NEW YORK – US President Donald Trump said on Saturday it was regrettable that his former national security adviser was forced to plead guilty to charges of lying to FBI investigators about his contacts with a Russian official during the presidential transition.
Trump said in a tweet on Saturday that Michael Flynn had done nothing illegal by speaking in December to Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s then-ambassador to the US.
“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” Trump tweeted.
Flynn pleaded guilty on Friday at a federal court in Washington DC to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Kislyak.
He also agreed to cooperate with Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.
Mueller said in a court document filed Thursday that the ex-national security adviser “did willfully and knowingly make materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI when questioned on or about Jan. 24, 2017, in Washington about his contacts with Russian officials.
The retired US Army lieutenant general was specifically accused of lying about a conversation he had with Kislyak concerning sanctions that then-US President Barack Obama imposed on Russia in late December 2016.
The sanctions were ordered in response to “aggressive harassment of US officials and cyber operations aimed at the US election,” Obama said in a statement on Dec. 29, 2016.
Among other things, Obama’s State Department shut down two Russian compounds – in Maryland and New York – “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and declared 35 Russian intelligence operatives persona non grata.
In the court document, Mueller says Flynn made false statements to FBI agents when he denied having asked the Russian ambassador on Dec. 29, 2017, to “refrain from escalating the situation” in response to the sanctions.
Flynn also was accused of falsely stating to FBI investigators that he had asked Kislyak on Dec. 22, 2016, “to delay the vote on or defeat a pending United Nations Security council resolution” condemning Israeli settlements.
Flynn was accused of lying to investigators four days after Trump was inaugurated, while the contacts with Kislyak took place before the Republican took office but after he was elected.
Before traveling to New York on Saturday, Trump told a group of journalists who asked him about Flynn’s guilty plea that there had been “absolutely no collusion” between his election campaign and Russia.
A retired US Army lieutenant general who led the US Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012-2014, Flynn was Trump’s national security adviser for just 25 days before being forced to resign for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his Russia contacts.
Flynn’s plea deal recommends a sentence of up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $9,500.
The charges against Flynn stem from Mueller’s investigation into purported Russian meddling to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, including hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee, and any possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Trump’s victory in the Nov. 8, 2016, balloting came after the disclosure by WikiLeaks of e-mails from the DNC and from the chairman of Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, John Podesta.