President Donald Trump and his senior aides were completely unaware that national security adviser Michael Flynn met with FBI officials to discuss his contacts with Russian officials until two days after the interview, according to NBC News.
Flynn pleaded guilty last month to lying to FBI officials during the Jan. 24 meeting about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired 10 days into Trump’s tenure, told the president about Flynn’s meeting two days after it occurred, sources familiar with the interaction told NBC News.
Under normal circumstances, a lawyer for the National Security Council would have accompanied Flynn to the meeting but he reportedly decided to forego official representation and also opted against bringing his private attorney.
“No one knew that any of this was happening,” a senior White House official who was there at the time, told NBC News.
“Apparently it was not clear to Flynn that this was about his personal conduct,” another White House official said. “So he didn’t think of bringing his own lawyer.”
Flynn’s firing has reportedly become central to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller’s team plans to meet with Trump in the coming weeks to press him on the decisions surrounding his firing of Comey and Flynn, sources told The Washington Post.
Flynn was fired after the media learned he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Kislyak. He was dismissed on Feb. 13 and Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation into him the next day, according to Comey’s June testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Flynn pleaded guilty in December to misleading the authorities and announced his cooperation with Mueller’s investigation.
In a tweet, posted after Flynn was charged, Trump suggested he knew Flynn lied to the FBI and fired him as a result.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017
Mueller’s team has also interviewed a number of “peripheral witnesses” to Comey’s firing to determine whether his dismissal constitutes obstruction — a charge bolstered by Trump’s admission that he knew Flynn misled the FBI. CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency are among those witnesses.
In the aftermath of Comey’s dismissal, the White House maintained he was fired because of his handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server, but Trump contradicted the official stance, telling NBC the firing was due in part to Comey’s refusal to publicly exonerate him of collusion.
It remains unclear to what degree Trump will cooperate with Mueller’s interview request. The final terms have not been decided, but Trump’s legal team is reportedly pushing Mueller to allow the president to answer certain questions preemptively in writing before sitting down with investigators.
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