Donald Trump may fear that impeachment is coming his way after his former national security adviser and top campaign surrogate Michael Flynn made a deal with Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller, new information from inside the White House indicates. Flynn on Friday entered a guilty plea to a single count of lying to FBI investigators and, in exchange for the relatively minor charge, agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation.
According to a report Friday afternoon by the online news magazine The Daily Beast, Trump has been fearful “for weeks” that Flynn would “flip” and begin cooperating with Mueller in exchange for a plea deal on lesser charges.
Three separate sources close to Trump told the magazine that Trump had worried aloud to aides about Flynn, who Trump once told to “stay strong” as the investigation into his Russia ties pressed forward. Trump was filled with anxiety that Flynn had “turned on me,” The Daily Beast reported.
ABC News reported shortly after Flynn’s guilty plea on Friday morning that Trump and his lawyers had no advance warning that Flynn would take a plea deal from Mueller, and only learned about Flynn’s guilty plea via television news, along with the rest of the country. But according to the sources who spoke to The Daily Beast, the stunning development would have come as “a shock but not necessarily a surprise,” because Trump himself had long been fearful that Flynn would betray him.
On Thanksgiving, Trump delivered an address to members of the United States Coast Guard in which he included a seemingly bizarre line, telling the Coast Guard, “You never know about an ally. An ally can turn.”
While experts puzzled over the meaning of the line at the time, according to the Daily Beast report, the remark was intended as a “not-so-subtle jab” at Flynn, whom Trump already believed had agreed to cooperate with Mueller and possibly testify against Trump or members of Trump’s inner circle in the Russia investigation, a prospect over which Trump has long been “privately fuming,” the report said.
According to court documents filed by Mueller on Friday, Flynn lied to the FBI about his conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, denying that he had discussed United States sanctions against Russia in those talks. In fact, Flynn was negotiating with the ambassador for Russia to curtail its response to sanctions imposed by the outgoing Obama administration in retaliation for Russia’s cyber attacks that interfered with the 2016 presidential election.
Flynn’s negotiations appear to have borne fruit. Russian President Vladimir Putin did subsequently hold off on retaliating against the U.S., a move for which Trump praised him as “very smart.”
United States law — specifically legislation known as the “Logan Act” — prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. In addition, at the time that Flynn was negotiating with Kislyak, Russia was already identified by U.S. intelligence agencies as committing cyber crimes against the United States by hacking the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, meaning that Flynn’s conversations could make him vulnerable to a conspiracy charge connected to those crimes.
Mueller’s court filings reveal that Flynn discussed his Russia conversations regarding sanctions with two top officials of the Trump transition team. News reports have named those two officials as Trump’s own son-in-law Jared Kushner and adviser K.T. McFarland, who became a deputy national security adviser to Flynn.
Flynn on Friday issued a statement calling accusations of “treason” against him “false,” but acknowledging that he is now cooperating with Mueller’s Russia investigation.
“My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country,” Flynn said in the written statement. “I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
Following Flynn’s guilty plea on Friday morning, betting markets showed a surge in money wagered on the possibility that Trump will now face impeachment — something that Trump himself may now fear as well.