- Former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s lawyer met with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team on Monday.
- It is increasingly likely Flynn is cooperating with Mueller in the Russia investigation and is negotiating a plea deal.
- Flynn’s cooperation could be key to building Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice case.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s personal defence attorney met Monday with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team,ABC News reported.
The revelation comes on the heels of a New York Times report last week which said Flynn’s defence team had ceased sharing information about the Russia investigation with President Donald Trump’s lawyers. Both developments are a likely indication that Flynn is cooperating with Mueller’s team and could be seeking to negotiate a plea deal.
Flynn’s dealings with Russia and Turkey have long made him a subject of scrutiny in the FBI’s probe. Multiple media reports have indicated that the former national security adviser decided to cooperate with investigators after they began putting increased pressure on his son, Michael Flynn Jr., who was closely involved with his father’s lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group.
Flynn was forced to resign as national security adviser in February after just 24 days on the job, when it emerged that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the US. According to intercepted communications between Kislyak and Flynn, the two discussed US sanctions against Russia during the transition period which, if true, would constitute a violation of the Logan Act.
Mueller’s focus on Flynn has to do primarily with those interactions and his other ties to Russia, as well as his lobbying firm’s activities and his failure to register as a foreign agent when Flynn Intel Group was paid $US530,000 in August 2016 to lobby on behalf of a businessman with ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the latter half of the year.
The firm was also tasked with producing a documentary about Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Turkish cleric who resides in Pennsylvania and whom Erdogan believes is responsible for planning last year’s attempted coup. Flynn Intel Group reportedly did not want anyone to know about its involvement in the film’s production.
Flynn was required, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, to register as a foreign agent because of his lobbying work, but he did not do so until months later. He acknowledged in a March filing – four months after his firm’s contract with the businessman, Ekim Alptekin, ended – that its work could have “principally benefited” Turkey.
Flynn’s cooperation could prove critical
Flynn has long been under FBI scrutiny, but Mueller began putting more pressure on him following last month’s indictment of former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his longtime associate Rick Gates. Manafort and Gates were charged on 12 counts including money laundering, tax fraud, conspiring against the US, and failing to register as a foreign agents.
Flynn is a central figure in multiple threads of the Russia investigation, but his cooperation could be especially important to the obstruction-of-justice case Mueller is said to be building against Trump.
The case stems from Trump’s decision to fire then FBI director James Comey in May. The White House initially saidTrump fired Comey because of his handling of the bureau’s investigation into former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct government business. Later, however, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that “this Russia thing” had been a factor in his decision to terminate the FBI director. He also reportedly told Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting one day after firing Comey that dismissing him had taken “great pressure” off of him.
“I really hope you can let this go,” Trump said, according to Comey’s testimony.
Flynn informed the transition team before Trump’s inauguration that the FBI was investigating him over his Turkey ties. And former acting attorney general Sally Yates told the transition team weeks before Flynn’s resignation that he could be subject to Russian blackmail.
The key question prosecutors will likely seek to answer in the obstruction case is how much Trump knew or didn’t know about Flynn’s past conduct when he asked Comey to let go of the FBI’s investigation.
Kendall Coffey, a former US attorney in Florida, told Vanity Fair that Flynn’s cooperation could be instrumental to tying up some of those loose ends.
“What were their conversations?” he said, referring to Trump and Flynn. “Did Trump tell Flynn that he was getting a lot of help from the Russian government? Obstruction of justice requires a corrupt motive, a corrupt intent. I’ve thought for a long time that Flynn would be the key to whether you could ever have a compelling obstruction case here.”
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti echoed that view, telling Vanity Fair that what matters in proving the obstruction case is Trump’s knowledge about Flynn’s possible liability.
“Even if Flynn would have gotten off scot-free but Trump was convinced that Flynn was in deep trouble, and acted because of that belief, then Trump has a problem,” Mariotti said.
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