynn became a central figure in Trump’s orbit during the campaign, appearing at the Republican convention and leading the crowd in a chant of “Lock her up!” during his speech.

“Gen. Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he has been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media, in many cases,” Trump said shortly after dismissing him earlier this year. “And I think it is really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.”

– This story was updated at 12:29 p.m.

Senate to pass tax bill hours after releasing final plan

Sen. Mitch McConnell is pictured. | AP

Telling reporters “we have the votes” on the tax bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) walks to the chamber after a closed-door meeting with Republican lawmakers Friday. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

GOP leaders spent the day making last-minute changes to their bill to satisfy holdouts.

Senate Republicans were preparing to vote late Friday on their massive tax overhaul after leaders said they had clinched the support of enough GOP lawmakers to push the bill over the finish line.

Senate tax writers released a sprawling amendment containing last-minute changes to the plan that were needed to bring around members who had been balking at the package, which includes corporate and individual tax cuts and other far-reaching changes to tax law. Democrats ridiculed the hurried effort, with Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois posting a picture on Twitter of what he said was a page from the amendment with scribbled changes.

Story Continued Below

The rush was kicked off earlier in the day when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, “We have the votes,” as Republicans emerged from a caucus meeting on changes to the legislation.

Details began trickling out Friday afternoon, with Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) saying lawmakers are dropping plans to repeal the alternative minimum tax. Killing the AMT, a complicated batch of rules designed to prevent people from dodging taxes, had been a key part of Republican plans to radically simplify the code. But Rounds said they needed the money to finance other last-minute changes to the bill.

“It is not a repeal anymore,” he said.

Lawmakers said they’ve also increased a deduction for so-called pass-through businesses, which they will pay for in part by dunning multinational corporations. They also dropped a “tax trigger” proposal sought by deficit hawks that was entangled by Senate rules, as well as a backup plan to instead pencil in a future increase in the corporate tax rate.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who announced Friday she will vote for the legislation, said she won a provision to preserve a property tax write-off and a commitment that there would be no cuts to Medicare as a result of the tax bill. And Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he had secured language phasing down write-offs for business investments that had been slated to abruptly expire at the end of 2022.

Flake added that Republican leaders were still searching for revenue to make the numbers behind their plan work. But leadership lost the vote of one of Flake’s fellow deficit hawks, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

“I wanted to get to yes,” Corker said in a statement. “But at the end of the day, I am not able to cast aside my fiscal concerns and vote for legislation that I believe, based on the information I currently have, could deepen the debt burden on future generations.”

In a win for leadership, GOP Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Steve Daines of Montana as well as Flake declared on Friday they will support the bill.

Johnson in particular was a major boost for Senate GOP leaders, who have struggled all week to corral at least 50 votes for the tax measure. Republicans are using powerful budget procedures to evade a Democratic filibuster on the bill, so McConnell can lose only two GOP votes and pass the bill.

President Donald Trump is calling GOP senators to back the bill, and White House director of legislative affairs Marc Short was cautiously optimistic coming out of a meeting in Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn’s office.

“I think they’ve got a plan,” Short said, before adding, “I’m sure there’s plenty of drama ahead today.” Asked whether he was comfortable with narrow passage of the tax reform package by 50 votes plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Pence, Short replied: “What do they call a person that finishes last in medical school? A doctor.”

Johnson said Republicans have agreed to his demands to increase a deduction for pass-through businesses, which pay taxes on the individual side of the tax code, to as much as 23 percent, from 20 percent. It would be financed, he told reporters, by upping a one-time tax on multinational companies’ overseas earnings.

Senate Republicans are adopting a House proposal to charge 14 percent on those multinationals’ liquid assets and 7 percent on illiquid ones such as facilities, up from the 10 percent and 5 percent they had been considering.

“We’re going to have to reconcile that anyway, and might as well reconcile up front here to take care of our issue,” Johnson told reporters.

Johnson and Daines had complained pass-throughs would be put at a competitive disadvantage under the legislation compared with corporations.

Though Johnson’s vote was likely never truly in doubt, he could have held out for more changes, which would have further handcuffed leaders as they try to satisfy a duo of stubborn fiscal hawks alarmed that the measure will blow up federal budget deficits. A Joint Committee on Taxation report said Thursday that even with economic growth from the plan, the bill would add $1 trillion to the deficit over the next decade.

Daines and Johnson had demanded more generous treatment of “pass-through” companies — businesses that file their taxes on the individual code — in the measure. Daines’ office said the “pass-through” companies will now be able to deduct up to 23 percent of their income, a boost from the rates in previous versions of the tax bill.

In a statement Friday, Daines said: “After weeks of fighting for Main Street businesses including Montana’s farmers and ranchers, I’ve decided to support the Senate tax cut bill which provides significant tax relief for Main Street businesses” Daines said in a statement Friday.

Lawmakers said they’ve also dropped plans to include a trigger mechanism sought by Corker and Flake that would have forced automatic tax increases if the bill didn’t jog the economy as much as Republicans hope.

The Senate parliamentarian has found that such a mechanism would run afoul of complicated procedural rules. That sent Republicans scrambling and unable to vote on the bill Thursday night, as leaders had hoped.

Republicans have also ditched plans to swap in future tax increases for the abandoned trigger — a proposed hike in the corporate rate — that deficit hawks had proposed as a backup plan but which many of their colleagues opposed.

Flake also said he had a “firm commitment” by party leaders to “work with me” on “fair and permanent protections” for undocumented immigrants threatened with deportation by President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Collins has secured commitments from both the White House and Senate Republican leaders to include a deduction for up to $10,000 in property taxes. That parallels a House provision written to appease Republicans from high-tax areas who fumed over GOP leadership’s decision to ax a prized deduction for state and local taxes.

Lawmakers are keeping the AMT in order to accommodate those changes, said Rounds.

“That’s one of the pay-fors for the pass-throughs, and also for the $10,000 property-tax exemption,” he said. “I think most members felt very strongly that we wanted a property tax exemption for individuals” and so “the trade-off is there.”

Meanwhile, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah are still seeking to make a $2,000 child tax credit refundable by raising the corporate rate level from 20 to 22 percent.

Democrats blasted Republicans on both the substance and process of the tax push.

“In the waning hours, this bill is tilting further towards businesses and away from families. Every time the choice is between corporations and families, the Republicans choose corporations,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

Aaron Lorenzo contributed to this report.

Full text: Michael Flynn indictment



United States District Court for the District of Columbia

United States v. Michael T. Flynn, defendant

Story Continued Below

Violation: 18 U.S.C. 1001 (False Statements)

The Special Counsel informs the Court:

Count One
On or about January 24, 2017, defendant MICHAEL T. FLYNN did willfully and knowingly make materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and representations in a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the Government of the United States, to wit, the defendant falsely stated and represented to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,
in Washington, D.C., that:

(i) On or about December 29, 2016, FLYNN did not ask the Government of Russia’s Ambassador to the United States (“Russian Ambassador”) to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed against Russia that same day; and FLYNN did not recall the Russian Ambassador subsequently telling him that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of his request; and

(ii) On or about December 22, 2016, FLYNN did not ask the Russian Ambassador to delay the vote on or defeat a pending United Nations Security Council resolution; and

that the Russian Ambassador subsequently never described_to FLYNN Russia’s response to his request.

Flynn charged with making false statement to FBI

Michael Flynn is pictured here. | Getty Images

A plea hearing for Michael Flynn has been scheduled on Friday for a federal court in Washington, D.C. | Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

A plea hearing for Flynn has been scheduled for today in federal court.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has formally charged ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn with one count of making a false statement, according to a court document.

A plea hearing for Flynn has been scheduled on Friday for a federal court in Washington, D.C., Mueller’s office announced Friday morning.