In his first public comments about Michael Flynn pleading guilty Friday to lying to the FBI about his interactions with a Russian official, President Donald Trump reiterated on Shabbos that his campaign did not collude with Russia during last year’s presidential election.
“What has been shown is no collusion. No collusion. There’s been absolutely – there’s been absolutely no collusion, so we’re very happy,” Trump told reporters Saturday morning before departing for a fundraising trip to New York.
The president’s comments come the day after his former national security adviser pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. In a statement Friday, Flynn said he has agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in its ongoing investigation into the Kremlin’s attempts to influence the 2016 election, including possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
The plea deal marks the first time Mueller’s investigation has incriminated someone who worked in the White House and who was personally close to Trump. Unlike previous charges against top Trump campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, it actually involved actions taken on Trump’s behalf. Another lower-level campaign aide, foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, has also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. The key question now is what Flynn knows that could incriminate others and what he might have offered in exchange for such a lenient plea deal.
Flynn, who was forced out of the White House after just less than a month on the job, admitted that he lied to the FBI about conversations he had with Kislyak in December. Court records say Flynn contacted the Russian ambassador on Dec. 22 about the Trump administration’s opposition to a U.N. resolution against Israeli settlements. Flynn called Kislyak again on Dec. 29 to ask Russia not to escalate an ongoing feud over sanctions imposed the day before by the Obama administration, court records say.
Flynn admitted he was not truthful when asked by the FBI on Jan. 24 about those interactions – and that officials on the president’s transition team, including a “very senior member,” knew that he had talked to the Russian ambassador, The Washington Post reported.
That member, who was not identified, directed Flynn to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, about the U.N. resolution and told him that blocking it was Trump’s top priority, court records say. People familiar with the matter told The Post that that official is the president’s son-in-law and top White House adviser, Jared Kushner.
Flynn also admitted that he spoke with another member of the transition team before he talked to Kislyak about U.S. sanctions on Dec. 29, court records say. That senior official is also not identified in court records, but people familiar with the matter told The Post that it is K.T. McFarland, now a nominee for U.S. ambassador to Singapore.
Trump said Saturday that he’s not worried about what Flynn would disclose as part of his plea deal with Mueller’s team. Asked if he stands by his former national security adviser, Trump said, “We’ll see what happens.” Trump had previously advocated for Flynn, even urging then-FBI Director James Comey to be lenient with him, according to testimony Comey gave after Trump fired him.
Trump was greeted in New York by protesters chanting “Lock him up,” a reference to the “Lock her up” rallying cry used by both Trump and Flynn during the 2016 campaign.
Upon arriving at his first event, Trump made no mention of Flynn during his early remarks, before the press was escorted out. Trump instead recounted his election victory last year and touted the early-morning Senate passage of the Republican tax plan – a rare incremental victory for a GOP-led Congress that has struggled to pass Trump’s agenda thus far.
The Senate’s passage of a $1.5 trillion tax bill followed round-the-clock negotiations and tense standoffs this week. The bill was passed 51 to 49 in the wee hours of Saturday morning with no votes for it from Democrats and Republican Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., voting no as well. Trump predicted Democrats who voted against the plan would pay a price in upcoming elections.
The bill gives massive benefits to the wealthy and to corporate America while delivering mixed blessings to the rest of the country, The Post reported. It will now head for negotiations between the Senate and the House, which passed its own version with key differences. Whatever compromise is reached, both chambers will again have to pass it.
“It was a fantastic evening last night. We passed the largest tax cuts in the history of our country and many other things along with it,” Trump told reporters earlier Saturday. “Now we go on to conference, and something beautiful is going to come out of that mixer. People are going to be very, very happy. They’re going to get tremendous, tremendous tax cuts and tax relief, and that’s what this country needs.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Kristine Phillips, Aaron Blake