Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, was charged this morning with lying to FBI officials in connection with conversations with a Russian ambassador.
The charging document is short and simple, suggesting that Flynn may be cooperating with the feds in their investigation of whether Russian officials colluded with the Trump campaign and the extent that the Russian government might have meddled with the 2016 presidential election outcome.
The charges allege that Flynn lied when he told FBI officials he had not asked Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year to avoid escalating tensions over U.S. sanctions against Russia. He's also accused of lying to FBI officials when he said he did not ask Kislyak last December to delay or oppose a U.N. resolution (though the charging document doesn't specify, it's likely referring to this resolution condemning Israeli settlements).
There's going to be a whole lot of speculation and analysis throughout the news cycle of what these charges "mean" to the Trump administration. Flynn only served as national security adviser for a very brief time, but he's the first person in Trump's campaign who actually made it into his administration to have been charged with misconduct. Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos were part of Trump's campaign team, not his administration.
The paucity of the charges against Flynn could mean that the retired lieutenant general is cooperating with FBI special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Flynn's legal team cut ties with president's legal team in November and stopped sharing information they had been learning about the investigation, leading to theories that Flynn was working on some sort of deal.
His plea hearing is scheduled for later this morning. If more relevant information comes out about where these charges are leading, I'll update this blog post. Until then, much like the Manafort charges, I'm going to resist trying to either overplay or underplay the meaning of these accusations in terms of the Trump presidency's fate.
UPDATE: ABC reports that Flynn is cooperating with Mueller's team and says that Trump as a candidate (important distinction) directed him to make contact with the Russians:
Just now: @BrianRoss on @ABC News Special Report: Flynn promised full cooperation to the Mueller team and is prepared to testify that candidate Trump "directed him to make contact with the Russians." https://t.co/E0tA37GOo0 pic.twitter.com/PmNEO7eekt
— Dan Linden (@DanLinden) December 1, 2017
UPDATE II: Brad Heath of USA Today reports Flynn's guilty plea and says contacts with Russian officials were directed by Trump's transition team (which would put this all post-election, and makes everything a little more confusing):
Update: Flynn pleaded guilty this morning to lying to the FBI. Prosecutors said he has agreed to cooperate with their investigation, and that his contacts with Russian officials were directed by a senior member of Trump's transition team from Mar-a-Lago.
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) December 1, 2017
CNN Correspondent Manu Raju also indicates the directed contacts happened last December, after the election. So far as I can tell, ABC is the only outlet reporting that Trump directed meetings with the Russians while he was still a candidate:
Prosecutors say Flynn on Dec. 29 called senior Trump transition team at Mar-A-Lago to discuss conversations with Kislyak; multiple conversations with the transition while he was having conversations with Kisyak about Russia sanctions and Russian response
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 1, 2017
UPDATE III: And here's a formal statement from Flynn himself:
UPDATE IV: White House statement in response to Flynn's plea:
UPDATE V: Read Flynn's formal "Statement of the Offiense" that he has signed onto here. This statement makes it clear that the communications Flynn says took place between him and others in Trump's team took place in December of last year after the election. Absent any additional evidence, it does seem like ABC has misreported what Flynn admitted to.
UPDATE VI: As one final update to add the appropriate "fake news!" yell to today's news cycle, ABC admitted it screwed up when it reported that Trump directed Flynn to meet with the Russians when he was still a candidate. It was not until after Trump was elected:
ABC News spokesperson tells me that "World News" will clarify that this should be president-elect Trump, not candidate Trump. https://t.co/Xm0BuvAstj
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) December 1, 2017