Michael Flynn, the 58-year-old retired Army general and former Donald Trump administration National Security Adviser, entered a guilty plea in federal court on Friday morning, admitting that he lied to Federal Bureau of Investigation investigators about his meetings with a high-ranking Russian official. Flynn becomes the second former Trump aide to plead guilty, apparently striking a deal to turn against Trump and help Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation.
But who is Flynn, and what can he offer Mueller’s team as they press there investigation closer and closer to Trump? According to experts, Flynn’s guilty plea is significant — the most significant development so far in the Russia probe — for two reasons.
UPDATE 12:30 p.m. EST 12/1/2017: According to a report Friday morning aired by ABC News, Flynn is prepared to testify against Trump — saying that Trump personally ordered him to make contact with Russian officials, a possibly incriminating fact never before publicly revealed. Flynn will testify against “Trump, against members of the Trump family, and others in the White House,” ABC reported.
First, Flynn was a longtime adviser to Trump’s campaign who was later appointed National Security Adviser by Trump, making him a close member of Trump’s inner circle, and most importantly, the first actual member of the Trump administration who has admitted committing a federal crime in connection with Russia.
And second, Flynn could have faced far more serious charges than lying to the FBI, but Mueller offered him a relatively small charge indicating that Flynn could be offering extremely important information, possibly damaging to Trump himself. In fact, there had been indications in recent days that Mueller was looking to charge Flynn with engineering a kidnapping plot while he was working for the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
Mueller was reportedly investigating Flynn’s involvement in a plot to kidnap Turkish opposition leader Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the United States, and send Gülen back to Turkey where Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses him of masterminding last year’s attempted coup. Flynn is believed to have agreed on a $15 million fee from the Turkish government if he snatched Gülen and sent him back to Turkey.
Instead, Mueller charged Flynn only with lying to the FBI, when agents asked him on January 24 about his secret meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and whether the two discussed United States sanctions against Russia in those conversations.
According to court documents filed by Mueller, Flynn lied to the FBI when he denied that he asked Kislyak to help tone down Russia’s response to sanctions imposed against Russia in the last days of the Obama Administration. Flynn told the FBI that he did not discuss the sanctions with Kislyak, and he now admits that was a lie.
Russia would be expected to meet new sanctions with some form of political or economic retaliation, but President Vladimir Putin surprised the U.S. with his restraint, declining last December to take any action in return; a move for which Trump publicly hailed Putin, calling him “very smart.”
Whether Flynn will offer incriminating information about Trump himself remains possible, but it may also be likely that Flynn has revealed information about Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Kushner and Flynn held a secret meeting with Kislyak in Trump Tower last December; a meeting that Kushner later concealed when he filled out his application for a White House security clearance.
Flynn was forced to resign as National Security Adviser by Trump on February 13 after it was revealed that he had lied to Vice President Mile Pence, who headed the Trump transition team, about his meetings with Kislyak.
But Flynn may also be able to shed light on the key question of what Trump himself knew about Flynn’s Russia ties, and when he knew it. Flynn lied to the FBI about his Russia meetings on January 24. Two days later, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed the White House that Flynn — the administration’s top national security official — was likely “compromised” by Russia, a potentially dangerous situation for the country.
The following day, January 27, rather than immediately firing Flynn as a potential national security threat, Trump held a private meeting with then-FBI Director James Comey in which he allegedly asked Comey to pledge his personal loyalty, according to Comey’s sworn testimony.
Three days after the Comey meeting, Trump still refrained from firing Flynn but fired Yates instead. Trump said that he fired Yates over her refusal to enforce the administration’s “Muslim ban,” not mentioning her warning about Flynn, which was not public knowledge at that time.
Finally, on February 13, Trump forced Flynn to resign. The following day, Trump met privately with Comey again, allegedly pressuring the FBI director to end the Bureau’s investigation of Flynn, according to Comey’s testimony.
While a member of Trump’s campaign, Flynn was perhaps best known for leading a chant of “Lock her up!” directed at Democrat Hillary Clinton at last year’s Republican National Convention. With his guilty plea, however, Flynn could be looking at serving at least some time behind bars himself.