Former National Security Advisor’s testimony could point towards Jared Kushner and even Donald Trump
Developments on Day 315 of the Trump Administration:
Flynn Cooperating with Special Counsel Mueller
UPDATE, 1500 GMT: In his first comment on Michael Flynn’s guilty plea, Donald Trump insists there was “absolutely no collusion” between his campaign and Russia: “We’re very happy….We’ll see what happens.”
Trump made his comment to reporters as he departed the White House.
Michael Flynn, senior advisor to the Trump campaign and then National Security Advisor for 25 days, pleads guilty to lying to the FBI about his discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016.
Flynn said in his court statement that he is cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the investigation of links between Donald Trump’s top advisors and Russian officials before and after the 2016 election.
Court records, supported by “people familiar with the contacts”, indicated that Flynn did not act alone in his developing contacts with Kislyak. Instead, several conversations with the Ambassador followed consultations with senior Trump officials, including Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and K.T. McFarland, later the Deputy National Security Advisor.
On December 22, Flynn contacted the Russian ambassador about the Trump transition’s opposition to a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements as illegal. He requested that Moscow Russia veto the measure or delay it.
Kislyak called back later in the day and said Russia would not cast its veto.
The court records said a “very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” — Kushner, according to the “people familiar with the matter” — to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, about the resolution. A “transition team official” confirmed that Kushner told Flynn that blocking the resolution was a top priority for Trump.
On December 28, Kislyak contacted Flynn about sanctions imposed on Moscow that day in an executive order by President Barack Obama, citing Russia’s interference in the election.
On December 29, Flynn and Kislyak spoke five times. The Trump Advisor requested that Russia not escalate the dispute over sanctions. The ambassador later called back and said Russia had chosen not to retaliate.
Before the initial conversation with Kislyak that day, Flynn called a senior transition official — McFarland, the informed sources said — at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida “to discuss what, if anything, to communicate to the Russian ambassador about the US sanctions”. Observers note that, given that Flynn held a higher position than McFarland and later was her boss at the National Security Council, it is likely that she received instructions from others in Trump’s inner circle.
Fox now reporting KT McFarland was the one who told Flynn to discuss the Obama admin's Russia sanctions with Kislyak. Back in February, no one seemed to understand why the WH was willing to risk so much to keep her on. pic.twitter.com/uGfruIPaJv
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) December 1, 2017
After Russian President Vladimir Putin said on December 30 that he would withhold any restrictions on the US, instead welcoming US diplomatic staff and their children to a Christmas party, Donald Trump wrote on Twitter:
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016
Trump has said that he did not direct Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador but that he “would have directed him because that’s his job”.
White House lawyer Ty Cobb — who had said that the Trump-Russia investigation would come to a halt by Thanksgiving — played down Friday’s developments and turned against Flynn, formerly a close friend of Trump:
The false statements involved 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. 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.
But a “person close to the White House” described a state of panic after early October’s pleas by Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos and Flynn: “What they’re freaked out about is that there are no leaks. Papadopoulos didn’t leak. Flynn didn’t leak. They feel like they can’t trust anyone. Their own counsel didn’t know.”
More to Come?
But the filing against Flynn of only a single charge, carrying a maximum recommended sentence of five years, indicated that he is already cooperating with Mueller’s team with documents and testimony beyond Friday’s revelations in the court record.
“Two people briefed on the discussions” said Flynn’s negotiations for cooperation began in early November. Investigators stepped up pressure by warning Flynn’s attorneys that they planned to indict Flynn and also could charge his son Michael G. Flynn — reportedly over the two men’s consultations with Turkish officials on plans including the abduction and return to Turkey of cleric Fetullah Gülen, a foe of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Last week Flynn’s lawyers told White House counterparts that they could no longer communicate with them, indicating that Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller had begun or was imminent.
Michael G. Flynn is now expected to avoid prosecution over the Turkey affair.
The guilty plea of the elder Flynn may also increase pressure on Donald Trump over possible obstruction of justice, with political and criminal consequences. In February, Trump asked FBI Director James Comey — later fired by the President over the Trump-Russia inquiry — to halt any investigation of Flynn, who had finally been dismissed as National Security Advisor the previous day.
Trump made no comment, including on Twitter, about Flynn’s plea.
Meanwhile, observers noted another possible difficulty for Kushner. The White House advisor was interviewed by Mueller’s team last month: if he denied the information confirmed by Flynn in his court record and conversations with the Special Counsel’s attorneys, Kushner may be open to the charge of lying to investigators that has already led to the guilty pleas from Flynn and Papadopoulos.
Vice President Mike Pence in January 2017, asked if any Trump campaign staffer had contact with a Russian official:
Of course not. I think to suggest that is to give credence to these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.
VIDEO: In January, Pence scoffs at question about whether anyone in Trump campaign dealt with Russians. "Of course not." Blames questions in part on media bias. pic.twitter.com/wgPcOYl87s
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) December 1, 2017
Kushner’s Secret Diplomacy with Saudi Crown Prince Over Palestine
Allies of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hit back at pressure on the Secretary State by speaking about secret talks between Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over Palestine.
“Two people with knowledge of the talks” said Kushner’s discussions with the Crown Prince, the most important actor in Riyadh, is for the creation of a Palestinian state or territory backed financially by countries including Saudi Arabia.
The sources did not say if the phrase “state or territory” meant the Trump Administration may back from a commitment, made initially by President George W. Bush, to Palestinian statehood.
But they explained that Tillerson believes Kushner has not done enough to share details of the talks, leaving senior US diplomats in the dark:
The problem is, the senior presidential adviser does not consult with the State Department — and it’s unclear the level of consultation that goes on with the NSC. And that’s a problem for both the NSC and the State Department and it’s not something we can easily solve.
On Thursday “senior administration officials” told leading US outlets that a plan has been drawn up for Tillerson’s replacement by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
One source said Tillerson’s team believe the story was spread by Kushner allies. An administration official said Kushner had nothing to do with the reports.
The Tillerson camp also expressed concern at reports that Kushner consulted with Mohammad bin Salman before the Crown Prince took steps including the detentino of dozens of Saudi princes, ministers and businessmen; a more aggressive intervention in the Yemeni civil war; and the summoning of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Riyadh, where he initially resigned only to postpone his decision upon returning to Beirut.