(Bloomberg) -- Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Donald Trump reached into the president’s inner circle as former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to a criminal charge and agreed to cooperate with the probe.
White House attorney Ty Cobb downplayed the significance of Flynn’s decision to cooperate with Mueller, though the former Trump adviser said that he had kept senior administration officials apprised of his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential transition last year.
“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” Cobb said in a written statement. “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.”
Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal agents about the contents of conversations in December with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn was fired after the nature of their discussion was revealed, with the White House saying he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the conversation.
“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year,” Cobb said.
But Flynn’s guilty plea to a single count of lying to federal agents and agreement to cooperate now provide prosecutors a top-level source directly involved in Trump’s foreign-policy dealings during the presidential campaign as well as the transition.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was an early supporter of Trump’s candidacy who frequently vouched for his foreign policy bona fides. He gave a keynote speech at the Republican convention where he led the crowd in anti-Hillary Clinton chants of “lock her up.”
Previously the only Trump adviser to reach a publicly disclosed agreement to cooperate with Mueller was a lower-level campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, whose plea deal was disclosed Oct. 30. Papadopoulos also pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents.
Speaking in court as part of his plea agreement, Flynn, 58, said Trump’s team asked him to make contact with Russians and that he told incoming administration officials what he was doing. Flynn said he called a senior official from the transition team for guidance before talking to the Russian ambassador, and then reported back to the transition team after the call.
A court document also indicated Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak were closely coordinated with top Trump advisers, although it didn’t identify them.
It said Flynn “called a senior official of the Presidential Transition Team” at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida before his discussion with Kislyak “to discuss what, if anything to communicate to the Russian Ambassador” about U.S. sanctions against Russia and reported back “shortly after his phone call with the Russian ambassador.”
The same document said that “a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” directed Flynn to contact Kislyak in another instance, about an upcoming United Nations Security Council vote.
The charge against Flynn stems from several conversations between Flynn and Kislyak, including one in Trump Tower in New York with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. FBI agents subsequently asked Flynn whether he had talked with Kislyak about sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama in retaliation for Russia’s election meddling.
Flynn, who as a private citizen during those conversations was barred from negotiating with foreign powers, told the agents that sanctions hadn’t come up.
Stocks and the dollar plunged on the news of Flynn’s guilty plea and cooperation, while Treasuries, often viewed as the safest of investments, rallied.
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