President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about meetings with Russia’s ambassador weeks before Trump became president, disclosing that he is cooperating with the special counsel’s office.
The plea deal brokered by the fired national security adviser with Special Counsel Robert Mueller undermines much of what the White House has said about the Russia controversy engulfing the presidency.
The charges were brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as part of his inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.
Appearing in a federal court in Washington DC, Flynn admitted to one count of knowingly making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements”.
His only comments were to answer yes and no to questions from the judge. He told the judge he has not been coerced to plead guilty or been promised a specific sentence.
The judge subsequently accepted the guilty plea of the former national security adviser and said he would not face trial.
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.
FBI said in a statement that Flynn communicated with then-Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, after being asked by a senior Trump transition official to find out how foreign governments stood on a coming UN Security Council resolution about Israel. The prosecutors did not name any transition officials.
He was forced to resign 23 days into his job in February, a month after he was questioned by the FBI for misleading the White House about meeting then Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the transition period, before Trump took office.
The retired Army lieutenant-general later issued a statement in which he said: “I recognise that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right”.
He said his plea and co-operation deal “reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country”.
The White House issued a statement saying that “nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr Flynn”.
“The conclusion of this phase of the special counsel’s work demonstrates again that the special counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion,” said a White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, in a statement.