WASHINGTON (NBC) — Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty on Friday in federal court to a charge of making false statements to the FBI about his communications with Russia.
A two-page information filed Thursday in federal court lists a number of false statements that Flynn is accused of making about his interactions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016.
It says that Flynn falsely claimed that he had not asked Kislyak on Dec. 29 “to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the U.S. had imposed against Russia,” and that he didn’t recall Kislyak telling him Russia had decided to moderate its response as a result of his request.
It also says he falsely claimed that he didn’t ask Kislyak on Dec. 22 to “delay a vote on or defeat” a U.N. Security Council resolution, and then falsely denied that Kislyak had described Russia’s response to the request.
According to the special counsel’s charge, Flynn made the false statements to the FBI on Jan. 24. That was two days after he was sworn in as national security adviser.
The charge to which Flynn pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. However, senior federal prosecutors, not involved in this case, say it is unlikely that Flynn will ever spend a day in jail on this charge.
Those prosecutors say that since there is not a violent crime attached to Flynn’s statements to the FBI, it is likely that prosecutors will ultimately ask for probation and a fine at sentencing. Of course, the federal judge assigned to the case can ultimately impose the maximum sentence and is not bound by the prosecutors’ wishes.
Two sources told NBC News that in the Dec. 22 conversation with Kislyak, Flynn asked Russia to either delay or defeat a pending UN resolution declaring Israel’s settlements in Palestinian territory illegal.
The Obama White House and State Department was planning to abstain on the resolution, rather than vetoing it in the Security Council. The Israeli government furiously opposed that abstention, and so did President-elect Trump. No prior administration had failed to veto similar resolutions against Israel, despite opposing its settlements policy. Flynn, while not yet in office, was trying to get the Russians to do what Israel wanted, and thus undercut U.S. policy.
In the Dec. 29 conversation, the sources said, Flynn reassured the Kremlin that the incoming administration would reverse the Obama administration’s sanctions punishing Russia for its election meddling once in office. At the time, many news organizations reported that it was highly unusual for Putin to refrain from immediately retaliating by expelling American diplomats, in exchange for Obama’s expulsion of Russians and closing of two U.S. facilities.
Sally Yates, who was acting attorney general in January, told the Senate in May that she had warned White house lawyers in late January that Flynn might be vulnerable to blackmail from the Russians.
Yates said she had told White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had not told the truth to Vice President Pence about his conversations with Kislyak about sanctions.
“To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians,” Yates told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.
Flynn’s lawyer did not immediately return a request for comment. The White House referred questions about Flynn to outside counsel Ty Cobb.
NBC News reported last month that federal investigators had gathered enough evidence to bring charges in their investigation of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation.
Flynn, who was fired after just 24 days on the job, was one of the first Trump associates to come under scrutiny in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Flynn is the fourth person to be charged in the Mueller probe.
Mueller’s investigators have been examining Flynn’s lobbying work, including whether he laundered money, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.
Mueller’s team is also examining whether Flynn attempted to orchestrate the removal of a chief rival of Turkish President Recep Erdogan from the U.S. to Turkey in exchange for millions of dollars, two officials said.
Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, who worked closely with his father, accompanied him during the campaign and briefly worked on the presidential transition, could be indicted separately or at the same time as his father, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.