Federal prosecutors revealed in court Friday that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had been in touch with senior Trump transition officials several times about his calls with the Russian ambassador, and at least one of the Trump advisers asked him to influence Russia's foreign policy.
The topics Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador about included Russia's reaction to US sanctions and Russia's vote on a UN Security Council resolution about Israeli settlements.
Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying to investigators about these conversations he had with then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in December 2016. The details revealed at Flynn's plea agreement hearing and in his criminal statement of offense provide the clearest picture yet of coordination between Flynn and other Trump advisers in their contact with Russian officials.
In late December of last year, Flynn called senior Trump transition team members at Mar-a-Lago in Florida three times to discuss conversations he was having with Kislyak about sanctions the US placed on Russia and the Russian response to them. The prosecutors' filing did not name the transition officials.
A December 29 call between Flynn and Trump advisers discussed the potential impact on the "incoming administration's foreign policy goals," according to a court filing Friday.
Flynn then called Kislyak to ask that Russia not respond too harshly to US sanctions. He told a Trump transition official about that call. Russia responded by choosing not to retaliate for the sanctions.
The bulk of the back-and-forth calls described in court papers, from Flynn to the Russian ambassador and to Trump advisers, happened while the advisers were at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
Flynn and a Trump adviser "discussed that the members of the presidential transition team at Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation" the filing said.
His third call to the Trump team about Russia happened days later and included multiple senior Trump advisers. Flynn described to them how Russia would not retaliate for the sanctions following team Trump's request.
According the prosecutors' statement, Flynn communicated with Kislyak and a "very senior" Trump official about another foreign policy matter about a week before the sanctions discussions. He connected with the Russian ambassador after a senior Trump transition official asked him to attempt to influence the positions of foreign governments on a UN Security Council resolution about Israeli settlements.
A "very senior member" of Trump's transition told Flynn on December 22 to contact officials from Russia and other foreign governments about how they would vote and "to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution," the statement of offense said. Flynn then asked Kislyak to vote against or delay the resolution, the legal filing said. This time, the Russians said they wouldn't do as Trump's transition team wanted.
The federal prosecutors spoke with Flynn four days after Trump's presidential inauguration.
Court documents from prosecutors on Friday also revealed how Flynn obscured his foreign lobbying for Turkey when he registered the work with the Justice Department in March. His guilty plea did not include any counts related to these false statements.
Inside the courtroom
At 11:12 a.m. ET, almost 40 minutes into his first court appearance Friday, Flynn officially pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. The hearing lasted about 45 minutes total. For most of it, Flynn stood before Judge Rudolph Contreras. His attorneys, Robert Kelner and Steven Anthony, flanked him. As the judge discussed how his sentence could be harsher than five years' imprisonment, Kelner put his hand on Flynn's back.
Flynn wore a dark blue suit and striped tie with no military regalia and was accompanied by his wife, Lori Andrade.
During the hearing, Flynn acknowledged that he understood he was giving up his rights to a grand jury indictment, a jury trial and the ability to plead not guilty. He said little other than yes and no to the judge. When asked how he pleaded, Flynn only said, "Guilty, your honor."
Flynn faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, according to federal sentencing guidelines, though the judge Friday morning stressed he could impose a harsher or lighter sentence.
"I do not know what sentence I will impose on this case," Contreras said.
The attorneys have a status report on Flynn on February 1, 2018, and a sentence hearing later.
Until his sentencing, Flynn will check in with the court by phone once a week. He did not have to post bail.
The judge also could impose on him up to a $250,000 fine plus other fees and interest.
Flynn appeared before Contreras in courtroom 14 at the federal courthouse in Washington.
Federal prosecutors Brandon Van Grack and Zainab Ahmad from Robert Mueller's special counsel office appeared in court.
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