Special Counsel for the Russia investigation Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump team took a dramatic turn recently with the revelation that former presidential national security adviser Michael Flynn would be pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, and cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.
Flynn had lied to the FBI about having, in December of 2016, secretly tried to get Russia to refrain from retaliating to sanctions that were imposed by the Obama Administration in response to Russia having meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Flynn did so via secret communications with the now-former Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak.
The pointed question in all of this is why Flynn would carry out secret communications with Russia while a private citizen working with the Trump team and then lie about those communications to the FBI.
A new report from NBC has an apparent answer for at least the latter part of the question, suggesting, based off communications with individuals with knowledge of Mueller’s investigation, the fact that Flynn lied to the FBI because Trump told him to.
As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait describes the seriousness of that report:
‘[F]or the first time, we have a clear line of sight to a potential act of undeniable illegality by President Trump.’
The “clear line of sight” is born from a condemning suggestion in the new report from NBC about Michael Flynn’s role in the Russia scandal and investigation.
Flynn stayed on the job as national security adviser for eighteen days after then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail because he had lied to the FBI about the contents of his communications with Kislyak. The Russians could have used their knowledge of what the two of them actually discussed as leverage over Flynn.
Trump only fired him after a report came out in The Washington Post in February about Yates’ January warning to McGahn. Mueller wants an explanation for why the president waited so long to act, and he is exploring the question of “whether Trump directed [Flynn] to lie to senior officials, including Pence, or the FBI, and if so why.”
Trump being behind Flynn lying to the FBI would help explain why he tried to pressure FBI Director James Comey to drop his investigation into Flynn, something Comey refused to do. Trump eventually fired Comey in May of this year and has disputed the former FBI Director’s allegation that he tried to get him to drop the investigation into Flynn.
Because of the two-pronged issue of Trump having allegedly pressured Comey to drop his investigation into Flynn and having eventually fired Comey, Trump has faced allegations of obstruction of justice. Finding out whether or not the president is guilty on that count depends upon finding out “when Trump knew about the content of Flynn’s conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the transition, which were at the crux of Yates’s warning, and when the president learned Flynn had lied about those conversations to the FBI,” as NBC’s Julia Ainsley puts it.
In a recently posted tweet, Trump seemed to indicate that he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI before he fired him in February — but after numerous interests pointed that out, Trump lawyer John Dowd claimed that he had actually been the one to write the tweet.
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