Mueller report details Michael Flynn’s lies about Russia

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves federal court in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Somehow, The Washington Post had uncovered Michael Flynn’s secret. Somehow, it had learned that he had spoken with Russia’s ambassador the same day the Obama administration announced hefty sanctions on the country.

Now the question was raised: Had the incoming national security adviser undermined the sanctions?

Flynn was in trouble.

“What the hell is this all about?” Trump fumed to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus. Priebus called Flynn. The boss is angry, he told Flynn. “Kill the story,” he said.

Flynn, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who grew close to Trump on the campaign trail, knew it was true. Just weeks before, he had indeed discussed the sanctions and persuaded the Kremlin not to escalate the situation. But feeling the pressure of Trump’s anger after Priebus’ call, Flynn turned to his deputy.

Call the Post, Flynn said. Tell them there were no sanctions discussions. Even though she knew better, the aide, K.T. McFarland, did as she was told.

It was the first lie about Flynn’s Russia contacts. It wouldn’t be the last.

Over the next few days, Flynn repeated the lie to Priebus and others in the White House. No sanctions discussions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, he told Mike Pence, the vice president-elect. He said the same to press secretary Sean Spicer. And they parroted that to the public.

“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence said during a Jan. 15 appearance on CBS “Face the Nation.

The denials set off alarm bells at the Justice Department.

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama holdover, and other senior officials knew the comments weren’t true. U.S. intelligence agencies, which routinely monitor the communications of foreign diplomats, had learned of Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak when analyzing the Kremlin’s response to the sanctions. The FBI had also opened an investigation into Flynn’s relationship with Russia.

Yates worried that Flynn’s lie could put him and other U.S. officials in a compromising position because the Russians could prove the American public had been misled. There was also an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, of which Flynn’s calls were now a part of the mounting evidence.

The Justice Department’s concerns only increased when, after Trump’s inauguration and Flynn’s appointment as the nation’s top national security aide, Spicer gave his first press briefing. He had spoken with Flynn the night before, he told reporters.

The Kislyak calls weren’t about sanctions, he said. Next question.

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Two FBI agents walked into the White House the next day. It was Jan. 24, 2017, and they were there to talk to Flynn.

One of them was Peter Strzok, a senior counterintelligence official who would later face scrutiny for his anti-Trump comments. Flynn agreed to talk with them, and when asked, denied that he told Kislyak to back off from escalating situation in response to the sanctions.

He also lied about a follow-up phone call and another matter: On Dec. 21, 2016, when Egypt pushed a resolution at the United Nations critical of Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner turned to Flynn to push for the Kremlin to oppose the move. Flynn had unsuccessfully pressured Kislyak on the issue. But he told the agents otherwise.

News of the false statements to the FBI— a crime under federal law— quickly made it to Yates, who on Jan. 26, called White House counsel Don McGahn. She needed to discuss a sensitive matter.

In a meeting with McGahn and another White House lawyer later that day, Yates told him that Pence’s comments about Flynn weren’t true. Also, Flynn’s FBI interview hadn’t gone well.

McGahn, not entirely swayed by Yates, asked the National Security Council’s legal adviser, John Eisenberg, to look into the matter. He also went to Trump.

The president told him to work with Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon to look into it further. He added: Don’t discuss this with anyone else.

“Not again, this guy, this stuff,” Trump told Priebus, referring to Flynn.

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Over the next week and a half, Eisenberg and McGahn gathered more information, and Flynn had a one-on-one with Trump in the Oval Office. What did you talk about with Kislyak? Trump asked. Flynn acknowledged he might have discussed sanctions.

Days later, the front page of The Washington Post would say the same thing.

The story shook Pence, who had been in the dark. A review of Justice Department documents sealed it. Flynn couldn’t have just forgotten. He had lied. McGahn and Priebus told Trump he had to fire Flynn.

That weekend, Flynn flew to Mar-A-Lago with the president. On the plane back to Washington on Feb. 12, Trump asked him whether he lied to Pence. Flynn said he may have forgotten some things but denied lying. “OK. That’s fine,” Trump responded. “I got it.”

The next day, Flynn was out.

Priebus delivered the news. In the Oval Office, Trump embraced Flynn and shook his hand. “We’ll give you a good recommendation. You’re a good guy. We’ll take care of you,” he said.

Flynn had spent just 25 days as national security adviser.

Trump had lunch with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the next day, which was Valentine’s Day. “Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over,” Trump told him. Christie burst out laughing. No way, he said.

“What do you mean?” Trump responded. “Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over.”

Flynn is going to be like “gum on the bottom of your shoe,” Christie said.

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In the Oval Office later that day, Flynn was still on Trump’s mind. The president was being briefed by his top national security team. That included FBI Director James Comey, who Trump was intent on making part of “his team.”

As the meeting wrapped up, Trump cleared the room and asked Comey to remain behind. “I want to talk about Mike Flynn,” Trump said, according to Comey. There was nothing wrong with Flynn’s calls with the Kislyak, he said, but he had to fire Flynn for lying to Pence.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, according to Comey. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Comey awkwardly sidestepped the issue. But over the next few weeks, Flynn remained on Trump’s mind.

Trump praised him publicly. Privately, he turned to McFarland, who had covered for Flynn before. On Feb. 22, 2017, McFarland, now the deputy national security adviser, was asked to resign. But Priebus and Bannon, who conveyed the message, suggested it came with a soft landing. The president could make her ambassador to Singapore.

The ask came a day later.

As reporters questioned whether he directed Flynn’s Russia contacts, Trump told Priebus to have McFarland draft an internal email saying that the president didn’t order Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak.

Priebus went to McFarland, who balked. How could she write such an email? She didn’t know if it was true, she told him. She went to Eisenberg, who told her it was a bad idea. “It would also be a bad idea for the President because it looked as if my ambassadorial appointment was in some way a quid pro quo,” she wrote in a contemporaneous memo.

Priebus backed off. Forget I even mentioned it, he said.

But Trump wasn’t done. Call Flynn to show I still care, he told Priebus. Trump doesn’t want Flynn saying “bad things” about him, Priebus later recalled thinking.

In late March, news outlets reported that Flynn had offered to speak with the FBI and Congress in exchange for immunity. “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!” Trump tweeted.

But privately, Trump asked McFarland to convey a different message. Tell him Trump felt bad for him, he said.

And he should stay strong.

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On Dec. 1, 2017 Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to “willfully and knowingly” making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI concerning conversations with Russia’s ambassador. He cooperated extensively with Mueller’s probe and awaits sentencing.

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Trump survived Mueller probe, but at what cost?

resident Donald Trump waves after speaking with the media after stepping off Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Sunday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The cloud that has hung over President Donald Trump since the day he walked into the White House has been lifted.

Yes, special counsel Robert Mueller left open the question of whether Trump tried to obstruct the investigation. Yes, separate federal probes still put Trump and his associates in legal jeopardy. And yes, Democrats will spend the coming months pushing for more details from Mueller, all while launching new probes into Trump’s administration and businesses.

But at its core, Mueller’s investigation gave the president what he wanted: public affirmation that he and his campaign did not coordinate with Russia to win the 2016 election. The findings, summarized Sunday by the Justice Department , are sure to embolden Trump as he plunges into his re-election campaign, armed now with new fodder to claim the investigation was little more than a politically motivated effort to undermine his presidency.

“It’s a shame that our country had to go through this,” Trump said. “To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this.”

Mueller’s investigation stretched on for nearly two years, enveloping Trump’s presidency in a cloud of uncertainty and sending him into frequent fits of rage. The scope of the probe was sweeping: Mueller issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, obtained nearly 500 search warrants and interviewed 500 witnesses, including some of the president’s closest advisers.

And Trump’s ultimate vindication on the question of collusion with Russia came at a steep cost.

The investigation took down his campaign chairman, his White House national security adviser and his longtime lawyer. It revealed the extent of Moscow’s desire to swing the 2016 contest toward Trump, as well as Trump’s pursuit of business deals in Russia deep into the campaign. And the Justice Department didn’t explain why so many Trump associates lied throughout the investigation.

But in the end, Mueller concluded that those lies were not an effort to obscure a criminal conspiracy by Trump and his advisers to work with Russia. There was smoke, and plenty of it — including an eyebrow-raising meeting between Trump’s son and a Russian lawyer — but ultimately, no fire.

“Good day for the rule of law. Great day for President Trump and his team,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “Bad day for those hoping the Mueller investigation would take President Trump down.”

Democrats quickly sought to puncture Trump and fellow Republicans’ jubilation, vowing to subpoena Mueller’s full report, which remains a secret. After spending years questioning Trump’s ties to Moscow, the Democrats’ focus is shifting to the question Mueller pointedly left unanswered: whether Trump obstructed the investigation by firing FBI Director James Comey and dictating a misleading statement about his son’s meeting with the Russian lawyer.

“The fact that special counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay,” House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.

The fight for those documents will be lengthy and contentious, particularly against the backdrop of the 2020 presidential election. It will involve complex debates over the rules that govern special counsel investigations, which put a member of Trump’s Cabinet in charge of summarizing Mueller’s findings for the public, and a president’s right to keep his private discussions out of the public eye.

Previewing the case Democrats will make to get more details about Trump’s actions, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., declared: “Executive privilege cannot be used to shield or hide wrongdoing.”

For Trump and his associates, the argument will be far simpler: Democrats already tried to go after the president once and failed.

“Just as important a victory as this is for President Trump, this is a crushing defeat for Democrats and members of the media who have pushed the collusion delusion myth for the past two years. That officially ends today,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign official.

Trump’s legal troubles are far from over. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are pursuing at least two criminal inquiries involving the president or people in his orbit, one involving his inaugural committee and another focused on the hush-money scandal that led his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to plead guilty last year to campaign finance violations. New York Attorney General Letitia James is also looking into whether Trump exaggerated his wealth when seeking loans for real estate projects and a failed bid to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

But in the hours after Mueller’s findings were released, those investigations appeared to be a world away for Trump. As he walked into the White House Sunday night, he pumped his fist to a group of supporters and declared, “America is the greatest place on earth, the greatest place on earth.”

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Julie Pace has covered the White House and politics for the AP since 2007. Follow her at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC .
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House votes 420-0 for public release of Mueller report

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, arrives on Capitol Hill for a closed door meeting before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The House voted unanimously Thursday for a resolution calling for any final report in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to be made public, a symbolic action designed to pressure Attorney General William Barr into releasing as much information as possible when the probe is concluded.

The Democratic-backed resolution, which passed 420-0, comes as Mueller is nearing an end to his investigation. Lawmakers in both parties have maintained there will have to be some sort of public resolution when the report is done — and privately hope that a report shows conclusions that are favorable to their own side.

Four Republicans voted present: Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar and Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie.

The nonbinding resolution calls for the public release of any report Mueller provides to Barr, with an exception for classified material. The resolution also calls for the full report to be released to Congress.

“This resolution is critical because of the many questions and criticisms of the investigation raised by the president and his administration,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. “It is important that Congress stand up for the principle of full transparency.”

It’s unclear exactly what documentation will be produced at the end of the probe into possible coordination between associates of President Donald Trump and Russia, and how much of that the Justice Department will allow people to see. Mueller is required to submit a report to Barr, and then Barr can decide how much of that is released publicly.

Barr said at his confirmation hearing in January that he takes seriously the department regulations that say Mueller’s report should be confidential. Those regulations require only that the report explain the decisions to pursue or to decline prosecutions, which could be as simple as a bullet point list or as fulsome as a report running hundreds of pages.

“I don’t know what, at the end of the day, what will be releasable. I don’t know what Bob Mueller is writing,” Barr said at the hearing.

The top Republican on the Judiciary panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said the vote on the resolution was unnecessary but that he would support it anyway. He said he has no reason to believe that Barr won’t follow the regulations.

But Democrats have said they are unsatisfied with Barr’s answers and want a stronger commitment to releasing the full report, along with interview transcripts and other underlying evidence.

In introducing the resolution, Nadler and five other Democratic committee chairs said “the public is clearly served by transparency with respect to any investigation that could implicate or exonerate the president and his campaign.”

Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a GOP member of the House intelligence committee, said before the vote that he believes the resolution should have been even broader to include the release of underlying evidence.

“I want the American people to know as much as they can and see as much as they can,” said Hurd, a former CIA officer. He added that “full transparency is the only way to prevent future innuendo.”

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, however, called the resolution “ridiculous.”

“They came in and so many of them said they wanted to work with the president and get things done for infrastructure and health care and instead they’re moving on all these radical ideas,” Gidley said of Democrats in an interview on Fox News.

Gidley said he hadn’t spoken with Trump about whether the report should be made public.

If a full report isn’t released, House Democrats have made it clear they will do whatever they can to get hold of it. Nadler has said he would subpoena the final report and invite — or even subpoena — Mueller to talk about it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been less eager to push Barr on the release of the report, despite some in his caucus who have said they want to ensure transparency.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa introduced legislation with Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut that would require Mueller to submit a detailed report to lawmakers and the public at the end of the investigation. But both McConnell and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have declined to say whether they would support the legislation.

Graham said he agrees “with the concept of transparency,” but stopped short of supporting Grassley’s bill, saying he disagrees with taking discretion away from the attorney general.

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Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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Sentencing report calls Manafort a ‘brazen’ criminal

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman.  (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort committed crimes that cut to “the heart of the criminal justice system” and over the years deceived everyone from bookkeepers and banks to federal prosecutors and his own lawyers, according to a sentencing memo filed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.

In the memo, submitted Saturday in one of two criminal cases Manafort faces, prosecutors do not yet take a position on how much prison time he should serve or whether to stack the punishment on top of a separate sentence he will soon receive in a Virginia prosecution. But they do depict Manafort as a longtime and unrepentant criminal who committed “bold” crimes, including under the spotlight of his role as campaign chairman and later while on bail, and who does not deserve any leniency.

“For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law,” prosecutors wrote. “His crimes continued up through the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment.”

Citing Manafort’s lies to the FBI, several government agencies and his own lawyer, prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism.”

The 25-page memo, filed in federal court in Washington, is likely the last major filing by prosecutors as Manafort heads into his sentencing hearings next month and as Mueller’s investigation approaches a conclusion. Manafort, who has been jailed for months and turns 70 in April, will have a chance to file his own sentencing recommendation next week. He and his longtime business partner, Rick Gates, were the first two people indicted in the special counsel’s investigation. Overall, Mueller has produced charges against 34 individuals, including six former Trump aides, and three companies.

Manafort’s case has played out in stark contrast to those of other defendants in the Russia investigation, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who prosecutors praised for his cooperation and left open the possibility of no jail time.

Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy arising from his Ukrainian political consulting work and his efforts to tamper with witnesses. As part of that plea, he agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team, a move that could have helped him avoid a longer prison sentence. But within weeks, prosecutors say he repeatedly lied to investigators, including about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who the U.S. says has ties to Russian intelligence. That deception voided the plea deal.

The sentencing memo comes as Manafort, who led Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for several critical months, is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case in Virginia. Mueller’s team endorsed a sentence of between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison in that case.

Prosecutors note that the federal guidelines recommend a sentence of more than 17 years, but Manafort pleaded guilty last year to two felony counts that carry maximum sentences of five years each.

Prosecutors originally filed a sealed sentencing memo on Friday, but the document was made public on Saturday with certain information still redacted, or blacked out.

In recent weeks, court papers have revealed that Manafort shared polling data related to the Trump campaign with Kilimnik. A Mueller prosecutor also said earlier this month that an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik goes to the “heart” of the Russia probe. The meeting involved a discussion of a Ukrainian peace plan, but prosecutors haven’t said exactly what has captured their attention and whether it factors into the Kremlin’s attempts to help Trump in the 2016 election.

Like other Americans close to the president charged in the Mueller probe, Manafort hasn’t been accused of involvement in Russian election interference.

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Read the sentencing memo: http://apne.ws/8MYWHdV
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